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Pagenaud hopes IndyCar can add wipers
INDIANAPOLIS – IndyCar’s development team has given the aeroscreen a hefty overhaul since it debuted in 2020. But can they add a wiper blade? Simon Pagenaud would like to know. The suggestion from Saturday’s runner-up in the chaotic GMR Grand Prix on a rain-soaked Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course was one of several reactions to the aeroscreen’s first true in-season test, outside of the foggy, misty series-wide test at COTA and a wet track during a qualifying session at Mid-Ohio in 2020.
From the front to the back, the field’s 27 drivers largely agreed that Saturday’s rain-shortened event was one of, if not the craziest set of conditions they’ve ever faced in a race car.
‘I can’t imagine being back in 10th’
The race, won by Colton Herta, included three pivotal turning points on tire strategy, eight cautions, nine penalties, 31 laps under yellow and 362 passes for position (shattering a previous record of 190). But no matter where you were running (unless you were Herta at the end), drivers said they dealt with a lack of visibility far worse than anything they had previous faced when dirt and precipitation on their helmet was the worst vision hurdle.
“At the end there, man, you could not see a thing,” said third-place finisher Will Power, who started Saturday on the pole. “There was a spray in front of me. I don’t know how it was behind just one car, but for two, I can’t imagine being back in 10th, man. You don’t know if someone is braking early, or you’re looking to the fence to get a reference.
“You lift early (on the throttle), but you don’t want to lift too early because no one can see from behind. Pretty crazy day. It was just about survival.”
Power clarified, though, saying the worst visibility issues he had was the spray that is kicked up from cars running on a wet track. He did wonder whether, in the final 15 laps or so, if the spray had reached a point that put race control on the brink of having to throw a red flag and pause the race.
“There’s nothing you can do about the spray from open-wheel cars,” he said. “But it was on the edge of whether we should have been running. It was starting to get a bit of (hydroplane).”
In a way, Herta agreed that racing without the aeroscreen wouldn’t have changed the most notable visibility issue he faced minutes ahead of the checkered flag Saturday.
“The only downside I think was not having a tear-off (to remove myself ),” he said. “Because when it dried up, you get all the mud and dried drops on there. But once I had a tear-off (pulled during a pit stop by my crew), it was fine. I think a lot of people were worried about the fogging, because it can still be quite muggy when it’s raining here, but it wasn’t a problem for me. I was happy with it.”
Daly raises concerns of water pooling on screen
Not all the drivers were so glowing in their reviews. Conor Daly, who started fourth and finished fifth, said he struggled with what he described as water pooling in the center of his aeroscreen, even when he drove at high speeds. Originally an admitted vocal opponent of the aeroscreen, Daly has notably come around as a proponent of the the device; whether it be the metal pole that would’ve hit Callum Ilott this year or the several drivers that have watched wheels ricochet off their screens.
Hesitant at the start when he spoke at the media center podium post-race Saturday, Daly said he feels like there’s still lessons to be learned and work to be done to get the aeroscreen to where it needs to be for wet conditions.
“I’ve never seen anything like that. The water just stayed in the center of the screen,” he said. “Even as you went faster, which you would hope would clear it, it didn’t.”
Could IndyCar add a wiper blade?
Pagenaud’s suggested fix comes rooted in his days of running more than four-dozen high-level sportscar races with machines equipped with windshields and wipers. Whether Frye or IndyCar would consider such a massive change is unclear, but over the last two years, IndyCar decision-makers have proved willing to listen and act upon driver feedback.
“I couldn’t see,” said Pagenaud of the closing laps of the race. “I didn’t even know where (Colton) was, quite frankly. I picked a few points on the fence to know where I had to brake, but it was very difficult to see without a wiper. If we had one, it would probably help, but it’s the first real race with the aeroscreen (in the rain), so you’ve got to give credit to IndyCar.
“The safety is amazing, but in these conditions, you would need a wiper like they don in sportscars.”