The advances being made daily in automotive technology is impressive, but the research and development going into race cars is borderline mind-boggling. From Toyota’s record-setting electric Nurburgring racer to 1,500+ horsepower natural gas supercars, alternative fuels are providing a new platform for performance. Nissan’s DeltaWing racer is revving up for its Le Mans debut, and its success or failure could have huge implications for the future of racing.
The Nissan DeltaWing is a car that shouldn’t work, but does. With a 17.5/82.5 weight imbalance, the back-heavy DeltaWing utilizes a center-of-gravity that is farther back than in most traditional racing vehicles. Without getting too technical, this essentially means that since most of the weight is over the wide-track rear wheels, the Nissan DeltaWing is incredibly agile and stable. The DeltaWing can reportedly pull 3 lateral g’s in the corners thanks to its unique setup, while sacrificing nothing in the way of pure speed.
The real draw of the Nissan DeltaWing though is that it does more, with less, in more than one way. Weighing in at a feather-light 1,050 pounds, the DeltaWing uses just a 1.6 liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine (pulled from, of all cars, the Nissan Juke) to produce 300 horsepower. That’s about half what most Le Mans cars make from much bigger engines…and yet the DeltaWing is expected to turn lap times that are competitive with its much larger competitors. Despite similar performance, the DeltaWing will use half the fuel, half the tires, and halves the drag created by even the most aerodynamic race cars.
The above video demonstrates just some of the adversity the designer, Ben Bowlby, had to face when designing from scratch the future of racing. The fact that Nissan is taking a chance by backing Bowlby’s project gives it a fighting chance of changing the way racing is perceived. Yet the DeltaWing might mean so much more than that. Racing refinements often trickle down into everyday life, and while I’m not saying we might all one day be driving DeltaWing-based street cars, the ideas that make the DeltaWing light, powerful, and efficient could impact the cars we do drive every day.
So what is the end game for the Nissan DeltaWing? Who knows. But I think the next evolution in endurance racing is fuel restrictions. Rather than limiting what kinds of race cars teams can enter, I’d like to see a racing series where the only restriction is how much fuel teams can use. Now you’ve got to as fast and as efficient as possible, which will force teams to really buckle down and innovate, rather than grinding out new performance from old ideas.
For now, the DeltaWing will run only as an experimental car…but the day may come when racing historians look back and say the DeltaWing was a watershed moment for racing advancement.