Is Nissan’s DeltaWing safe in the light of its Road Atlanta testing crash? (w/VIDEO)

The interweb is ablaze this morning with talk of yesterday’s crash between Nissan DeltaWing driver, Gunnar Jeannette, and the GTC Porsche 911 driver, Peter LeSaffre.

Ordinarily this would not be particularly newsworthy – it was hardly on the scale of Anthony Davidson’s huge accident during this year’s Le Mans 24 hours, or Alan McNish’s horrific crash the year before.

But it’s the second time we’ve seen the DeltaWing shoved unceremoniously off the track, both times captured in a heart-wrenching video that presents Nissan’s unconventional race car as the underdog, picked on by those paddock-bullies who resent the embarrassingly quick upstart.

Satoshi Motoyama tries in vain to repair his car after being struck by the Toyota of Kazuki Nakajima at this year’s Le Mans 24 hours.

First time around it was Toyota’s Kazuki Nakajima who inflicted the damage – prompting driver Satoshi Motoyama to break down in tears as he tried for over 90 minutes to revive his car.

“I was trying to let the leaders by and not interfere with their race but the Toyota swung across and hit me very hard,” explained Motoyama at the time. “Once I was on the grass there was nothing I could do. The Nissan DeltaWing was in the wall very hard.”

However yesterday’s crash involved the GTC Porsche 911 of Peter LeSaffre, who moved across as he was being passed by Jeannette, impacting the Nissan’s left rear wheel and forcing it into a violent roll. The impact was measured at 7Gs on the team’s telemetry system, but before we get too carried away and launch vitriol against LeSaffre, this was the consequence of an accidental collision rather than some pre-meditated attack. Acccidents happen every day in racing and that’s why race cars need to be designed and built to protect their drivers.

One can only speculate what would have happened if the Porsche had collided with a conventional P2 car, but one thing is clear from the video footage – the Deltawing’s unusually narrow front track will have offered less resistance to the resulting weight transfer and subsequent roll.

Gunnar Jeannette speaks about his crash shortly after being discharged from the medical centre.

Thankfully driver Gunnar Jeannette was OK, after being transferred to the track medical centre and examined by doctors, but it could have been so much worse. Apart from the risk from fire (which is very low these days), the most dangerous moment for a driver in an open racing car is when it rolls, at which point the driver becomes a passenger and hopes he lands on the track allowing the roll-over hoop to protect his head.

In yesterday’s accident the car scraped down the road on its roll hoops, before impacting with the wall and landing back on its wheels.

Jeannette said afterwards, “Everything was going well… I followed a GTC car through [turns] 10a and 10b and I had a run on him exiting the corner before the bridge and pulled almost completely past.

  • Nissan DeltaWing Crash Gunnar Jeannette G1 636x424 Is Nissans DeltaWing safe in the light of its Road Atlanta testing crash? (w/VIDEO)
  • Nissan DeltaWing Crash Gunnar Jeannette G2 636x424 Is Nissans DeltaWing safe in the light of its Road Atlanta testing crash? (w/VIDEO)

“He cut over to take the apex and made heavy contact with the left-rear of our car that sent me for a bit of a ride. Luckily, the guys built a very strong car.

“While the damage looks to be bad in photographs, the car took the impact quite well. We have all the spare parts to fix it and we have an excellent crew that got to work straight away and had the car stripped down remarkably quickly.”

Of course LeSaffre saw things slightly differently, “I had no place to go,” he said. “I was tracking out on the curb. My steering wheel was straight, and he whacked me. There is quite a bit of traffic and a lot of turns where you should not pass even if you’re in a P1 car. It comes down to being patient.”

Nissan DeltaWing Crash Gunnar Jeannette G4 Is Nissans DeltaWing safe in the light of its Road Atlanta testing crash? (w/VIDEO)Nissan DeltaWing driver Gunnar Jeannette who collided with Porsche 911 driver Peter LeSaffre at yesterday’s Petit Le Mans practice.

Remarkably, team still managed to finish the day 6th overall with a fastest time of 1 minute 13.686 seconds for the 2.54-mile Road Atlanta circuit.

