It’s not just the hybrids making headlines at Le Mans

Updated: June 20, 2012

Audi made history at Le Mans on Sunday by being the first marque to win the race with a hybrid. Although the Audi R18 E-Tron Quattros claimed first and second to provide another historic milestone at the Circuit de la Sarthe for the German manufacturer. There was another car in the field that stole some attention from the front runners and definitely won the hearts of a lot of fans. What was it you ask? Project 56 or the DeltaWing car as its more commonly known.

So what is the DeltaWing? Originally it was one of the proposals for the new Indy Car chassis and the brain child of Ben Bowlby. Having lost out to Dallara in that particular race it looked like the car may never race or be seen bar a prototype used to display the concept and some CAD drawings. Thankfully this was not to be the case.

Following on from the disappointment of losing out on becoming the next Indy Car; Bowlby (the designer of the car) met up with American Le Mans Series bosses and a man who would become a very important part of the project was in attendance. That man being Don Panoz. Panoz had a history in sportscars and at Le Mans and with racing unconventional cars. He’d previously attempted to bring a hybrid to Le Mans through his own Panoz racing team back in the 90’s as well as racing front engined cars (when the norm is a mid or rear engine machine).

From there it was a situation that Bowlby and Panoz sought out Automobile Club l’Ouest bosses to try and get approval for them to be the 56th entry to Le Mans. This was always a place reserved for experimental vehicles. In June 2011 it was announced that the DeltaWing project would receive garage 56 at Le Mans in 2012.

Even with this announcement it was still a situation where people wondered if the project would ever come to fruition. Some wondered if the car it’s self would even be able to get around corners. Many wondered about the car’s design and breaks from the norm. I won’t go into too much detail but there is a great interview with Bowlby regarding the car and his reasons for the unique design available through which dates back to 2010 when the project was still a possible Indy Car solution.

As the project moved into full swing more partners were sought. Dan Gurney’s legendary All American Racers where questioned about fabricating the car and assisting with providing a design facility. Highcroft Racing were contacted to become the entrant for Project 56.

With the drawing office and manufacturing underway at AAR in California, the project welcomed Michelin as an official technical partner to provide tyres for the fledgling machine. As the months progressed the team moved forward with aerodynamic work in the wind tunnel and sourced further partners for key elements of the project with EMCO Gears providing gearboxes and Performance Friction providing breaks.

By February 2012 it was a situation where Michelin had produced tyres for the car and a full scale model was now in the wind tunnel. A month later it was announced that Nissan would be joining the project as it’s engine supplier. Then in March 2012 the car hit the track at Sebring to do demonstrations during the Sebring 12 Hours race weekend.

Although the car was not eligible for a particular class; it’s times were comparable with the LMP2 class despite the car only having first turned a wheel 3 months before the race. This was some accomplishment bearing in mind the race to get everything in place.

It raced impressively until disaster struck and Motoyama was involved in a collision that would eventually lead to it’s retirement from the race. The drama wasn’t over though. With shades of Colm McRae and Nicky Grist bending a Ford Focus’ suspension many years ago; Motoyama struggled to try and get the car in running condition so that it could get back to the pits and possibly be repaired. Sadly his attempts were in vain as this video will show.

Although the car was seen as an experiment. A lot of it’s values hold through. Whether it’s the small turbo engine, the low weight or the emphasis on effective aerodynamics. We may be looking at what the racers of tomorrow could be with the DeltaWing. Interestingly it does have two seats. Would it be too far fetched to think that one day there may be road going version of the car? Who knows. All I do know is that it’s machines like the DeltaWing that got me into motor racing to begin with. It will forever hold it’s own piece of history in motorsport and has I think left a lasting impression on the sporting world. The father of motorsport innovation Colin Chapman may be long since gone but with brains like Bowlby around we may see many more interesting machines in the coming years with a bit of luck.

For more information on the car and it’s technical specification check out

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