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"There's a lot of junk out there today. If you want it straight, read Kirby." -- Paul Newman

The Way It Is/ Will the Delta Wing fly?

by Gordon Kirby
I enjoyed a nice chat last week with Ben Bowlby. Ben is the designer of the Delta Wing, of course, and Chip Ganassi Racing's head of research and development based in Indianapolis. He's also an enthusiastic Motor Sport reader and was particularly taken by the latest February issue.

"I read the most recent issue of Motor Sport and it's such a good magazine," Bowlby declared. "The latest issue is stunning. There was so much good content I read it for about seven hours straight!"

Patrick Depailler's six-wheel Tyrrell P34 from 1977 is on the cover, headlined 'When F1 was radical!' The theme of the issue is 'celebrating innovation in F1 and there's a track test of the Tyrrell six-wheeler, a retro discussion with the car's designer Derek Gardner, and a further discussion with great F1 designers Tony Southgate, Robin Herd, John Barnard, Gordon Murrary and Peter Wright. There's also an article by former Renault technical director Pat Symonds about how most innovative thinking in racing today ends up getting banned.

In typical Motor Sport style, there's much more historical and contemporary coverage, including my own discussion of the long legacy left by Dale Earnnhardt ten years after his death at Daytona in February of 2001. But it was the festival of F1 innovation discussed in the February issue that caught Bowlby's attention.

© Chip Ganassi Racing Teams Inc
"I really enjoyed reading the article about innovation and about how innovation was Formula One in the seventies with Colin Chapman and Gordon Murray and those guys," Ben remarked. "How they created the wing car and how people solved the problems of the flat bottom rule and the whole story of the six-wheel Tyrrell, those are great stories."

Bowlby was delighted to see so many people on the same page as the Delta Wing concept.

"It was very satisfying to see so much buzz about the importance of innovation," Bowlby said. "Everybody seems to have got it now that if we don't innovate in racing we've lost a major part of motor racing. Everybody realizes how important innovation is to the sport. There has been a lot of innovation in Formula One but it's become less and less accessible to the fans. It seems like everyone would like to see something radically different."

Without doubt the Delta Wing is the most revolutionary racing car design we've seen in many years. It has no wings and the two front wheels are placed close together inside the nose fuselage. It is much lighter and more efficient than contemporary F1 or Indy cars with almost two-thirds of its weight on the rear wheels. The Delta Wing weighs only 800 lbs and is an extremely low drag design intended for the new generation of 1.6 liter 'Global Racing Engines'. The car theoretically is capable of lapping the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at over 230 mph with only 300 bhp.

Most of the Delta Wing's downforce is generated by the underwing with a vertical stabilizer behind the driver and an inevitable Gurney Flap at the tail to control the balance. The aim is not only to substantially reduce drag but also to make the car much more raceable and capable of running in close quarters than the modern breed of single-seater.

Designing a car that can run without wings has been a great dream of many race car designers and fans for years and the Delta Wing is the first serious concept that addresses this dream. But there's much more revolutionary thinking behind the Delta Wing concept and that's why one of my great hopes for the new year is that Bowlby gets his Delta Wing prototype built and tested and the path to the car's 2012 race debut begins to take shape.

In recent months Bowlby has talked to many people in the FIA and the auto industry about the Delta Wing as he searches for the right venue and racing series for his baby to make its debut. With Ganassi doubling his IndyCar operation this year the resources in people and equipment that were available to Bowlby to conceive and design the Delta Wing are otherwise occupied so a clear way forward has to be found so the next stop to reality can be funded.

"I am still hoping that we have a breakthrough with a major sanctioning body by the end of this month to race the race car in 2012," Bowlby commented. "We need to know by the 31st of January. At this point anything is possible, but if we don't have a commitment by then it's likely to go on the backburner for a period of time. It's hard to predict what's going to happen.

"I do think the Delta Wing will race in component form scattered across the globe. So many bits of the overall concept that we've been trying to promote are being rapidly incorporated into people's thinking at lots of different levels of motor sport."

Bowlby would be delighted to jump into building and then testing a Delta Wing prototype to demonstrate that his concept works.

© Chip Ganassi Racing Teams Inc
"Something's going to come around with the Delta Wing," he added. "Change is so frightening to make and yet when you do introduce change, suddenly everybody starts responding. And that's been the good thing. There's been so much response. It's the contrast of staying stagnant and standing still. We've heard lots of comments and criticism and I just want to build and run a Delta Wing and show everyone what we can do."

Bowlby spoke last week in the UK at the World Motorsports Symposium in Oxford. He also spoke at the Motorsport Industry Assocation dinner. At the World Motorsports Symposium, Bowlby was asked to focus on his 'open source' concept, an aspect of the Delta Wing that's not much understood.

"I asked them what they wanted me to talk about," Ben recounts. "They said it's all about the sustainability of the sport and personal mobility. They said they knew what the Delta Wing was all about but were interested in learning more about the open-source concept. So I talked about the sustainability of the business element and the reduction of duplication in development waste when one team develops something new and everyone else goes through a big development program and spends a bunch of money to get everybody to exactly the same point of performance again.

"I told them everyone complains that this item should be banned because it's cost them a bunch of money. It goes 'round and 'round like that and it's all very futile. The open-source concept would allow everyone to catch up without the development cost. If you think about it, it's a really cool thing that could be very powerful if it was managed carefully."

The theory is that every detail and drawing of the Delta Wing would be available on-line, including the computer models of the components, the engineering drawings for the manufacture of those components, plus the parts list, the price structure and suppliers.

"This is all going to be out there and available," Ben emphasizes. "There will be the opportunity for teams and suppliers to download those things and either quote against manufacturing those parts, or in the case of a team they might chose to manufacture the parts themselves.

"Having the complete design effectively on a plate means you can also modify the design and submit your design for approval. In the big picture, as long as the design is published it's a part that's fit for racing. So it will allow teams to do what they want to do as long as it's within certain parameters of the regulations. But it's no longer a covert operation. We will share information. We've moved into an information/entertainment phenomenom. It's not a secret. Anybody can get access to the design. They can download it, modify it, submit it, or manufacture it."

Ben Bowlby has brought plenty of radical thinking to a sport that has grown inward-looking and become increasingly moribund. Most everyone agrees we need some new thinking and something new and different-looking, which certainly describes the Delta Wing. I've been a champion of Bowlby's concept from the start and hope his baby comes to life so that the sport can begin to explore the many ground-breaking ideas within the overall Delta Wing concept.

Clearly, Motor Sport readers are clamoring for the return of innovation. Most race fans around the world seem to feel the same way. Many of us believe that the wider public and media would also stand up and take notice if we saw the return of more radical stuff in racing.

Meanwhile, be sure to enjoy the February 2011 edition of Motor Sport. Like Bowlby, you'll be held captive in your favorite easy chair for many happy hours.

Auto Racing ~ Gordon Kirby
Copyright 2011 ~ All Rights Reserved

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