The radical DeltaWing concept first mooted as a potential IndyCar chassis (LEFT) will race at Le Mans in 2012, built and run by an American consortium involving Le Mans legend Dan Gurney and multiple ALMS champions Highcroft Racing. With the blessing of the Automobile Club de L'Ouest, the ultra-light [475 kg/1,047lb] car will run in a class of its own, taking the 56th slot on the grid, and be powered by a 300hp 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine.
"In 2010 the ACO Sporting Committee decided to create the garage No. 56 to promote new technologies," said ACO sports director Vincent Beaumesnil. "When the ACO Management met the representative of the DeltaWing project everybody thought immediately that it would be a high quality project for Le Mans Experimental entry in 2012.
"The interest of this project is based on the optimization of all factors that have an impact of global energy consumption and efficiency of the car: weight, power, drag. The ACO want to give the opportunity to evaluate each technology, and this project shows that ahead of hybrid, bio fuel or electric technology – we can explore other ways to improve efficiency."
Created by former Lola designer Ben Bowlby, the DeltaWing features a slim nose and distinctively narrow front track, and generates the majority of its downforce via the underfloor. Working under the Project 56 Group moniker, the consortium announced today brings together the manufacturing capabilities of Dan Gurney's California-based All American Racers and Duncan Dayton's crack ALMS-winning Highcroft Racing team, with ALMS founder Don Panoz acting as a consultant. Ford and Chevrolet are believed to be among the likeliest engine donors.
"The secret to the DeltaWing car is simplicity and efficiency," said Bowlby. "To achieve the dramatically reduced carbon footprint we have looked at ways to reduce weight and drag, as well as the total number of components required to build the car.
"Essentially, the car has a three-point layout with the narrow front and wide rear track – as opposed to the rectangular layout of contemporary racing cars. We have a delta-shaped car that allows us to take a different route to achieving our performance goals as well as enhancing driver protection. We need much less chassis torsional stiffness for handling performance so we don't need to use such stiff and brittle materials in the chassis. We can use light, tough and energy absorbing materials instead.
"One of the attractions of Le Mans is the incredible variety of vehicles in competition – with different fuel types, open and closed cockpits, GT cars, there are lots of different solutions and they all run together during the event. It's an industry runway, it shows what the future may look like."
Gurney, who won at Le Mans with Ford 44 years ago, was delighted to be involved with the project.
"It has been a very long time since I have been to the 24 Hours of Le Mans," said Gurney. "In fact, the last time I was there for the race I won with A.J. Foyt and the Ford GT40 . I'm very much looking forward to heading back there next year and seeing our car compete.
"Almost every aspect of the car is really basic engineering but the combination of the total package should be astoundingly good. After looking at the project and the technical aspects of the car I was asked if we were selected to compete at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, would I like to be involved – or in our case, would we like to build it? I didn't hesitate for a moment – my response was absolutely yes."