Afterwards Nissan’s Darren Cox praised the team for building a remarkably tough car, “What I am most pleased about is that while the car obviously passed all the virtual and actual FIA crash tests prior to running at Le Mans, we’ve unfortunately tested the car in real world incidents twice now and in both cases the car has done its job in protecting the driver. We’d rather not do it again but we’ve certainly shown the concept works and it is very safe.”

But is it safe? The car certainly seems to have withstood the impact, but spare a thought for the driver and the outcome had the car been struck elsewhere on the circuit (near a guardrail for example). Hopefully, beyond the PR bluster, the team are thinking up ways in which a similar roll can be avoided in future.

Practice continues tomorrow when drivers Gunnar Jeannette and Lucas Ordonez will continue their build-up for this weekend’s Petit Le Mans.

  • David Ryan

    The DeltaWing has passed the mandatory FIA tests, which include the roll-hoops, and the cockpit regulations are the same as those for both single seaters and other open-cockpit LMP cars, so the car is certainly as safe as any others on the track. What tends to help is if other drivers pay attention to where it is on the track and don’t drive into it, or blame the DeltaWing’s driver for being hit…

    • http://www.skiddmark.com Steve Davies

      Of course complying with the mandatory FIA standards is the
      first step in safety, as Darren confirmed in his statement above, but you and I
      both know those safety standards are fallible and have been developed to
      protect drivers and spectators in ‘known’ incidents.

      What the video from yesterday’s collision does is draw attention to a number of
      vulnerabilities that may require more considered thought. Nissan’s
      DeltaWing is currently painted ‘stealth’ black (note the word stealth) and its
      front track is considerably more narrow than the rear – this raises the
      question over how easy it is to see (compared to other prototype cars) and how
      easy it is to judge the space it needs on track, all of which needs calculated
      in a split second.

      I’m not defending either driver – I see it as an unfortunate racing incident -
      but I am questioning whether the ease with which the DeltaWing rolled is
      acceptable.

      Endurance racing is structured to mix different types of race car, with vastly
      different capabilities on the same track and collisions between prototypes and
      sports cars is a frequent occurrence. There seems little value
      pointing the finger of blame, or using such emotive language (as in Nissan’s
      press release) which described the Porsche as ‘assaulting’ the DeltaWing.

      Two cars collided out on track in much the same way as they do in every race,
      the problem as I see it, comes from the fact that the DeltaWing weighs a
      fraction of the 911 and will always come of worse in such a clash.
      But let’s never accept single seaters rolling over as OK – we’ve lost too many
      talented drivers in this way.

    • http://www.skiddmark.com Steve Davies

      Of course complying with the mandatory FIA standards is the first step in safety, as Darren confirmed in his statement above, but you and I both know those safety standards are fallible and have been developed to protect drivers and spectators in ‘known’ incidents.

      What the video from yesterday’s collision does is draw attention to a number of vulnerabilities that may require more considered thought. Nissan’s DeltaWing is currently painted ‘stealth’ black (note the word stealth) and its front track is considerably wider at the rear than the front – this raises the question over how easy it is to see (compared to other prototype cars) and how easy it is to judge the space it needs on track, all of which needs calculated in a split second.

      I’m not defending either driver – I see it as an unfortunate racing incident – but I am questioning whether the ease with which the DeltaWing rolled is acceptable.

      Endurance racing is structured to mix different types of race car, with vastly different capabilities on the same track and collisions between prototypes and sports cars is a frequent occurrence. There seems little value pointing the finger of blame, or using such emotive language (as in Nissan’s press release) which described the Porsche as ‘assaulting’ the DeltaWing.

      Two cars collided out on track in much the same way as they do in every race, the problem as I see it, comes from the fact that the DeltaWing weighs a fraction of the 911 and will always come of worse in such a clash. But let’s never accept single seaters rolling over as OK – we’ve lost too many talented drivers in this way.

      • David Ryan

        The standards are indeed fallible, that much is true – however, an impact such as this being low-speed and low-energy is unlikely to put the driver at harm. I have personally witnessed far worse crashes in single-seaters (which are arguably more prone to driver injury) and indeed in go-karts, from which the driver has walked away unscathed. As a comparison, a Formula Ford single seater which travels much slower than an LMP2 will flip much more readily than was the case here yet it is deemed a safe racing car because when it DOES crash the energy is dissipated. Likewise, Toyota’s TS030 went airborne after a similar crash at Le Mans yet no one claimed that car was inherently unsafe – it did its job and protected the driver as much as possible. Same logic must surely apply in this case. As such, I see nothing inherently unsafe with the DeltaWing design insofar as protecting the driver is concerned.

