The Delta Wing has returned to racing in the American Le Mans Series. When Ben Bowlby and Dan Gurney’s All-American Racers announced plans to build (and race) a radical, triangular race car, many scoffed. And when IndyCar chose Dallara over the Delta Wing as its future chassis, many assumed the car was dead.
But Bowlby and Don Panoz believed in the project. Panoz is no stranger to innovation or frustration, having developed a front-engine Le Mans prototype despite 40 years of technology in the other direction. Bowlby conceived of the project five years ago (with Chip Ganassi’s support) in preparation for the IndyCar chassis tender, but Panoz brought it to life. The car was built by All-American Racers in 2012 and tested by Marino Franchitti and Alex Gurney in preparation for a Le Mans entry as “Garage 56″ – the experimental division.
At Le Mans last year, the car was competitive but failed to finish after it was struck by a Toyota prototype. Satoshi Motoyama heroically tried to repair the damage trackside on his own (rules forbid assistance), but to no avail. The car was retired after six hours. It was anybody’s guess as to whether the car would reappear.
The car is now owned by Delta Wing Racing Cars, i.e., Panoz. The Nissan engine has been swapped for an Elan (Panoz-built) power plant, but the chassis is otherwise similar to the original delivered by AAR. AAR, Nissan and Michelin are no longer involved. The car now runs on Bridgestones.
The 1.9L Panoz engine is based on a Mazda MZR lump with direct injection and twin turbos, making 345 hp (reputedly more than the predecessor Nissan). The transmission is a paddle-shifted five-speed sequential ‘box, with the entire transmission weighing 35kg.
Bowlby’s design is certainly ingenuous. The car is designed to generate more downforce with less drag, using less power and fuel. It has no wings, but it is, in essence, nothing but wing. Most of the braking force comes from behind the center of gravity, providing great stopping power without instability. Nearly 3/4 of the car’s mass is in the rear, rendering it extremely light on front tires (it used just one pair during the Le Mans test day in 2012). Arguably, this also cuts down on lock-up entering a corner. And at 490kg (without a driver), the car is significantly lighter than even a modern F1 car.
Who are its peers among other race cars? Certainly not the P1 class in the ALMS – in Monterey, the Delta Wing’s best lap was ten seconds off the P1 pace set by Rebellion Racing. In qualifying, it was 8.6 seconds behind the pole time set by Rebellion’s Lola-Toyota. Several GT cars turned in quicker laps.
At Laguna Seca, the Delta Wing inheirited a podium when one of only four P1 entrants retired. The car is scheduled to make another appearance at Lime Rock in July, and reports indicate that the car may adopt a canopy.
Whether this design will ever take hold is anyone’s guess. It’s a radical approach to an age-old compromise. But is it pretty?
Ask us in 2050.