Road America: A look back - and a look forward

When the history of the DeltaWing project is written, the 2013 American Le Mans Series event at Road America will stand as a seminal moment: when the revolutionary sports car prototype took the race lead for the first time and showed that innovation is alive and well in sports car racing. Now the team returns to the fabled Wisconsin circuit with the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship in search of another historic moment – with the evolution of last year’s car, the closed-top DeltaWing coupe.

The DeltaWing Racing Cars team knew that the Road America event would be the last for the roadster version of the radically innovative car, which boasts half the weight, half the fuel usage and half the horsepower of other sports car prototypes. Hoping to see the roadster go out with a positive result, drivers Katherine Legge and Andy Meyrick took advantage of changing conditions to put the DeltaWing into the overall race lead and ultimately a top five finish. With the unification of the former Grand-Am and ALMS circuits into the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, Legge will forever stand as the only female driver to hold the overall lead in an ALMS race.

Legge and Meyrick return to Road America with a score to settle, as a late-race caution period cost them a shot at the overall podium in 2013. As the green flag fell last year, Legge put the DeltaWing’s inherent straight line speed advantage and solid grip to good use, passing the third-place Dyson Mazda into turn one. With the racing line barely beginning to dry, the team made the call to change to slick tires. As the DeltaWing easily handled the damp-to-drying conditions, Legge carved up the field, posting the quickest race lap time before taking the lead on lap 20.

Meyrick took the wheel on the next pit stop and grabbed the race lead as the rest of the field came in for service. After a quick fuel stop late in the race that put them in fifth position overall, the team realized that the DeltaWing’s fuel efficiency could mean the agile prototype would be able to finish the race while its higher-horsepower competitors would have to come in for one last splash of fuel. Fate intervened in the form of a late race caution period which meant that everyone would be able to make it to the end on fuel. It was a bittersweet moment for the team – to finish third in the P1 class and fifth overall, yet be disappointed in that result.

“It was a funny feeling,” said Meyrick. “We actually felt frustrated for a moment after the race ended, because we thought we could have finished on the overall podium. But to get a top five finish against such a strong field was very special. It was great to race at the front and to have that in the history books in this car. It was a day of firsts and it really helped give the team a lift.”

With the DeltaWing roadster’s success at Road America, both Legge and Meyrick can’t wait to see how the DeltaWing coupe handles the track and the constantly changing conditions that are a given during the Wisconsin summer.

“It was great to finish the history of the roadster on a high note,” said Legge. “We can look back at the roadster and say that the last race she did, she was successful. It’s great to develop a car to that point. We’re developing the coupe to a much higher spec than the roadster, trying to use the differential to help the car under braking, more brake bias bars, all the tricks you can use.” Legge believes the coupe has the potential to outpace the roadster, as the team once again uses the pressure-packed race weekends as test sessions to try different things. “It will be key to finish the race,” Legge added. “If we have the reliability, I know we can finish high up in the order.”

Meyrick noted that the team has had some strong runs in the 2014 season, despite the setup incurred in Canada four weeks ago, when damage from an onboard fire meant the team had to switch chassis. The positive moments, like coming from twelfth to seventh at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca before a gearbox failure ended the day, are encouraging as the team focuses on reliability. “The performance of the coupe has been strong,” Meyrick said. “We have good raceability, good consistency, so we’ll work on the reliability and hopefully get some good finishes in the second half of the season – starting at Road America.”