Advanced Frontal Protection Debuts At Indy

The Advanced Frontal Protection on Spencer Pigot's Indy Car. [Joe Skibinski Photo]

The Advanced Frontal Protection on Spencer Pigot’s Indy Car. [Joe Skibinski Photo]

By Allan Brewer

Indianapolis prides itself as the greatest innovator and test track in the world. For example, the first-ever rear view mirror was used here, a weight-saving device that obviated the need for Ray Harroun to carry a spotter in the passenger seat of his Marmon Wasp that won the inaugural Indianapolis 500.

Now IndyCar has introduced the Advanced Frontal Protection (AFP) bar—a thin, upright longitudinal barrier that sits just forward of the driver on the dorsal aspect of the carbon fiber chassis. Its purpose is to catch and deflect debris or objects that might otherwise smack the driver’s helmet in the face. It looks very much like the little digital receiver/transmitter “shark fin” that sits atop the roof of many, many domestic road cars today.

“It is a distraction,” said Takuma Sato, fastest of the drivers who took part in the Open test today. “Especially when approaching the apex of a turn, I would have to switch from looking with my right eye to the left.”

Sato also noted another in-cockpit difference: the flow of air into the driver’s face and shoulders are buffeted in a different way, an awkward way. “It’s something that will be different for each driver (according to height and size) but will take some getting used to.”

He concluded by noting that hazard avoidance for driver is a work in progress. “Enough is never enough in this business,” he said in reference to continuing development of the AFP, or possible augmentation of it similar to the “halo” of Formula 1 competition.

Officials acknowledge that the AFP offers some, but not all, of the protection for the driver’s head that they desire for safety. A cockpit-wide windscreen is under development but still has not reached a level of assurance adequate to mandate its use full-time going forward into the month of May and remainder of the season.

The AFP, on the other hand, will be fitted to all IndyCar competitors from today’s Open Test onwards, with additional safety measures likely as the year unfolds.

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