Nissan DeltaWing – Changing the Face of Sportscar Racing

October 15, 2012

Nissan DeltaWing – Changing the Face of Sportscar Racing

October 15, 2012

The most radical, exciting and polarizing race car of the past 40 years, a design that turns conventional thinking on its head and captured the imagination of fans and media in its debut at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Nissan Delta Wing, will make its second ever race start here at Road Atlanta for Petit Le Mans.

Designed to compete with just half the power, weight, fuel and tire use of current P2 cars while delivering comparable performance, the Delta Wing also generates just half the downforce of current prototypes. As at Le Mans, the car will compete here “Unclassified,” meaning it is ineligible for points or awards.

That downforce part will be tested here at Petit Le Mans as the car competes in Le Mans trim on a shorter, more aggressive track which requires more downforce.

It is fitting that the car is here. Approaching the 2011 Petit Le Mans last fall, the DeltaWing concept was in a protracted gestation. After having been awarded the special 56th garage invitation for the 2012 24 Hours of Le Mans in June 2011, the program appeared stalled, if not delayed.

Hidden from view and operating more on hope than the record might suggest–the car was starting to take shape. Led by Dr. Don Panoz, Duncan Dayton and Ben Bowlby, there was plenty of activity behind the scenes.

Finally, on the eve of Petit Le Mans, in October 2011, the DeltaWing took a big step toward reality. Michelin announced that it had become the first major technical partner for the project, noting the innovation, lessons in efficiency, mass reduction and environmental benefits.

With the announcement by Scott Clark, a top Michelin executive and backed with a live global broadcast feed, Michelin provided the project a timely boost in confidence and credibility.

Later that day, concept originator Ben Bowlby and his technical team sat down for the group’s first face-to-face technical meeting with Michelin. The DeltaWing side of the table was outnumbered 9 – 3 by MICHELIN® tire designers, chemists, developers and engineers.

Creating tires for a car that did not yet exist created unique technical challenges for Michelin. The company had literally a million miles on track at Le Mans in recent years, but zero miles with a configuration remotely similar to the DeltaWing.

The Delta Wing team needed four-inch wide front tires at the same time that Audi, Toyota and others were racing 14-inch wide fronts and looking for more. Relying on Bowlby’s data and extensive simulations of its own, Michelin began the task of simulating, designing and building molds and creating tires for a car unlike any other.

Meanwhile, Bowlby and his small crew of true believers headed west to California to encamp with Dan Gurney and his team at All American Racers to build the actual race car.

There were still a number of major hurdles, not the least of which was securing an engine partner. For several months, each bi-weekly Michelin motorsports internal call opened with the global team asking Michelin’s North American based project team leader, Silvia Mammone, a simple question: “Does the DeltaWing have an engine yet?”

An answer arrived in outstanding fashion when Nissan stepped aboard with its 1.6-liter turbocharged, direct-injection engine, and a commitment to take the lead role in the project.

“There is no question that the Michelin announcement gave the program new credibility,” said Darren Cox, general manager of Nissan Europe, who became his company’s internal champion. “Michelin is a very technical company and for them to take this on, meant they thought it had a good chance of success. We looked at it and thought the fit with the environment and efficiency was a perfect fit for Nissan.”

The car is not without its detractors. Some deride its design, others claimed the car would never be built, would never turn, or would never achieve the performance envisioned. So far, they have been proven wrong.

At Le Mans, the organizers set a target lap time for the DeltaWing of 3 minutes 45 seconds on the 8.5-mile circuit, with a straightaway target speed of 300 kph (186 mph). The car easily bettered both targets with a lap at 3:42.6 and 309.5kph (192 mph). Here at Petit Le Mans there are no artificial targets and the team is expected to compete with the top P2 class contenders.


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