Ben Bowlby’s DeltaWing concept has not faded into the past, as much as many IndyCar fans may wish it. The concept lives and will make an appearance in a place where we here at OpenPaddock had thought it was best suited from the beginning, endurance sports car racing. After all, the concept originally produced and displayed at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May 2010 could only very loosely have been called an open-wheel car. It genuinely does resemble a prototype sports car more than a single-seater formula car. However, that original concept was also quite obviously a single-seat vehicle.
In these past few months, the DeltaWing Racing group has been quite, but not idle; they’ve revised their original concept into a two-seat prototype sportscar. In affiliation with Highcroft Racing, the legendary constructor and racer Dan Gurney’s All American Racers, and creator of the American LeMans Series, Dr. Don Panoz, DeltaWing has formed a coalition called Project 56 with hopes of making the DeltaWing concept’s racing debut in 2012 at the crown jewel of endurance sports car racing, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The cockpit has been widened slightly to pay tribute to the two-seat origins of sports car racing, the wheels have been enclosed, and headlamps have been fitted to both the nose and rear-wheel fenders.
“We are pleased to announce a licensing agreement with the ‘Project 56 Partners’ to utilize the DeltaWing design and technology for their participation in the 24 Heuers du Mans in June, 2012.
“The Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) has shown great vision in creating an opportunity for an innovative and experimental vehicle such as the DeltaWing to participate ‘outside the classifications’ in this famous event. The race has a long and glorious history, featuring the most advanced and technologically relevant racing cars. We are thrilled to have been invited to join the list of innovators and to honor the Spirit of Le Mans.” — Ben Bowlby, Creator of the DeltaWing concept.
So what are our thoughts on it? While I can’t speak for my fellow partners in crime here at OpenPaddock, I’ll say that its brilliant. Is the car still rather hideous and phallic? …well, yeah, it is. However, I’m very excited and anxious to see how Bowlby’s concept performs on the track. I know there are a lot of detractors out there saying that the car won’t turn, but I disagree. The car won’t have the same handling dynamics as a traditional 4-point footprint based car, but keep in mind that most of the weight is aft, and not in the nose. This greatly reduces the moment of inertia of the car and coupled with Bowlby’s notion of using torque vectoring to assist in steering, the car should corner just fine. Granted, it will take a very adaptable driver to come to grips with the very different dynamics, but I’m convinced that in the right hands, the car will turn.
What really stands out to me as a huge positive for this concept, and something that could be of great interest to manufacturers, is the efficiency of the design. The whole point behind the DeltaWing concept was to create a racer that was lighter, more cost-effective, and more fuel-efficient. We all know as race fans that if you can make one less pit stop while still maintaining race pace, that team will have a huge advantage over its competitors. Also, as an engine manufacturer, one would be able to tout the fuel economy and efficiency of your engine over your rivals.
“To take a car like this with a totally innovative design to Le Mans and run before a worldwide television audience of more than 600 million people is an incredible story.
“This will be the first legitimate test with 55 other cars on the track – it will be a huge challenge but one that we are looking forward to.
“The project represents a unique opportunity for all automotive industry sectors; the OEMs and suppliers, whether it be engines, drivetrains, lubricant and fuel companies, tire manufactures – it is such an innovative concept that it provides an incredible platform for them to market and prove their capabilities.
“In my opinion, it has the potential to be one of the most significant developments in motor racing in 50 years. It is so new and exciting, and such an interesting departure from the traditional race car development path – it is highly relevant to the future.
“Given that the world is concentrating on efficiency and green technologies in an attempt to achieve sustainability, this project in my opinion will help promote the direction that is being adopted throughout the entire automotive industry.” — Duncan Dayton, Highcroft Racing
While I was dead-set against DeltaWing being selected for the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series chassis, I’m all for its deployment in endurance sports car racing. For the past decade, real motorsports innovation has not existed at Indianapolis, nor in the workshops and wind tunnels of Formula 1 teams. Overbearing sanctioning bodies and over-restrictive regulations have seen to it that genuine engineering creativity has been all but squashed in open-wheel racing. The last refuge of motorsports experimentation andinnovation, is at Le Mans. I’m really looking forward to seeing the initial tests of the DeltaWing prototype project, and wish Project 56 the best of luck!