A New Hope - 2012 Nissan DeltaWing
Throughout the history of the Le Mans 24 Hours, there have been plenty of technical marvel that has been part of the race since the inaugural race back in 1923. From the Ford GT40 achieving the American dream, to the historic Mazda 787B with its revolutionary rotary engine and the modern days with Hybrid technology being use by Audi, Porsche and Toyota.
Then in 2011, the race organizers ACO (Automobile Club de l’Ouest) announced that the DeltaWing project would be the first ever “Garage 56” entry in the history of the race for the 2012 edition of the race. The Garage 56 entry is created for experimental vehicles.
The DeltaWing project started out as a project to replace the aging IR-03 in IndyCar and was unveiled to the public at the Chicago Auto Show 2010 as the IndyCar concept.
Unfortunately, the project lost out to Dallara with the new DW12 chassis as the future for IndyCar. However, former Technical Director of Ganassi Racing and the DeltaWing designer Ben Bowlby wanted the car to race some where else. Sports car racing was the obvious choice so he and the project co-founder Don Panoz presented their project to the ACO and ultimately got the entry to the 2012 race.
The car was a completely different car to the IndyCar concept Ben Bowlby done before. Right after Aston Martin shut down its LMP1 program with the disastrous AMR One, the project took advantage and acquired a chassis of the old AMR One. The team make used of the chassis’s tub and with Recyclable Energy Absorbing Matrix System bodywork panels. The design was revolutionary to reduce aerodynamic drag dramatically, to allow a marginally faster straight and corner speed than a 2009-2011 Dallara IndyCar. Due to the lack of front and rear wing downforce, therefore the car’s downforce comes from the underbody as a result.
As the name pointed out, it has a recognizable delta shape, with an unusually narrow 0.6 metres (2 ft 0 in) front track and a more traditional 1.7 metres (5 ft 7 in) rear track. With the narrow front track, the front tires is only 4” width.
With the project gaining momentum, Michelin and Nissan was announced as the tires and engine providers of the team respectively. With Highcroft Racing partnering the project to run the team. The car itself was powered by a 1.6L I4 turbocharged Nissan DIG-T engine with a punch of 300 hp and running an EMCO Gears 5-speed sequential manual gearbox.
Although there were speculations that the car might not made it to the grid at Le Mans, the project was on schedule and made its debut on March 1st 2012 with a shakedown at the Buttonwillow Raceway Park.
Soon after the car first shakedown the team then headed to Sebring to do further tests with the new vehicle.
After some testings, the team was well prepared for the big challenge ahead of them at the Circuit de La Sarthe for a the race. The team consists of three drivers, Nismo then teammates and former Super GT champions Satoshi Motoyama with Michael Krumm and partnering them is experience endurance racing driver Marino Franchitti.
The car was surprisingly competitive from all of the speculations from fans and media. The car’s pace was matching of those from some rivals LMP2 teams. The DeltaWing qualified in an impressive 29th with a time of 3:42.612 and was slower than the leading LMP1 Audi R18 by 18 second. But it did an incredible job as only slower than the top LMP2 car by just only 0.9 seconds and faster than four other LMP2 teams in a tight qualifying section.
The race was uneventful from the start as the DeltaWing was racing competitively with the lights of other LMP2 teams. Everything started to settle down at the one quarter mark of the race. The DeltaWing was running smoothly then at the 6 hours 15 minutes mark. Disaster strikes for the team. The No. 7 Toyota TS030 Hybrid of Kazuki Nakajima while fighting with the leading Audis made contact with his compatriot Motoyama while lapping the Garage 56 entry at the daunting Porsche Curves and sending the DeltaWing into the concrete wall.
Despite all of his best efforts to fix the car for the next 90 minutes with his team at the fence, all the work was in vain for the Japanese as the car retired from the race completing a respectable 75 laps. After the race Nakajima apologized to the whole DeltaWing team of his mistakes.
After the race, the car then participated in the annual Petit Le Mans race at Road Atlanta as an unclassified entry. It was driven by American Gunnar Jeannette and GT Academy first ever winner Lucas Ordonez. During practice the car suffered a horrible crash when Gunnar was tagged behind by a Porsche and was sent into the wall hard. Luckily the car was repaired and ready to race.
The race however was a success for the team as they battled hard with the LMP2 and LMPC teams. The car also showing strong reliability as it finishes in 5th overall and completing 388 laps around Road Atlanta. Only 6 laps behind the winner Rebellion Racing LMP1.
Unfortunately, both Nissan and Michelin pulled out after the early success of the project. The team later competed in American Le Mans Series and now the United Sports Car Racing Championship. Although showing good pace, it still fails to capture the success of the early days of the DeltaWing project.
Although having trouble at the start of its racing records, the DeltaWing was able to holds its own ground. It was a daring project and an initial success. It will be a sneak peak towards the future and the launchpad for the DeltaWing now competing in IMSA. It’s still soon to say about the future of the project, but the impact has been great towards other projects aiming to race as a Garage 56 entry with notable proposal towards the ACO. It wasn’t really successful, but it’s our new hope for the future of motorsport.