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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.