Arrowed Inconsistency - 2012 Nissan Deltawing
Nissan has been a brand known for sometimes pulling a wildcard off of their sleeve, as it can be clearly seen with the likes of the unnecessarily bonkers Juke Nismo-R, or the barely road legal R390 GT1, and I dare say the GT-R LM Nismo’s sheer madness. Being this unpredictable can sometimes work out, as the market success with the Juke demonstrates, but on the track, manufacturers don’t usually have that much freedom to go all out and make truly bonkers race cars, or at least since rulebooks are not as exploited as before. Now, this was all set to change when the Automobile Club de l’Ouest introduced a new project dubbed ‘Garage 56’ in 2012.
This project left the pit space number 56 available for a manufacturer, be it a factory team or a privateer effort, to enter a car that complies with… no regulations at all, except safety ones. The main focus was “To leave as much room for creativity as possible”, citing the ACO’s Sports Division manager Vincent Beaumesnil. To be creative doesn’t mean to be the outright fastest car at La Sarthe (i.e.: Faster than an LMP1), but instead to test new technologies.
Nissan went all out for the first year of this project and presented the Deltawing, the lovechild of lots of companies. Nissan, Ben Bowlby, Dan Gurney’s All-American Racers team, Ben Panoz and Duncan Dayton’s Highcroft Racing all played a part in the general conception of the Deltawing, but the first idea was Bowlby’s brainchild. The project first originated almost ten years ago, in 2009, when Ben started to design a new kind of IndyCar single seater, speculated to enter the series in 2012, replacing the long-famous Dallara and Chevrolet chassis. First shown at the Chicago Motor Show, under Chip Ganassi’s funding and ownership. Despite being rather innovative and well performing, it lost the contest held by IndyCar to Dallara and therefore wasn’t used.
As the car clearly denotes, it presents a Delta (Δ) shape, having a very narrow front end (2ft wide) that eventually widens up as it reaches the back of the car, getting a max width of 5.7ft at the back, which is not much but better than the front.
The car’s main idea was to demonstrate that it could have a better performance than LMP2s while having half as much weight and power, and the noticeably reduced drag.
Weirdly, the Deltawing’s chassis was based on the dreadful AMR One, being reworked by Bowlby, and it featured a full carbon fiber body, together with a fancy technology called “Recyclable Energy Absorbing Matrix System”; basically reinforced plastic panels that are sturdier and lighter than carbon fiber, according to Panoz.
Those panels helped to have as little drag (and weight) as possible, and because of this, wings were a big no-no. Instead, this exotic racer brought back a principle successfully used for the last time with the Brabham BT46B in 1978, that wonderful effect known as “Ground effect”
Many things were cut in half for this car, half the drag coefficient, half the weight and half the fuel consumption. Presumably, power took a sizeable slice too, since the unusual shape didn’t allow the use of LMP2-styled V8s… they resorted to an inline-4.
Originally a galore of parts taken from Chevy and Nissan engines, the engine was said to be a heavily modified version of the Juke Nismo’s 1.6l DIG-T engine but was debunked by mechanics of the team, that confirmed it was a custom-made unit by RML engineering, and for some unexplained reason it had a tweaked version of the cylinder head utilised in Mazda’s MZR line of engines. The punchiest part was the BorgWarner turbo and blow off valve.
All of this meant the 2.0l unit was good for 350bhp (261kW) and 270lb-ft (366nm) while weighing only 80kg. For comparison, Judd’s HK V8 unit, used in LMP2 cars of the same era, tipped the scales at a much higher 145kg but produced a much healthier 510hp.
Power was taken care of by an EMCO EGB66 6-speed sequential transmission, a triple plate carbon clutch made by Tilton and a limited-slip differential to top it all off.
On the anchor’s side, the 615kg (1360lb) machine was brought to a standstill thanks to 4-pot calipers hugging carbon/carbon discs in all four corners. This, together with a double wishbone setup in both ends of the car, helped get the car through the corners, even with the lack of a front anti-roll bar due to the narrowness of the nose.
Lacking a front anti-roll bar and wide tires up front didn’t mean it was not able to corner quickly, as it managed to pull over 2.5Gs of force through corners. After all, the sole downforce produced by the underbody was apparently more than enough.
Although people were very skeptical about whether the car would actually even enter a race, the team at Deltawing had it ready for its first track outing in Buttonwillow Race Park during testing.
After this, it’d make its official race debut at the 24 Hours Of Le Mans’ 80th edition in 2012, launching into the 59-car race from the 29th spot on the grid. Qualifying was an easy feat for the #0 car since the only thing it needed to do was beat the ACO’s 3:45 lap time set for experimental vehicles. The Deltawing easily obliged, setting a 3:42.612 time around La Sarthe. Weirdly, the Deltawing entered, but Seb Loeb’s attempt was frustrated due to him not having a car ready for the event.
When the event started, things were going butter smooth for Highcroft Racing and the whole team behind the car was building up good expectations for the future. Unfortunately, disaster hit home 6 hours and 15 minutes into the race, when Toyota’s TS030 prototype driven by Kazuki Nakayima punted Motoyama into the wall at the Porsche curves. Despite Motoyama’s best efforts to fix the car himself (as team mechanics are not allowed to work on the car outside of the pitlane) for 90 minutes, unhappily couldn’t get the black bullet back on track.