        What is more concerning is the growing evidence (or so it appears) of drivers entering such races with very limited spatial awareness. Were the cars racing at night then there may be some currency in the colour scheme query; however, this was in broad daylight and any driver worth his racing licence should be able to spot a car in broad daylight – particularly when there is visible daylight between them and the other car, as was the case here. Unlike yourself, I am more inclined to blame the Porsche driver (although I concede that is personal interpretation) but he is by no means alone – Anthony Davidson was wiped out in similar circumstances by a Ferrari at Le Mans, and Romain Grosjean’s incident at the Belgian Grand Prix showed hallmarks of similar inattentiveness. The obligation to leave racing room applies both to the overtaking and overtaken drivers, and I feel this point needs hammering home to some within the fraternity. That would do more to prevent accidents such as these than knee-jerk reactions against a new design in my opinion.

        • http://www.skiddmark.com Steve Davies

          Dave, you make many valid points – none of which I disagree with. My interpretation is that Anthony Davidson was travelling considerably faster when he was pitched airborne at Le Mans this year – I guess I wasn’t surprised when that happened, whereas I was when I first watched this crash. But I haven’t seen the telemetry so I may be wrong.

          I also agree that any race car can roll, although thankfully I’ve never experienced it myself – I have however broken ribs (several times) when competing in karts – one of those times due to a roll (following impact with another kart).

          What concerns me most about this incident is the way it has been ‘clouded’ by blame (Nissan’s press release was titled ‘Nissan DeltaWing Assaulted In Road Atlanta Testing’) , whereas it looked like a pretty common racing incident. The finger-pointing strikes me as a diversionary tactic to avoid speaking about The-Elephant-in-the-Room.

          I’d have been more reassured by some introspective reflection to show that Nissan would be looking into the collision as it seeks to continue improving the DeltaWing’s performance in traffic. With such a novel design, that would have been the sensible response, hence the reason why I titled this article “Is it Safe?” For nobody to address that question seems bizzare, since the DeltaWing is still relatively untested.

  • ed

    LOL! The Deltawing “whacked” the Porsche and not the other way around? Sounds like LaSaffre needs a drug test! So what is he saying, that the Deltawing was bullying him off the track so he smashed it in self defense? Weak.

    As for safety, the Deltawing would be safe enough racing it’s technological peers, but that Porsche might as well have been a semi truck or an SUV. The difference in mass is so great that a rollover was bound to occur regardless of tire positioning.

    • http://www.skiddmark.com Steve Davies

      I don’t think there’s any doubt that the Porsche collided with the DeltaWing, however if you listen to Gunnar’s interview afterwards (see above) you’ll note that LaSaffre was merely positioning his car for the corner exit and didn’t notice that the fast approaching DeltaWing was in the midst of completing a pass.

      You’re also right about the weight difference between the Porsche and the Deltawing, it was like an SUV hitting a city car, but given this is the very nature of endurance racing, shouldn’t the cars be designed for just such a circumstance?

      • David Ryan

        As per my comment below, the Toyota TS030 went airborne at Le Mans after being hit in a similar accident. Should we therefore regard the TS030 as fundamentally unsafe? The logic doesn’t stand in my opinion. The most important criterion in incidents like these is whether the driver walks away from the scene – if they do, the car has done its job. If not, then changes need to be made. Gunnar walked away and the car was back for qualifying, so I do not see where the problem lies.

        • http://www.skiddmark.com Steve Davies

          As I’ve already said, at no time have we suggested the DeltaWing should be ‘regarded’ as unsafe, the question being raised is in direct response to the lack of information (I’ve seen) of any post crash analysis to review any lessons that should be learned.

          I don’t agree that as long as the driver walks away, then everything is fine. The DeltaWing is an unconventional design (as we all know) and while I’ve little doubt its crash ‘protection’ (i.e. the passive safety) is up to FIA standards, it was the crash ‘prevention’ (i.e. keeping all four wheels on the ground) that was surprisingly absent from any statements by the team. I certainly found that surprising.