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15 March 2012

Nissan DeltaWing: Putting the "Prototype" back in LMP (w/ video)

Words by Niky Tamayo | Photos courtesy of Nissan Europe
The gruelling 24 Hours of LeMans endurance race has traditionally been the venue for manufacturers to try out wild and innovative new technologies in motorsports. The rigors of racing flat-out at over 300 km/h for 24 hours non-stop are an excellent test bed of engineering prowess. As such, LeMans has seen some interesting technologies and innovations, such as rotary engines, gas turbines, turbo diesels, and most recently, hybrids. Yet despite the "Prototype" classification, today's LMP (LeMans Prototype) cars follow strict regulations in terms of size, shape and engine load-out.
At this year's race, however, Nissan and Highcroft Racing are doing something different. They're running an actual, honest-to-goodness... prototype. Developed in conjunction with Panoz Motorsports, who are no strangers to unusual designs, the DeltaWing promises to be a truly revolutionary race car.
Motorsports aficionados will probably be familiar with this shape. The car, designed by Briton Ben Bowlby, was one of the proposed "future IndyCar" designs from a few years ago. It may have disappointed Bowlby when IndyCar went for a more conventional look, but he's bound to be happy to be going to a bigger venue at LeMans.
It’s a shame IndyCar waffled on it, because the DeltaWing is truly revolutionary. The slim profile reduces aerodynamic drag and weight at the same time, putting less stress on the engine and the brakes. A slim profile should also make for closer racing through corners, something MotoGP viewers can relate to. With the driver sat nearly between the rear wheels and all the weight at the rear, the DeltaWing promises to be very agile and stable, too. Given these benefits, the 300 horsepower DeltaWing is projected to run similar lap times to 500-700 horsepower LMP cars, all while using less fuel.
The slim profile does have its challenges. Michelin have had to design bespoke tires for the car, as the front wheels are incredibly narrow. Nissan’s contribution, on the other hand, is a lightweight 1.6 liter direct-injection turbocharged gasoline engine perfectly matched to the car’s profile. Nothing bigger will fit.
It takes incredible guts to do something like this. While Toyota and Audi push their “green” credentials by running hybrids and diesels in the LMP1 class, Nissan is throwing its weight and money behind a gasoline-powered car. Even so, the minimalist DeltaWing is expected to use half as much fuel as theses racing giants.
With competitive lap times and incredible economy, the DeltaWing has an outside chance at an overall win at LeMans. Unfortunately, as an “experimental” car, the DeltaWing doesn’t meet any LMP classification standards. As such, it will carry the number “0” and won’t be included in the final classification. But if Nissan’s wild concept simply crosses the line in front of the big boys, it'll be a vindication for Bowlby, and could signal a new era in endurance racing.