Not happy with a disastrous debut, Highcroft Racing decided to enter the still divisive car into the 2012 race of the Petit Le Mans, where bad luck showed up again at Road Atlanta. After being the protagonist of a massive shunt together with a Porsche during practice, it got fixed in time for the race, and it then finished a respectable 5th place overall after 388 laps.
Racing at Petit Le Mans and the 24 Hours of Le Mans would be the only races the Deltawing would participate in for 2012, and things would take a drastic turn for 2013: Don Panoz and Chip Ganassi filed a lawsuit against Ben Bowlby and Nissan because of illegal usage of Bowlby’s ideas. Nissan was originally no more than a sponsor for Panoz’s car (He had licensed the intellectual property from Bowlby), and Panoz and DeltaWing technologies complained that Nissan had ripped off their intellectual property when making the BladeGlider and ZEOD RC concepts.
This legal clutter saw Nissan and Bowlby cut ties with Panoz, Ganassi and Deltawing Racing, leaving them on their own to make their arrow-esque cars. Meanwhile, Deltawing Racing set off to make a new Delta racer, now using a custom-made Élan chassis with an engine based in a Mazda head, although most of the parts were bespoke made by Ray Mallock, sporting a new team name together with a new livery. The new DWC13 would make its debut on the 12 Hours of Sebring, with Frenchman Oliver Pla securing the 15th place on the grid, ten seconds off of the leading Audi R18.
After suffering from temperature issues throughout the week, the #0 car retired after just two hours of racing because of a critical engine failure. It continued to race for the entirety of the season by Andy Meyrick and Catherine Legge, but it only managed to score points twice. The best result it achieved was a 5th place at Road America, it could have gotten better results at Long Beach and Baltimore, but the team opted to not race in the street circuits due to fear of damaging the suspension with the bumpy streets.
For the coupé version, meant to replace the now “old” open-top version, it made the scheduled debut at the Circuit of the Americas, where it secured the 12th spot on the grid, not only behind the entirety of the P1 class it was in, but also behind all of the theoretically slower P2 cars. When the 2-hour-and-45-minutes-race started, the DWC13’s obvious lack of pace appeared, and in the end, only managed to complete 66 laps, compared to Luhr’s and Graf’s 83 laps set with their HPD ARX-03c, securing the championship for the Muscle Milk Pickett team.
For 2014, new regulations left the Roadster version behind to let the Coupé race full-time, even though the lack of pace after its debut made it clear that it wasn’t faster. This had a clear effect in the United SportsCar Championship when it managed to end dead last in the constructor’s championship, although it did miss 7 races. This was, in fact, helped because the Deltawing team decided to keep using the P1-class specifications that no longer applied for the USSC, setting it behind many cars.
The 2015 season was also considerably lackluster: The Claro/TracFone car entered only 9 out of the 12 events, and it managed to finish only six of those, and never finished on the podium. Shockingly, it was driven to a 6th place finish in Road America by Legge and Latin-media-darling Memo Rojas. It also participated in the Daytona 24, where it DNF’d under the added presence of Gabby Chaves with Andy Meyrick returning for this event.
After 4 years of mixed results, the Panoz Deltawing Racing team decided to give it a farewell in the 2016 season. Catherine Legge was joined once again by Andy Meyrick, but American Sean Rayhall would join the team full time for the North American Endurance Cup. When the Rolex 24 arrived, the team decided not to qualify because of weather circumstances, starting from the last spot.
Luckily for Legge, she blitzed through the pack to reach first place in the first hour of the race. Then, Legge and Meyrick alternated the lead with P1 cars for the following 4 hours and then shocked the media by leading the pack for 29 laps. Unfortunately for everyone involved, a stranded PC car in the blind Turn 1 took the Deltawing by surprise and put an early end to the otherwise fantastic race.
Next in line were the Sebring 12, and it was showing a really fast pace, going in eighth place until the cluttered steering broke, causing the car to retire. It seems that for every good race the Deltawing gets, two bad races are due to come: Deciding to endeavor into the unknown by racing at Long Beach, the fears of past years regarding suspension were now gone, but a new intricacy showed up in the form of an engine failure that led once again to an early retirement.
From Daytona to Sebring, Long Beach and on to Laguna Seca, a new setup allowed the Deltawing score a top-5 result, and then a stroke of luck gave the team two 7th place finishes back-to-back in Watkins Glen and the Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, respectively.
Now onwards to the last race at home, the Deltawing stepped off of the racing world by setting the fastest lap at Road Atlanta, showing what it was truly capable of when correctly set-up.
The Deltawing was born with the idea that equal results could be achieved by cutting nearly everything that wasn’t efficient in half, and then evolved into a racecar meant to shock circuits as it went, sparking lawsuits, debates and restrictions along the way, proving that different can actually mean good in an environment as settled as motorsport.
This was CTzen Sir GT-R, and until then, peace out.