Inarguably the most innovative new race car since the Tyrrell six-wheeler, the DeltaWing made its debut at the 2010 Chicago auto show, where it was proposed as a candidate to replace the aging Dallara chassis then used by IndyCar. The mockup and a cartoonish simulation of it racing around Mid-Ohio drew an enormous amount of attention, but many considered its bizarre design a joke—are they laughing with us or at us? IndyCar chief Randy Bernard insists that he and his selection committee took the DeltaWing seriously, but few expected it to be the chosen one. The series ultimately went with an updated Dallara design.
That was not, however, the death of the DeltaWing: The ACO, sanctioning body for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, granted the DeltaWing team the 56th position in the 2012 race—that spot being reserved for a car that is not allowed to race for points but is supposed to advance motorsports technology in some way. Or, if the creators of the DeltaWing are correct, a lot of ways. We witnessed it testing at Sebring in March and can report that, yes, it does turn corners. Here’s more:
Bowlby’s idea is simple: If you have a car with half the weight and half the drag, it will require significantly less power and fuel to deliver equivalent performance. Bowlby is convinced that the DeltaWing will easily top 200 mph and corner as well as any LMP1 or LMP2 racer at Le Mans. The R18 TDI with which Audi won last year’s 24-hour has a minimum race weight of nearly 2000 pounds and is powered by a turbo-diesel V-6 putting out about 520 horsepower. In Le Mans spec, the DeltaWing weighs approximately 1100 pounds, and its turbocharged four-cylinder makes about 300 horses. Another tremendous difference is in weight distribution: 27.5 percent of the DeltaWing’s mass rides on the front wheels, with 72.5 percent over the rears. In the Audi, weight distribution is much closer to 50/50.
The DeltaWing’s basic construction is relatively conventional: an Aston Martin Racing composite tub with a steel-tube space frame at the rear. Due to the car’s compact size, though, everything is scaled down. The tubing is small and light, the coil springs are the size of cans of peas, and the nuts and bolts look almost toylike. The rear axles are quite long but modest in diameter, and they suffered on Sebring’s rough pavement. Following a couple of laps, the car came back to the pits on a tow rope. After the rear bodywork had been removed, Bowlby observed, “I think we just found the limit of our axle travel.”
Before you laugh the DeltaWing out of the paddock, consider that the team behind it knows a lot more about racing and race-car engineering than you do. The car was penned by Ben Bowlby [A], former technical director for Chip Ganassis racing teams and previously head designer at Lola. Dan Gurneys [B] All American Racers put the car together with help from Duncan Dayton [C], owner of Highcroft Racing, which took back-to-back ALMS championships in 09 and 10. Dayton brought along chief test driver Marino Franchitti [D], younger brother of IndyCar champ Dario and one of Highcrofts championship drivers in 10. Don Panoz [E], ALMS founder, has been the projects chief financier.
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