In the course of innovation, setbacks occasionally occur – and such was the case for the DeltaWing® Racing Cars team three weeks ago at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park when a broken fuel filter sparked a fire in the cockpit of the car, damaging the carbon fiber chassis beyond repair. Given that most of the components of the revolutionary DeltaWing coupe are made by the team, the job list upon return to the team’s shop in Braselton, Georgia substantially increased – as did the team’s resolve.
Job one at CTMP was ensuring that driver Andy Meyrick had escaped the fire relatively unscathed, with minor burns to the area left exposed by his open helmet visor. Once they knew Meyrick was okay, the team systematically took the revolutionary coupe apart, cleaning fire extinguisher debris from the cockpit and finding out what, if anything, could be salvaged. Withdrawing from the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship event, the team headed home intent on making sure the innovative coupe would be ready for its Road America debut in four weeks – an event where the DeltaWing roadster led its first race and finished in the top five last year.
The team chose to take advantage of the positive opportunities provided by the fire to make changes to existing systems on the DeltaWing coupe. They didn’t have to start completely from scratch, as the repaired Sebring chassis was ready for service, updated with the modifications the team had made to the previous tub over the past four months. The rebuild plans began as soon as it became apparent that the tub could not be repaired.
“We stripped the car down at CTMP to prioritize what we would have to do when we got back, which saved us time at the shop,” said lead mechanic Paul Taylor. “Once we got back, we went through all the components, even though we knew we weren’t going to be able to use most of them. We had the repaired tub from Sebring, so we didn’t have to rebuild all the little bits and pieces – and the layout was updated, both with changes we’ve made and items the series has added, like the marker lights. We’d custom-made brackets for all those things and this car has them, so that saved us time. But I’d say only 10 percent of the parts that were on the car Friday morning at CTMP will be on the new car.”
“I hate that the fire happened, but we’ll use a clean sheet if we have one,” said team manager Tim Keene. “Since we are putting together a different chassis, it makes sense to put on new components, so we can go to Road America with basically a new car and give it our best shot.”
Most of the components on the DeltaWing coupe are designed and fabricated by the team - the suspension parts, the engine frame, all the brackets (including those that hold electronics, the doors, etc.) and most everything that is made of carbon fiber. Gearbox pieces, shocks, brakes and electronics are made by outside vendors according to specs developed by the team. Some composite work is done by the team, some by Élan Motorsports Technologies and Élan Composites, and some by outside vendors.
“We make the vast majority of the components on the car,” said Taylor. “I would say 85 percent of the car is components we make. There are very few parts on this car that are off-the-shelf. Because of that, there are things we can change as we put the car together, like the wiring loom that connects all the electronics – Josh (Foley, data engineer) consolidated it so that it fits much better, which makes a huge difference. It’s a big tub until you start filling it up and space goes away pretty quickly, so any of these little things that we can make smaller and lighter make it easier to work on and add up to time on the racetrack.”
Keene points to key updated components as examples of items that can be reworked when there is time and opportunity – including the aforementioned wiring loom.
“Another opportunity presented by this changeover is that we were able to refine a few components, such as the wiring loom, to save weight and at the same time, make the cockpit tidier,” said Keene. “We also updated the door mechanism, to help get the drivers out more quickly, which helps shorten pit stops. We don’t have the room to use gas struts like most other cars, so our guys designed a spring mechanism that pops the door open, which helps get the driver out of the car much more easily.”
A great deal of preparation time goes into putting any race car on the track and Taylor surmises that for every hour the car runs on a race weekend, the team will complete eight hours of prep time. And yes, much of the current rebuild would be happening anyway, as the team services components in between race weekends – the team is just deeper into it with the damage from the fire, rather than focusing on the parts that are usually on the rebuild list.
At the end of the day, the focus remains clearly forward – not just on next weekend’s Road America event, but on the opportunities awaiting the team next year, in the second season of the TUDOR Championship.
“We’ve got a good setup on the car now,” said Taylor. “That’s what (race engineer) Alan Mugglestone really brings to the table. We were good in morning practice at CTMP and that’s a similar track, so we’re hoping for a good result at Road America.”
“There’s only so much we can do now,” said Keene, “but we’re already thinking about next year – with the new gearbox and other new components, everything from the bulkhead back will be new next year.
“I feel really good about going to Road America, with all the changes we’ve done. We showed good speed in Canada and I think we’ll be really fast at Road America. If we can execute on our end, I think we’ll be able to turn the wick up a bit.”
The DeltaWing team will be back in action this weekend at the Continental Tire Road Race Showcase at famed Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. The two hour and 45 minute race will be broadcast on FOX Sports 1 at 6:30 ET Sunday. For news, photos and features, follow DeltaWing Racing Cars on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and DeltaWingRacing.com.