Bowlby's spot at Le Mans salvaged his project. With the imprimatur of the ACO, he began lining up investors. Chief among them was Don Panoz, the contrarian founder of the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) and holder of the patent for the nicotine patch. Duncan Dayton, the ALMS team owner, came on board, and Ganassi returned to the fold. But the most important investor, at least in terms of credibility, was Dan Gurney, the 81-year-old American motor-sports legend and founder of All American Racers (AAR), which builds military-spec metal and carbon-fiber parts for everything from motorcycles to unmanned aerial vehicles. "Building something this outlandish was right up our alley," says Gurney's son, Justin, who now runs AAR. "We're doing it because everybody said it couldn't be done."
Bowlby and Eakin, who had also worked at Ganassi, left their families behind in Indiana and headed to California. Simon Marshall, another former colleague, drove west from Atlanta with his wife and two dogs. Together they rented an apartment near Gurney's shop that they called Delta House and embarked on a grueling schedule of six-and-a-half-day weeks. (Ex-AAR designer John Ward worked 50 hours a week, which Eakin calls "part-time.") Working in an office carved out of an AAR storage room, they started from the proverbial clean sheet of paper. "We didn't have a library of parts or CAD data from some previous car to work from," Bowlby says. "When our computers arrived, they were completely and utterly blank."
high-end go-kart. All of the suspension components are bespoke. (Due to the complex shape, each front upright took about a month to make.) The Performance Friction carbon-carbon front brakes are so small that they look like they're from a model-car parts bin. The four-inch-wide front tires, made by Michelin, are one of a kind, as are the wheels.With the exception of Formula One cars, almost all modern racers are built primarily of parts bought from motor-sports vendors. But virtually nothing off the shelf fit the DeltaWing. There was no room for a steering rack, so Eakin designed a space-saving steering system vaguely similar to what's found on a
In early March, seven months to the day after the first part was sketched out and barely three months before the race at Le Mans, the DeltaWing was ready for its greatest trial. Its carbon-fiber body still unpainted, the car rolled out of a trailer bearing AAR's striped logo at Buttonwillow Raceway Park, a track north of Los Angeles. Representatives from the engine, tire and brake manufacturers that had signed on were there to see how their products performed. But foremost in the mind of everybody milling around the paddock was that nagging question: Is this thing gonna turn?
The honor of making the first run in the DeltaWing went to Gurney's son Alex, a world-class sports-car racer himself. He climbed into the cockpit and, after stalling the engine twice, eased the car into a leisurely first-gear lap around the paddock. When he returned to the garage, Bowlby was there to greet him. His greatest fear was that the geometry of the front suspension would make the steering wheel difficult to turn.
"Is the steering light?" Bowlby asked.
"It did exactly what I wanted," Gurney said.
Somebody shouted, "It turns!" The crowd broke into a ragged cheer.
Two other drivers also tested the car at Buttonwillow, gradually ratcheting up their speeds and generating reassuring technical data that helped persuade Nissan officials—who'd spent weeks speaking to Bowlby on a daily basis—to continue providing technical support for the car. The Nissan-branded DeltaWing was officially unveiled later in March. But for those who were there, Buttonwillow was the real debut. As Peter Brock, principal designer of the car Dan Gurney co-drove to a GT class victory at Le Mans in 1964, put it: "That was like seeing the Wright brothers' first flight at Kitty Hawk."
Well written article about a very interesting vehicle and even more interesting group of people. In conclusion, the author notes only two possible futures for the DeltaWing: create a set of equivalency rules to allow this dramatic departure from the current norm to compete with the norm, or scrap the rules altogether and establish weight and/or energy allowances for any vehicle used in competition. I would propose a third alternative. Here (the region around Charlotte, NC) in the heart of NASCAR country, an new type of entry level racecar was introduced some years ago. Like the DeltaWing, this new breed could not be fit into any current class of racing vehicle. So a new class was created just for this car style, called the Legends. A new class could be created for the DeltaWing, allowing interested parties to buy into and build their own, with sponsorship and any other financing means available, similar to what a NASCAR start-up would do today. Expensive? Sure. But wouldn't it be great to see an entire field of these sleek land missiles setting new world records in competition against each other? Just a thought.
Keep the great reads rolling!
F-Zero X type races are coming closer....
Fascinating. Thank you.
To the batmobile!
Great feature article. Le Mans should have an open class with only necessary constraints (for safety). Having an experimental entry winning the race would add excitement to that class of racing. I'd have to see more to buy into it entirely but the premise of eliminating dirty air practically makes it sale to me.
You can see the accident here:
... on first view it almost looks blatant but watch it a couple of times. The other driver does not even see the DeltaWing for quite a while as another car blocks the view of the lower profile Nissan. It certainly did look like pinball!
" Le Mans should have an open class with only necessary constraints (for safety)"
Actually, the LeMans race many years ago had a prize for efficiency. It took into account factors such as weight, engine displacement, fuel consumption, etc.
Cool car, great story. Take it Bonneville.
"Hello Commissioner Gordon. I'd like to uh...report a car theft... No it wasn't Robin joy riding this time."
"Its novel shape enables it to clock competitive lap times with an engine only slightly more powerful than the one in a standard family sedan."
I don't know about you, but around where I live, which is outside the US, the average sedan has about 120hp, far below the 300hp this vehicle has. I'm talking about an average Toyota Corolla, Mazda 6, Volkswagen Passat, or Ford Focus. You know, an average sedan.
High praise an applause to Ben Bowlby, the Gurney's and all involved with putting the Delta Wing on the track!
Thank you Mr. Lerner for an excellent article.
Motorsports have "been shedding fans, losing sponsors and struggling" because it shares a disturbing aspect of current American society. We are so focused on the safety of keeping our foot on first base that we don't see the rewards of stealing second.
Mr. Bowlby has much more true American spirit than most of the people born in the United States during the last 60 years.