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March 17, 2012

DeltaWing Race Car Debut



The DeltaWing race car's appearance contradicts a lot of commonly accepted race car design principles. Because it is so extreme, this car is either ahead of its time or a technical dead-end. There's no middle ground. I don't know what to make of it yet but the design certainly brings up a number of interesting points.

It was originally proposed as a single-seater for IndyCar competition beginning in 2012. However, IndyCar chose to go with a Dallara design instead.

So the team shifted its focus to racing as an experimental entry in this year's 24 Hours of Le Mans. The video above is footage from its recently completed shakedown test at Buttonwillow Raceway.

With minimal frontal area and few appendages to disturb airflow, there is no doubt about its ability to reach high straightline speeds with a lot less power than traditional race cars. The principles are sound.

The area in question is its ability to turn. In order for a car to effectively turn the front wheels must have sufficient traction which is a result of tire contact patch area and downward force.

In the video it doesn't sound like it is being driven very hard so it's hard to judge. At 0:49 there's just a hint the tires (presumably the fronts) start squealing at what appears to be a pretty moderate pace. That would be a possible indicator of understeer.

With each front tire a mere 4" wide, spaced very closely together and most of the car's weight on the rear axle (weight distribution has not been revealed) it seems the car needs a tremendous amount of front end aerodynamic downforce to prevent understeer and the risk of "wheelies". Tire wear could also be a concern since a lot is asked of them.

The car essentially has half the weight and power but almost ¾ of the tire footprint of its competitors. But on thing is for sure. It's not lacking in its backing.

A number of highly respected names have lent their support to the project including Dan Gurney, Don Panoz, Highcroft Racing, Nissan and Michelin. Whatever the outcome at La Sarthe they should be applauded for pioneering such a radical concept.

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