The 80th running of the Le Mans 24 Hour race (June 14-15) features a special car, the Nissan DeltaWing, true to the founding concepts of Le Mans, but nearly unimaginable in its execution.
Designed to compete at Le Mans with half the power, weight, drag, and fuel of its contemporaries, while delivering comparable performance, the all-new race car is in many ways the most radical to appear at Le Mans over the past 40 years. It has no horizontal wings, an extremely narrow front wheel track, and a three-point design concept that has stirred significant debate about race cars of the future.
It was just twelve months ago that officials of the Automobile Club de l’ Ouest announced that the DeltaWing project would receive their special “56th Garage” invitation for the 2012 race. At that point, the DeltaWing Le Mans car existed only in data files and computer simulations.
With the 2012 Le Mans invitation in hand, the group – led by concept originator Ben Bowlby, under the patronage of Chip Ganassi, Duncan Dayton’s Highcroft Racing and American Le Mans Series founder Dr. Don Panoz – set off to secure the necessary technical and strategic partners to bring the DeltaWing concept to the track.
They needed partner companies with deep technical resources, a strong culture of innovation and a willingness to risk becoming involved in a radically different project.
Michelin was the first major technical partner to commit to the project. They agreed to create special front tires – just four-inches (10 cm) wide – to accommodate DeltaWing’s radical design requirements.
Creating tires for a car that did not yet exist required extensive analysis and simulation. Michelin drew deeply upon their technical expertise and Le Mans experiences, where the tiremaker and its technical partner teams have achieved the overall race victory in each of the past 14 consecutive years.
As Michelin began tire development, the DeltaWing team turned to Dan Gurney and his All American Racers in California to begin construction of the car.
Meanwhile, Bowlby and the DeltaWing leadership group secured the technical partners for the innovative gearbox, wheels, body materials, and most important, a carmaker partner.
They found the perfect partner in Nissan. The automaker brought new energy and a 300HP 1.6L Nissan DIG-T turbocharged direct injection engine.
The team conducted tests at Sebring, Florida; Snetterton and Hethel, England; Magny Cours, France, and Aragon, Spain, before completing over 450 miles at the recent Le Mans Test Day.
Because the Nissan DeltaWing appears at the 2012 Le Mans under a special invitation as the 56th entry – carrying the number 0 – the car races outside many of the class rules, it is also ineligible to win or score points.
The Nissan DeltaWing will be driven by Marino Franchitti of Scotland, Michael Krumm of Germany and Satoshi Motoyama of Japan.
The car is expected to turn lap times in the 3-minute 45-second range while using half the fuel and tires of conventional entries. During the recent test day, the car used just one set of Michelin tires for the entire day.
The true impact of the Nissan DeltaWing may not be fully understood for several years, but there is no question that the conversation regarding the future of motorsports, its technologies, innovations and role in reducing energy consumption while maintaining performance have moved to center stage.