In the quest to constantly improve safety conditions for racing drivers, spectators, and everyone in between, IndyCar is making it mandatory for drivers to undergo a clinical eye-tracking computer test called I-PAS. The system, which was recently cleared by the Food and Drug Administration, will help officials better address the dangers of concussions caused by high-speed collisions.
I-PAS stands for I-Portal Portable Assessment System, and it was recently announced that it's been implemented as part of the sanctioning body's concussion evaluation protocol. The revolutionary system was created by Pittsburgh-based Neuro Kinetics, Inc., and it's commonly referred to as the "goggles test" because the equipment itself resembles a virtual reality headset. The test involves running a series of diagnostic tests to evaluate patients with symptoms of dizziness and possible balance disorders, especially those associated with medical conditions such as concussions, migraines, or benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV).
Current IndyCar drivers were required to undergo the I-PAS procedure during their pre-season medical examinations, which saw medics integrate clinical eye-tracking and a series of non-invasive oculomotor, vestibular, and reaction time tests.
"All drivers have to go through physicals at the beginning of the season, and they each went through I-PAS during those physicals, as a baseline," an IndyCar spokesperson told The Drive. "It is only performed thereafter if they are suspected of having a concussion."
Much like in Formula 1, IndyCar drivers wear earbuds with built-in accelerometers that measure G forces and other data that allows physicians and emergency on-track personnel to understand what drivers experienced during a crash. Ear accelerometer data is later analyzed to see if meets or exceeds the threshold of suspicion of a concussion.
"IndyCar's medical staff has used a number of tools to help improve its evaluation of concussions," said Dr. Terry Trammell, safety consultant to IndyCar and its medical staff. "It is a challenge to balance both the safety of the drivers and the need for them to be on the track to compete. I-PAS has proven to be an important part of the decision-making process as to if and when a driver with the possibility of having had a concussion may return to competition."
Back in 2016, Team Penske driver Will Power struck a wall during practice at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in Florida. Power went on to claim pole position the next day but experienced concussion-like symptoms shortly thereafter according to series safety officials, which kept him from participating in Sunday's race due to the heightened risk of injury. Dr. Steve Olvey, a former IndyCar medical director at the University of Miami's concussion program, put Power through a battery of tests including I-PAS. It was determined that an inner ear infection, not a concussion, had triggered the symptoms.