INDYCAR drivers are now required to undergo a clinical eye-tracking computer test recently cleared by the Food and Drug Administration. It has been implemented as part of the sanctioning body’s concussion evaluation protocol, it was announced today.
Drivers competing in this month’s Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil – plus drivers in the Mazda Road to Indy development ladder program – have been tested by the innovative system known as I-PAS and created by Pittsburgh-based Neuro Kinetics, Inc. The I-Portal Portable Assessment System, commonly referred to as the “goggles test,” runs high-quality diagnostic tests to evaluate patients with symptoms of dizziness and/or balance disorders, especially those associated with medical conditions such as concussions, migraines or BPPV (benign paroxysmal positional vertigo).
I-PAS resembles a virtual reality headset and is just as portable. It integrates clinical eye tracking with a digital display allowing medical professionals to run a series of non-invasive oculomotor, vestibular and reaction time tests. As part of INDYCAR’s concussion evaluation protocol, I-PAS provides clinicians with objective measures to help determine when drivers can safely return to competition.
The triggers for concussion evaluation begin with clinical symptoms noted by the responding physician at the scene of an on-track incident and/or driver descriptions of concussion symptoms. Ear accelerometer data that meets or exceeds the threshold for a heightened index of suspicion of a concussion is another indication.
“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.”
INDYCAR was introduced to the I-PAS technology following the first race of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season. Driver Will Power’s car struck the wall during the first practice on the St. Petersburg, Florida, street circuit. Nothing about the incident raised concerns. The following day, after winning the pole position at a track-record pace, Power experienced concussion-like symptoms. When he didn’t feel significantly better the next day, he was held out of the race as a precaution.
With aspects of the incident not correlating, Power was sent to be examined by Dr. Steve Olvey, a former Indy car medical director, at the University of Miami’s concussion program. Olvey and his group 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.
“That was a game-changer for us,” Trammell said.
INDYCAR began administering I-PAS tests in preparation for the 2017 season and, as part of standard protocol, tested a handful of drivers subjected to forces sufficient to potentially cause a concussion during the season. None of those drivers were found to be outside the normal parameters and were allowed to continue to compete.
I-PAS became a part of the required INDYCAR driver physical regimen prior to the 2018 season, according to Dr. Geoffrey Billows, INDYCAR medical director.
INDYCAR is particularly well-suited to partner with Neuro Kinetics in the introduction of the I-PAS system, given the sanctioning organization’s long history of ongoing data collection. Each Indy car carries a “black box” that collects chassis G-forces occurring during a crash and there are accelerometers tracking head movement in the earpieces of all drivers. This data collection allows analysis of forces that produce injury, and the information is used for real-world reconstruction of the crash to further safety advancements.
Underway is a project to compare testing of drivers who have sustained an impact with ear resultant averages of at least 50 Gs. The purpose of the project is to attempt to determine if there are detectable changes in drivers who were exposed to one or more potentially concussive events over the course of a season but were not diagnosed with a concussion.
“INDYCAR has taken a unique leadership role with regard to head health and in the safety of its drivers, their teams and their fans,” said J. Howison Schroeder, president and chief executive officer of Neuro Kinetics. “The collaboration with INDYCAR – and motorsports in general – has been without peer.”