Gordon Kirby

The US scene
Delta-winged wonder

The sharpest observation about the Delta Wing Indycar concept described on page 24 in this issue was made by veteran Indycar engineer and Andretti Autosports technical director Peter Gibbons, who believes it’s essential that the IRL adopt the Delta Wing (above) for 2012. “If they don’t, then at some point fairly soon it’s over,” he says. “We’ve got to take a major step and think way ahead. We need some relevancy. There’s no relevancy in what we’re doing and even less with what NASCAR’s doing. When gas is eight dollars a gallon, which isn’t far off, and we’re still pounding around in these fat, horrible, heavy cars, we’re in trouble.”

The Delta Wing addresses many issues faced by the beleaguered Indy Racing League, including how to create a more spectacular, more raceable, more appealing and technologically more relevant car. The Delta Wing is an attempt to shake up Indycar racing by applying a wide range of new technologies and new thinking to revolutionise and re-energise an almost moribund form of the sport that has literally run out of gas, both technically and commercially.

“I view this as quite a large personal risk, and for Chip [Ganassi] and the other team owners involved,” says Delta Wing designer Ben Bowlby. “But I’m prepared to stick my neck out because I think this can be a real game-changer and provide Indycar with an option for the future – and perhaps help us have a brighter future. This is the time for this concept. It’s a significant step. Therefore we have got to give ourselves the opportunity to really drill down to make sure we’re doing something that’s going to work in a wide operating window, from Indianapolis at 235mph on the straight to the Long Beach hairpin.”

The wheels comprise 54 per cent of the drag of a current Indycar at Indianapolis and a desire to substantially reduce this number led to the creation of the Delta Wing’s ultra-narrow front track. Bridgestone/Firestone are enthusiastic supporters of the project. Bridgestone is working closely with Delta Wing to design and develop the car’s four-inch wide, 15-inch diameter front tyres.

“We’ve developed a single-seater that’s very different from what we have today,” says Bowlby. “The first question was, could that work? So we did some simulation experiments and, to our great surprise, the vehicle dynamics were incredible. Under braking we discovered we’d created a unique condition – in racing car terms – where more than 50 per cent of the braking comes from behind the centre of gravity.

“Normally, more than 50 per cent of the braking comes from in front of the centre of gravity, and that is an unstable condition where you have to be terribly careful not to lock the rear brakes. The reality is that the front tyres give us an incredibly responsive directional change. This is because there is very little inertia and very little mass, and the tyres are tuned to that mass so we have an optimised, highly responsive car.”

Bowlby says low-revving, small-capacity turbocharged engines are essential to the Delta Wing’s design parameters. “We’re really trying to find a platform for the auto industry to showcase their future powertrains. We want to introduce the concept of fuel flow rate control. What we want to do is limit the amount of fuel and make as much power from that fuel [as possible]. Then you won’t be revving as high, which has good cost implications, and work on reducing friction and other esoteric elements are all about what’s being done with road cars. So suddenly there’s relevance because the technologies you’re going to apply are technologies that need to be showcased for customer awareness in road cars. This will make us extremely relevant to the road car industry.”

Like Peter Gibbons, Ben Bowlby and many others, I believe Indycar racing desperately needs the Delta Wing. Here’s hoping the IRL allows it to fly.