Nissan’s DeltaWing sets out to disprove the cynics

Nissan-deltawing-sebring

Ever since it was launched in London last week, Nissan’s DeltaWing has been the subject of much controversy. Whilst there has been little doubt about its straight-line prowess, many people (including its drivers, Marino Franchitti and Michael Krumm) were anxious to see how well the radical design would work around corners.

One of our YouTube viewers, ShizoluckyShizostar, expressed his doubts in a typically forthright manner, “So let’s leave this PR bull* to those who don’t follow racing. DW [DeltaWing] is supposed to achieve great economy by sticking a modest – in racing terms – engine into a chassis that has the aerodynamic properties of a space shuttle, and would have similar practicality on the road as a space shuttle. They achieved very low drag by sacrificing all the road relevance and losing any resemblance to a car. So, don’t tell me it’s a testbed for Nissan’s future road car developments.”

Fair point. But before we judge how successful the DeltaWing will be in meeting Nissan’s R&D objectives, it must first succeed in the environment for which it was built. The track.

So just a few days after its launch, it made its first few tentative steps in public at the venue of last weekend’s FIA World Endurance Championship opener in Sebring.

Darren Cox, from Nissan Europe, said during the team’s visit to Sebring, “We did a fan forum today and it was brilliant. I love racing in the US because it is a completely different atmosphere. The fans have shown a huge amount of interest in this car. We had lots and lots of people standing in the hot sun and nobody left – they just soaked up all the information we could give them.

“The reaction from the fans has been brilliant. When I said we were running the car tomorrow morning just before the race, all the fans gave us a round of applause.”

Marino Franchitti turned the first few laps in the 1.6 litre turbo-charged race car, followed by Michael Krumm last Saturday, however a broken driveshaft ended proceedings prematurely.

In his limited time with the car, Krumm came away impressed from the experience and looking forward to Le Mans, “It’s difficult to describe, but it was quite stable. It turns well, and it feels far more like a regular car than you’d guess from its appearance.”

‘Quite stable’ is clearly not good enough, especially when you’ve got 24 hours of flat-out driving to contend with, but the team still have 3 months to improve the DeltaWing. Thereafter the big question will be, “what happens next?”

Development of the DeltaWing has thus far been funded by Don Panoz (founder of Panoz cars and the ALMS series) together with the Highcroft Racing team, but with Nissan and Michelin on board, the additional cash and resources should move the project along more swiftly.

But what is the future of this slightly awkward-looking race car? Well Panoz is hopeful of selling cars to privateer teams competing in both the WEC and Le Mans, but this will only happen once it’s notched up some competitive outings.

The DeltaWing continues testing at Sebring during this week, then crosses the pond back to Europe as it builds up to its first race at the legendary Le Mans 24 Hours on 16th – 17th June. At the moment there is only one DeltaWing in existence, so clearly the team must build a few spares for those inevitable moments when its drivers exceed the limit.

It’s encouraging to see brands such as Nissan and Michelin choosing to get their hands dirty with such unique projects. Although whether the DeltaWing has a lifespan beyond Le Mans, will depend on how fast it is and whether it survives long enough to nurture the confidence of other race teams.

Even so, there will be some valuable lessons to learn from the unique way it drives, which at the very least will hopefully find their way onto other race cars.

You can keep an eye on the team’s progress by visiting their Facebook page.

Photo credits: Highcroft Racing, Michael Krumm