After less than a year’s intensive development, the Nissan DeltaWing will make its Le Mans debut this Sunday at the annual 24 Hours of Le Mans test day.
Less than 100 days after it rolled onto a race track for the first time, the DeltaWing design will be put through its paces by Marino Franchitti, Michael Krumm and Satoshi Motoyama around the legendary 8.5-mile Le Mans circuit.
DeltaWing Racing Cars and Highcroft Racing were announced just over 12 months ago as the recipients of the “Garage 56” entry for this year’s race. The additional entry is reserved for cars that bring new and innovative technology to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The car was created under the Project 56 banner which brings together Managing Partner and American Le Mans Series founder Don Panoz; DeltaWing project originator Ben Bowlby; Highcroft Racing’s Duncan Dayton; concept patron Chip Ganassi; and racing legend Dan Gurney.
The foresight of the Automobile Club de l'Ouest has enabled Bowlby and his team to create a new, competitive machine that features half the weight, half the horsepower and half the aerodynamic drag of a traditional Le Mans prototype while also significantly reducing tire and fuel consumption.
Built by Gurney’s All American Racer’s group, the car hit the track for the first time on March 1 at Buttonwillow Raceway in the California desert. The partnership between DeltaWing Racing Cars and Nissan was announced in London on March 13.
The unique car’s first public outing came at Sebring International Raceway two days later at a media event hosted by tire partner Michelin.
The Nissan DeltaWing features front tires that are only four inches wide with a front track measurement of only 23.6 inches. The entire car weighs a mere 1047 lbs. – half that of a traditional prototype - and is powered by a 300-horsepower 1.6 liter Nissan DIG-T turbocharged engine.
The dramatic low-drag aerodynamic styling of the car allows it to reach top speeds in excess of 300km/hr.
Since the car’s track debut, the Nissan DeltaWing has undergone an extensive test and development program in preparation for Le Mans. The car has hit the track at Snetterton and Hethel in the UK, Magny Cours in France and Aragon in Spain.
At Le Mans this Sunday, the team will have a further eight hours on track – running sessions from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2 to 6 p.m. local time.
“Getting any car ready for the 24 Hours of Le Mans is a huge undertaking but that is multiplied significantly when we are talking about such an innovative car as the Nissan DeltaWing and the time scale we have had to work with.
“Everyone has worked incredibly hard to develop the car and the guys have had very few days off, Nissan, Michelin, DeltaWing Racing cars – all the partners involved in the project have really put in an enormous effort in.
“We will see when we get to Le Mans if the performance is where we expect it to be, but the big challenge for us will be the durability of the car over 24 hours.
“The car really is a mobile science experiment and we’re learning with every lap we complete, we feel we have a good understanding of the car and what it likes, but Le Mans is a track like no other so we are very fortunate to have the ACO test day to gain a lot of information on this unique circuit.
“It has been fantastic working with Satoshi and Michael. We have a great understanding between the three of us and our feedback has been very similar – we all want the same things out of the car. Michael has been involved since early in the programme, we just hit it off straight away and having the team mate he works with week in week out made the integration of Satoshi seamless also.
“These guys are real pros and have been a pleasure to work with them and I think that is important at Le Mans because you really need to have a good working relationship with your teammates.
“We’re all really looking forward to getting to Le Mans and showing the DeltaWing off to the world.”
“It's exciting to be back in Le Mans. This will be my fourth time here with Nissan, but this time will be ever more exciting.
“I can't wait to get a run in the Nissan DeltaWing to see how it will perform around this amazing circuit.
“With this project we face many challenges on different levels. Most of the knowledge regarding driving style and comments about balance and setup choices are not valid for the Nissan DeltaWing. We need to be open to new approaches all the time – that is what makes it also very exciting. We keep learning at every test and improve from there.
“For me it's great to work with Satoshi Motoyama in Le Mans again, as we did with the last Nissan project in 1999 with the R391. We drive together in Super GT in Japan and are about the same age and know each other well.
“Also it helps that I speak Japanese. He already gave us very valuable feedback at his first test to help to push the car forward.
“We’ll make a great combination together with Marino. I didn't know Marino before, but we hit it off really well right from the start. Both our comments are very similar which is essential in the development process.
“You don't want one driver saying one thing and the other a something completely different. In that sense all three of us fit very well together. Marino has the most experience in the car and did loads of groundwork with it. It was a tough job for him, no doubt, but he is a great team player and informs Satoshi and myself about every little thing that happened in some earlier tests when we both couldn't attend.”
“It has been 13 years since I raced at Le Mans with Nissan and Nismo.
Honestly I've been amazed and happy so much to have the great opportunity.
“I'm very interested in the innovative challenge and the novel machine of Nissan DeltaWing. Developing this car is an extremely interesting challenge and Le Mans is a great opportunity to showcase it to the entire world.
“Michael is my teammate from Super GT in Japan and close friend as well. That is a great opportunity for me to help me get accustomed to the car and the team. It is great to continue to work with people you are familiar with.
“Marino has also been a great teammate. He has passed on a lot of advice about the car that has been beneficial because he is the guy who has the most miles aboard the DeltaWing.
“Their experience from both Michael and Marino is definitely helpful.”
“It is quite hard to believe where the past year has gone – it only seems like yesterday that the DeltaWing was announced for Garage 56 and here we are ready to run at Le Mans for the first time.
“It really has been an incredible year of tremendous hard work from everyone involved and I am really grateful for everyone’s commitment – especially everyone at Nissan and Michelin who believed in what we are trying to achieve.
“I am also very grateful for the ACO for the opportunity to showcase what the DeltaWing could do on such an enormous global stage.
“One year has flown by, and in all seriousness, if we had another year up our sleeve we could use that as well.
“The potential the car has shown has been very gratifying and our goal will be to try to complete as much of the race as we can.
“The time frames have been incredibly tight, but Le Mans is not the finish line for the DeltaWing – this is just the start. Our biggest hope is that what we are doing in France will be the catalyst to allowing further innovation in our sport.”
“This weekend will be another important step in the development for this car. While we did a few demo laps at Sebring earlier this year, this will be the first time that we’ve been out on a competitive racetrack with full field of cars.
“The past 12 months have been an amazing journey and we will be one step closer to the car’s race debut this week.
“I’ve been coming to Le Mans for a long time and had great success here in the past including our cars taking a class win. But I have to say I am really excited to see the car on track and also seeing people’s reactions to it.
“The Nissan DeltaWing has receive tremendous international media exposure, but seeing it on TV or in a magazine is one thing – but once you see it in the flesh – that’s when it really gets your attention.
“We’re not here to challenge Audi or Toyota. We don’t want to get in the way of anybody’s race. What we are here for is to show that with a bit of lateral thinking, the future of motorsport can look very different and be far more relevant and sustainable.”