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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/ More on the Delta Wing's future

by Gordon Kirby
What are the next steps in the unfolding history of the Delta Wing? Don Panoz has said the revolutionary car will race at the ALMS's Petit Le Mans season-closer in Ocgtober. Panoz also says he will build a run of Delta Wings to race next year in the ALMS's LMP1 or P2 categories and hopefully at Le Mans if the ACO is able to find a way to fit the car into its existing rules.

To explore more about the Delta Wing's future I talked at last weekend's Lime Rock ALMS race with Duncan Dayton and ALMS boss Scott Atherton. Dayton started the conversation by making the point that a clear path for the car within the sport needs to be in place before Nissan or any other manufacturer will make a longterm commitment to the project.

"If the car hadn't turned or was a complete disaster that would have been one thing," Dayton observed. "But I think we demonstrated that the concept works and has significant fan interest and support. I think it is the way forward for the auto industry in terms of efficiency and economy so it's important that the ACO or any sanctioning body makes a place for the car to race in open competition. If not, you're not going to find people who are going to be willing to invest the money to take the leap of faith to prove a concept like this.

"This is something completely out of the box that would traditionally be too risky for most OEMs to undertake. For continued OEM involvement I think it's critical to have some viable and clear way forward. For any manufacturer to continue to invest money and to take the risk on this I think it's incumbent on the ACO to have the carrot of racing in competition as a reward for an experimental 56th garage car performing. So we hope we can find a way to find a place for the car to race."

© Nissan Delta-Wing
Dayton says primary Delta Wing partners Don Panoz and Chip Ganassi are committed to making the car a regular reality in the sport.

"Don is in the position of making his own rules for the ALMS," Dayton remarked. "Obviously, there will be repercussions for the ACO with whatever the ALMS does and I believe Don and the ALMS are mindful of that. But I think you will see the car run. A business plan was put forward by the partners as a way to find multiple opportunities for the car to race. Obviously, there are a lot of politics involved but the partnership very much wants to see it go forward.

"I think, given the interest level that was displayed in the car, the ACO would enjoy its participation in the future. There are also other entities like Michelin who are extremely interested in seeing their significant investment amortized over more than one race, and obviously they're a major player at Le Mans. Nissan wants to go forward but they're not going to invest the money if there's no legitimate reality of the car running in open competition."

ALMS boss Atherton is a big Delta Wing supporter.

"I believe that the Delta Wing is the embodiment of what everyone had in mind when we came to the conclusion that the ALMS was going to focus on green racing and wanted to position ourselves as the global leader of green racing," Atherton said.

"If you talk to the top people we work with at the Department of Energy or the Environmental Protection Agency this is all their Christmases at once because it's exactly what they wanted to support and endorse when they got behind what we were doing. This is thinking so far out of the box that it defies all the conventional wisdom.

"We couldn't be prouder of the fact that this car and philosophy has been able to achieve reality through the auspices of sports car racing and the American Le Mans Series. I'm proud of our efforts that went into the process that occurred that enabled this car to survive its dismissal from IndyCar to be accepted by the ACO as its first 56th Garage entry and to race at Le Mans and prove its tremendous potential.

"I had very high expectations for the interest in the car and they were exceeded. The buzz and the truly global interest the car generated at Le Mans was fantastic. People were on the fencelines whenever the car was on the track. It's been a long time since a single car in the field generated that kind of interest."

© Gary Gold
Atherton confirmed that Panoz and the ALMS want the car to race at Road Atlanta's Petit Le Mans in the fall.

"With Don's focus as the managing director of the organization he wants to make sure that this car has another opportunity in the near future to show its capability and true potential. We're targeting Petit Le Mans for that. I think a lot of hands are focused on that goal.

"We at the ALMS have a degree of flexibility and autonomy to enable that car to compete in our series. We are interested in seeing this car compete not just as a demonstrator but as a regular competitor."

Atherton says the ALMS is ready to provide the ACO with any data required as Le Mans' organizers determine whether the Delta Wing will be able to compete in next year's 24 hour race.

"I know it's very much a work in progress by the ACO," Atherton commented. "They saw an interesting concept that was worthy of the 56th Garage and they are now faced with the challenge of creating rules and regulations that would be inclusive of this type of a radical departure from the current status quo. It's going to be a real balancing act to incorporate this car into the existing status quo and keep all of the other competitors and manufacturers accepting of it."

Atherton pointed out that the ACO and the ALMS have plenty of experience with balancing rules between different types of cars and engines.

"It's not the first time that sports car racing has been tasked by a truly unprecedented set of circumstances," Atherton said. "I give the ACO a lot of credit because going back to the 2002-2003 era when the rules and regulations first called for a diesel-powered prototype. They took their best crack at writing a technical regulation that would incorporate that technology before any such animal existed. And of course, there was Audi studying the rule book not unlike Penske looking for an unfair advantage in the rules and Audi showed up with their first diesel and it immediately dominated and put its conventional competitors in the mirror.

