If you think your eyes are tricking you at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, you’re only half wrong. Yes, that was a Batmobile of sorts that you saw whiz by. But you won’t find the Caped Crusader behind the wheel.
Nissan’s new DeltaWing caught E3 Spark Plugs‘ eye on Thursday when it made its public U.S. debut at the 12 Hours of Sebring event at the Sebring International Raceway. With brother Dario, Scots race car driver Marino Franchitti slid behind the wheel of the black, winged #0 and took it for two impressive practice laps. The car had been driven in the U.S. only once before, in a private run in California last week.
“We are here to demonstrate that a race car can consume half the fuel, use half the tires and weigh half as much,” said designer Ben Bowlby, head of a consortium of racing firms and suppliers who helped build the DeltaWing.
Originally designed as a possible alternative to IndyCars (Indy racing passed on it), the DeltaWing boasts a 300 hp, 1.6 liter turbo engine and two front tires that measure four inches wide, as opposed to the typical 14-inche racecar tires. Its rocket shape and low profile, as well as the fact that it’s roughly half the weight of a regular Le Mans race car, give it less aerodynamic drag. The driver’s position near the rear axle creates a rear weigh bias, making the front of the car easier to turn.
The DeltaWing quickly quieted critics who had doubts about whether the narrow tires could produce significant cornering force. Franchitti’s two practice runs went smoothly and the famed racer afterward said he was amazed at the DeltaWing’s easy handling. But the Batmobile-inspired ride still has something to prove before the start of the 24 Hours of Le Mans event in June. It’ll have to pass a crash test, meet all imposed safety standards and demonstrate a minimum level of performance. If all goes well, endurance racer Don Panoz will drive the DeltaWing throughout the race as an unclassified competitor.
Win or not, “By participating in this project, I will be living a dream,” Panoz says.
What do you think? Does the DeltaWing stand a chance in the Le Mans? Is it the next-generation race car? Post your thoughts on the E3 Spark Plugs Facebook fan page.