Head protection for drivers and the windscreen currently being developed by INDYCAR returned to the forefront of conversation during this week’s Verizon IndyCar Series testing in Indianapolis when reigning champion Josef Newgarden turned the first laps with the prototype addition on a superspeedway.
As only the second driver to experience the windscreen in real-life conditions after Scott Dixon completed the first test at ISM Raceway in February, Newgarden felt positive after the brief trial run.
Yet to turn laps with the windscreen, veteran drivers Tony Kanaan and Simon Pagenaud could only offer their opinion on the look of the safety addition rather than its function as they spoke with the media after turning the fastest two laps during the open test which preceded Newgarden’s windscreen laps.
Now in the midst of his 21st year of Indy car racing, Kanaan was first to offer his thoughts on INDYCAR’s creation.
“I don’t think it looks good,” Kanaan stated. “That’s my opinion. If it’s safer, yeah. Do I think it looks cool? No. Do I think Formula 1 looks horrible? Yeah. It’s just what I like.”
Kanaan has completed well over 200 races in open-cockpit cars and ultimately isn’t opposed to the safety enhancements offered by the windscreen.
“That’s the direction the series is going to take,” the 43-year-old Brazilian continued. “It’s the same for everybody, so I’m definitely not against it. Just the way it looks, it’s not my preference.”
Pagenaud, with an Indy car resume less than half as long as Kanaan’s, feels different about the windscreen and even connects it to the sport’s history.
“I like it,” the Frenchman began. “I think it looks cool.
“I think it’s an evolution. I think 20 years down the road when we look back, we’ll see how the evolution of the windscreen has gone. Because, quite frankly, Bobby Rahal used to have a windscreen on his car. So did Rick Mears. It’s an evolution of that.”
Interestingly, Pagenaud has more experience in closed-cockpit sports cars than Kanaan, which may be influencing his opinion on the form and function of the windscreen.
Beyond his time in roofless LMP2 cars — namely Acura’s predecessors to the new Acura ARX-05, which he raced at Daytona and Sebring — Pagenaud made a handful of starts around the world in the Peugeot 908, a covered LMP1 car, from 2008 to 2011.
Kanaan has recently become involved with Chip Ganassi Racing’s Ford GT program and previously drove Daytona Prototype machinery for the team, but he’s never experienced a modern prototype car with a windshield similar to what INDYCAR is attempting to implement.
“I think it definitely looks more like a fighter jet,” Pagenaud added. “I think the way they’ve done it is really good so far.”
Kanaan and Pagenaud were able to agree on one very recent situation where the windscreen would’ve helped matters, regardless of its appearance.
“I looked through it yesterday,” Pagenaud said. “It seemed like the vision is really good. Made me wonder what would happen in a Barber race if it rained just as much. Actually I think it might be better.”
Kanaan agreed: “Actually, that would be a lot better.”
While Kanaan and fellow AJ Foyt Racing driver Matheus Leist battled electrical issues during the wet Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, Pagenaud was in the thick of things, battling to a ninth-place result.
“I think it would be better,” Pagenaud responded. “The water was coming in — you couldn’t see anything.
“And safety, for me, is key. I think that’s, again, the evolution of the sport. We can be safer and protect the drivers’ heads. That’s for me a huge improvement; I’m welcoming it. But there’s obviously all the kinks we need to work around. Once it’s ready, I’ll be very happy.”
INDYCAR has released no timetable regarding when the windscreen could enter competition and more testing is planned.