Got a small taste of the Nissan Delta Wing’s potential at Le Mans. The cars much-anticipated debut unfortunately was cut short by a crash early in the race in which driver Satoshi Motoyama was an innocent victim. But the car performed well in all departments, proving designer Ben Bowlby’s theories correct and without doubt worth pursuing.
The revolutionary car created a huge wave of interest and Delta Wing majority owner Don Panoz is determined that the car will race again this year at least at the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta in October. He also says a batch of production Delta Wings will be built later this year at Elan Motorsports Technology in Georgia, to race next season in the ALMS’s LMP2 or P1 categories. And Panoz hopes the AGO will agree to formulate a rules package for the car to race again at Le Mans as either a P2 or P1 car.
“We intend to start designing a production car tub that can accommodate the different LMP classes,” Panoz said after Le Mans. “We’ll start working to get ready to start building Delta Wings as a production race car. The real secret is we need to generate data. For people to look at it realistically and to be responsible in writing the rules to integrate this car into the sport, they will need to see all the data.”
The Delta Wing showed it could comfortably lap Le Mans in the low 3min 40sec bracket, and the drivers and Bowlby believe the car is capable of going substantially faster.
“We’re hoping the car will race in some WEC events this year and certainly Petit Le Mans,” Panoz said. “We’ll start accumulating more data and from that we’ll write the rules for the ALMS. We will provide the AGO with all the data as well and allow them to monitor and judge accordingly about what rules they wish to write for the car to compete in either LMP2 or P1 at Le Mans.” Marino Franchith, the lead test and race driver for the Nissan Delta Wing, was delighted with the car’s responsiveness.
“From the first test I knew the car would perform. You know very quickly whether a car is good or not and I knew straight away this was a very good car. The thing that hit me was how well the car changed direction. And number one on my list is the car’s aero performance the fact that it has no wings and the underfloor really works well. You can’t help being affected when you’re in the wake of another car, but I would say this car was affected less than others I’ve driven.
“We’re still in the early stages of this car’s evolution,” Marino added. “We’ve only scratched the surface of untapped performance. I believe the car has a lot still to give.”
Bowlby agrees with Era nchith . “We can improve on many fronts,” he said. “The aero package, for example, is very conservative. I would say there’s a lift-to-drag ratio improvement of between 30 and 50 per cent on the table. There’s a phenomenal amount of potential there.”
Bowlby was delighted with the enthusiasm shown for the Delta Wing at Le Mans. “You come away from an experience like we had with so many fans talking to you it says that people love innovation and technical challenges,” Bowlby said. “I’m just so glad that so many people who are interested in motor sport cared for what we were trying to do. It’s wonderful to have motor sport fans who spend time thinking and enjoying but also being challenged by new things, being concerned about the future and finding more efficient ways of doing things.
“Motor sport fans want to see new stuff and new technology. The car is still the star. I’m so excited about that because we had all been brainwashed into thinking that the car was unimportant. But in truth, the car is still very important.”
We look forward to the next chapter in the Delta Wing’s history as Bowlby continues to develop the car and Don Panoz gets his ducks in line to build production Delta Wings to race next year.
Cars in books, November 1976
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