DeltaWing Race Car to Use Nissan Power, Make Race Debut at Le Mans
By Car and Driver
The engine supplier for the innovative DeltaWing race car, which looks like a cross between a jet fighter and a land-speed-record contender, was made public today. Power will come via Nissan, specifically a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine badged DIG-T (for “Direct Injection Gasoline – Turbocharged”), making about 300 horsepower. “As motor-racing rulebooks have become tighter over time, racing cars look more and more similar and the technology used has had less and less relevance to road-car development,” said Andy Palmer, executive vice-president of Nissan. “[The] DeltaWing aims to change that.”
The DeltaWing has been testing at Buttonwillow, a road course near Bakersfield, California. Thursday, it will make demonstration laps at Sebring in advance of Saturday’s Mobil1 12-hour race. Afterwards, the DeltaWing will stick around for further testing prior to its race debut at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June.
The DeltaWing is the brainchild of Ben Bowlby, a 45-year-old Brit who was the chief designer for Lola. He was the technical director for Chip Ganassi Racing when he came up with the idea for the DeltaWing, which he and Ganassi presented two years ago for consideration as the new IndyCar chassis. It was deemed too radical, and IndyCar chose the more conventional Dallara proposal, which debuts on track this spring at the St. Petersburg Grand Prix.
It was thought then that the DeltaWing was dead, until it caught the attention of the American Le Mans Series, and the ACO, which presents the 24 Hours of Le Mans. At Le Mans last year, the DeltaWing was formally offered the 56th starting position in the 2012 race, reserved for an exhibition-only car that showcases some sort of new technology.
If the DeltaWing holds up, it could be embarrassing for the competition. At a claimed weight of less than 1300 pounds with fuel and driver, the DeltaWing is designed to run the same speeds as the LMP1 cars, such as the Audi R18 Ultra, which weighs nearly twice as much but has 510 hp. At testing at Buttonwillow, the DeltaWing appeared to be shockingly stable despite its ultra-narrow front end and front tires that are only four inches wide.
The first two DeltaWing drivers to be confirmed are Marino Franchitti, brother of IndyCar racer Dario, and Nissan’s reigning FIA GT1 World Champion Michael Krumm. Franchitti has been the principal test driver. Nissan racer Eric Comas and Grand-Am racer Alex Gurney, son of Dan Gurney, also have taken laps, but the lion’s share of the developmental duties have fallen to Franchitti. The car is being built by Dan Gurney’s All-American Racers, and will be raced by Duncan Dayton’s Highcroft Racing team, for which Franchitti was a driver when the team was running Acura prototypes in the ALMS. Don Panoz, founder of the ALMS, also is a backer.
Michelin was the first company to step in, supplying tires, money, and its good name. Outside of Michelin and Nissan, however, the DeltaWing developers have had to pay for parts and support, something that is likely to change as other companies jump on the bandwagon. “I think we’ll be attracting plenty of attention,” Bowlby said. As for how it drives, Franchitti said it feels much more conventional than it looks. “Nothing startling,” he said. “It feels like a proper racer.”
The public’s first look at the DeltaWing at speed comes at 12:30 p.m. Thursday at Sebring International Raceway. Prepare to be amazed.
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