Graphic: Chris Beatty Design (IndyCar)

IndyCar has behind the game when it comes to cockpit safety measures. Most other forms of open-wheel racing have adopted the halo, which has proved to be as ugly as it is effective. After testing a windscreen and still struggling with implementation, the American series has opted for something entirely different: the AFP.

AFP stands for Advanced Frontal Protection, and it’s basically just a little piece of titanium bolted on the chassis centerline in front of the cockpit, according to IndyCar. At three inches tall and three-quarters of an inch thick, it’s not a particularly formidable looking form of protection, but it has apparently passed the same strength tests as the Dallara roll hoop—so that’s something, I guess?

According to the series, “versions of AFP have been explored through on-track and simulator testing since 2012.” Though I don’t recall ever having heard of or seen this device before today—recent tests have seemed to focus specifically on the windscreen. However, IndyCar’s press release notes the following:

INDYCAR has done extensive testing with a windscreen developed in conjunction with PPG Aerospace, including on-track sessions at ISM Raceway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2018. Neither driver who tested the windscreen reported problems, but recent testing at PPG’s facility in Huntsville, Alabama, proved that work remains before INDYCAR could implement its use.

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The windscreen has presented its fair share of problems that have made it difficult to quickly implement. The cockpit got hot with the addition of the screen, and it also caused issues regarding glare, bug and debris splatter, and distortion.

Interestingly, the press release also notes that IndyCar had considered implementing something like the halo, but it wasn’t feasible. You can’t just tack on a safety device—cars have to be designed with it in mind and tested for their utility.

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Personally, I’d be interested to get some harder data on this. If I’m honest, it looks a little too dinky to do a ton of deflecting or protecting—I’m no engineer, but I’d love to know more. What have all those past tests revealed, and how does the series expect the AFP to protect drivers in a way that makes it a comparable replacement for a windscreen or halo? What went so wrong with the windscreen?

All the cars entering the 103rd Indianapolis 500 will be required to run an AFP, and the cars will carry them for the rest of the season.