"But as is often the case once you have that finished product to measure and extract data from you can go back and review your technical regs and rebalance them. And I think that's the challenge that is being faced by the ACO and IMSA. Certainly I know that Don's goal is to write the regulations based on the data we have with the understanding that it may have to be changed in the future to bring it into spec.

© Gary Gold
"It's not unlike the way the LMP regulations are set up in general right now such that you can start with a common spine or chassis and with different drivetrain applications, plus wings, tire sizes, weight, etc., you can apply to either LMP1, LMP2 or even LMPC configuration. I believe we should figure out one configuration first and make that work, then let's go from there.

"I think the Delta Wing is a great catalyst," Atherton added, "because it gets people thinking in so many different directions about alternative fuels, lightweight materials, aerodynamics and tire technology."

ALMS technical director Scot Elkins says Petit Le Mans will be a key event in determining next year's rules package for the Delta Wing.

"I think having the benefit of it running at Petit Le Mans will give us more information," Elkins said. "The data from Le Mans helps but that place is so different than anything else. We need to see it run on an American style track. That will help validate how we put it together."

Atherton admits the ALMS will not enjoy any more factory-backed LMP1 teams but believes the Delta Wing is among a number of initiatives that will result in a good field of prototypes in the coming years.

"Prototypes in general I think will be just fine," he declared. "LMP1 factory-backed programs are going to be, for the time being, aligned with the FIA World Endurance Championship. That doesn't come as a surprise. We've seen this developing. It really started with the creation of the ILMC which quickly evolved in to the WEC platform that exists today.

"I spend a lot of time meeting with manufacturers and especially recently at Le Mans because we as a series have always been close to or exactly a mirror image of the ACO and its Le Mans rules and regs. With that we have featured content that has been very consistent and now for the first time we are facing some decisions because that similar content doesn't seem to be in the pipeline for us.

"But I believe the way the rules are currently written and what the P2 category represents is a very viable, interesting and exciting opportunity. Look at what Mazda is doing with their LMP2 diesel and you've got Morgan with Eric Bachelart's team setting an example.

"You've also got Hughes de Chaunac and the content that he has up and running in Europe who wants to be here in the States which I think is a very reasonable alternative to Lola. The Lola dynamic is very much unknown of course, but you've also got HPD and their cars and engines. I think there is a solid indication of more LMP2 competitors coming."

Atherton also pointed to the ALMS's partnership with former Indy car owner and CART founder Pat Patrick to introduce natural gas as an ALMS fuel in the next year or two.

© Gary Gold
"We've had several people approach us over the years with the idea of racing with CNG but this is the first time I think we've got a real flight plan laid out that will get us there," Atherton remarked.

The ALMS plans to introduce natural gas first in the LMPC category and Scot Elkins commented on his enthusiasm for the program.

"Pat Patrick and Jim McGee are behind it," Elkins noted. "Pat has a huge background in natural gas and he and Jim McGee have been meeting with technical groups and engine manufacturers to try to figure out exactly what the appropriate process is. They're heading the R&D side of it. We're providing a platform for them to bring this technology to racing.

"We picked the LMPC car because it's pretty low cost and very competitive. We don't really have green racing in that class. It runs on E10 right now and by adding natural gas it will allow us to increase our vision of being the global leader in green racing. It's an R&D project right now, a partnership with Patrick Racing, and there's no better guys to partner with. They've got a great history in racing and they're the right guys to do it.

"We're trying to put together a program for 2013. That may be optimistic but I think it can happen because a lot of the stuff required already exists. For example, they've been using natural gas at the Nurburgring for the last three years. A lot of the technology exists. It's just making the fuel system work with natural gas and it's done every day with buses and DoT vehicles and so on.

"With a lot of other fuels like hydrogen there's always difficulties in figuring out the logistics. You've got to build pump stations and delivery systems. But a process is being devised right now where you can have a NG pump in your home."

Duncan Dayton closed with his own plea for the Delta Wing and new technology in general to be admitted and encouraged in mainstream motor racing.

"There are always competing interests and I think it's important that people put politics aside and find a way to help insure interest and ingenuity in the future of racing," Dayton sad. "If not, as Ben (Bowlby) has made the point repeatedly, we're fast on the road to being irrelevant. More and more people are asking the question is racing relevant any more. If we don't do something soon I think the decline in interest and relevance is just going to continue.

"To me, there are three paths for the car, as I've said before. Either you're going to see the concepts and principles put forward by the Delta Wing embraced by other racing cars in five years time or it's going to be in the Smithsonian or it's going to be Ben Bowlby's planter in his backyard. But there's really only one worthy result for the effort that's been put in and that's to see it racing in the ALMS and WEC.

"I grew up believing in the spirit of the Chaparral Can-Am cars and the Lotus 79 Formula One car," Dayton added. "That's what gets my juices flowing and the Delta Wing has come along and inspired a lot of other people in the same way."

Auto Racing ~ Gordon Kirby
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