One of the most innovative racecars to hit the track in the history of the sport is set to make its race debut this week when the Nissan DeltaWing competes in the 80th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
A mere 12 months after being announced by the Automobile Club de l'Ouest as the recipient of “Garage 56” for 2012, the unique car which features half the weight, half the horsepower and half the aerodynamic drag of a typical Le Mans prototype will race for the first time.
The “Garage 56” entry is an additional car added to the field that demonstrates new and innovative ideas and technology previously unseen in the event.
At the time of last year’s announcement, the DeltaWing was an unraced concept that had yet to be built.
But the dream of showcasing new standards in efficiency on the racetrack pulled together the likes of concept originator Ben Bowlby; American Le Mans Series founder, Don Panoz; American racing legend and All American Racers founder, Dan Gurney; two-time ALMS championship-winning team owner, Duncan Dayton; concept patron and multiple Indy 500 and IndyCar championship winning team owner, Chip Ganassi; the world’s leading tire manufacturer, Michelin and innovative auto manufacturer Nissan.
With international efforts taking place across three continents in the USA, UK and Japan, the Nissan DeltaWing hit the track for the first time on March 1 and immediately answered the biggest question in motorsports – does it turn? Yes!
The car is powered by a 1.6 litre Nissan DIG-T turbocharged engine and features special development Michelin front tires that are only four inches wide and 23.6 inches apart, the Nissan DeltaWing’s land speed record challenger-type looks defy popular belief that the car wouldn’t go around corners.
However, one of the secrets to the car’s unique abilities is its weight distribution. More than three-quarters of the car’s mass is carried by the rear wheels, allowing for a dramatically smaller front tire requirement.
The use of traditional racing car wings is also eliminated by the clever design of the car’s underbody that virtually operates like a huge wing – providing outstanding downforce levels without the accompanying drag.
The Nissan DeltaWing took another important step in its development eight days ago at the Le Mans test day when it hit the track alongside a full field of entrants as the final preparation step for the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The car passed this test with flying colors, completing 53 laps without any major issues and remarkably – every single lap but one (a single exploratory lap on wet tyres) was run on the same set of Michelin tires.
All three drivers – Marino Franchitti (Scotland); Michael Krumm (Germany) and Satoshi Motoyama (Japan) completed laps around the 8.5 mile Circuit de la Sarthe.
The next step for the car will be the official event tech inspection that takes place in downtown Le Mans at Place de le Republic at 4:30pm today (Monday, June 11.)
Official practice for the race week begins at 4:00pm on Wednesday, June 13.
The cars are on track on Wednesday and Thursday night for qualifying until midnight. The 80th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans greets the green flag at 3:00pm on Saturday, June 16.
“The ACO test was certainly a very encouraging start to our Le Mans adventure, it was great that the car ran faultlessly at the test as it allowed us to complete our program and then some. That certainly puts us in a better position coming into the race with more information to learn from. Michael, Satoshi and I are looking for the same improvements from the car so that makes all our jobs easier.
“I was really happy with how the Nissan DeltaWing handled and felt in traffic, the aero performance seemed consistent no matter what cars we ran with and that is a very important thing in multi class racing.
“The performance of the Michelin tires was just as we hoped and whether we have rain or shine, I'm confident in the grip we have from the rubber on the road.
“From the moment the car was unloaded off the truck at the test we had a huge amount of interest around our garage. When the pit lane was open for fans everyone seemed to want to come and take a look and a lot of other drivers, team members and mechanics were also very interested too.
“It's nice that the car has had such a great reception from not only the fans, but also from our fellow competitors and I can't even imagine how crazy it's going to be race week when 250,000 spectators are there.
“With such a new and innovative program, we’re, to a degree, heading into the unknown entering a 24 hour race and while we were certainly happy with the test, we're not complacent about the huge task ahead of us.”
“We had less than 100 days from when the car first ran until we got to Le Mans but I have to say I am very pleased with how the test day went.
“We ran without trouble the whole day, completed loads of laps, and it looks very good regarding our targeted fuel consumption numbers.
“I was worried about how stable the car would be through the Porsche curves but it was really comfortable and fast.
“We’ve certainly proved the concept and our goal this week will be to work on improving the lap times and to continue to improve the reliability
“There is still a lot of untapped potential in the car and I am confident we should be able to lap around the same time as the LMP2 entries.
“I’m very excited about the week ahead and hopeful we don’t hit any small issues during the race.
“Satoshi and I raced our Nissan GTR in the Super GT Championship in Malaysia this weekend and jumped on a plane straight after the race to head directly back to Le Mans. We'll be ready to sign-in today for tech inspection and rejoin Marino and all the guys."
“It was fantastic to be back at Le Mans again because to drive here really is one of the big dreams of every racing driver.
“I was really impressed with how the car felt and it is very rewarding to be involved in such an innovative project and work together with my teammates and everyone involved.
“We’re exploring a completely different concept for a racing car.
“I still get asked by lots of people ‘how does it turn?’ – in fact, before I drove the car for the first time, I was asking myself the same question.
“But it really feels like a normal racing car and that was the biggest surprise for me.
“We had a very strong day at the test, but there is still a lot of work to do and getting to the finish will be a huge challenge.
“Nissan fans had always hoped to see the brand back at Le Mans in a big way. The engine program in LMP2 has been great but now to have Michael and myself from the factory in Japan involved is another huge step.
“This is a great project for Nissan and it really showcases what the brand is all about in pushing new innovations.
“I hope that Le Mans will just be the start. The level of interest back home has been huge and I would love to drive this car in Japan – the fan interest would be enormous.”