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Michelin Memories: 2012, DeltaWing

A look back at the DeltaWing project, featuring four-inch wide front Michelin tires…

Photo: John Dagys

Conceived as a design for the next-generation Indycar, Ben Bowlby’s DeltaWing instead made history in the sports car racing world, with a number of partners, including Michelin, playing a key role in the car’s development and future success.

The revolutionary concept, featuring half the weight, power, fuel and tire consumption than a typical race car, was unveiled at the 2010 Chicago Auto Show, prior to shifting its focus to endurance racing and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Michelin was announced as the Bowlby and Don Panoz-led project’s first technical partner at the 2011 Petit Le Mans, with the French tire giant developing specific tires for the uniquely shaped car.

Remarkably, the DeltaWing’s front tires were 10/58-15, or less than 24 inches tall, and with a tread of just four inches wide, and came at the same time Michelin was developing ultra-wide fronts for LMP1 cars.

“The difference in tire size is stunning,” said then-Michelin American Le Mans Series technical team leader Karl Koenigstein.

“You could fit three DeltaWing Michelin front tires inside an Audi Le Mans Prototype Michelin front tire.”

Having been granted the first-ever Garage 56 slot at Le Mans for experimental vehicles, the Nissan-powered DeltaWing made its debut in the French endurance classic in 2012, under the Highcroft Racing banner.

It ran as an unclassified entry but showed incredible potential, with Nissan factory driver Michael Krumm setting a 3:42.612 lap time in qualifying, which would have put the car in the mid-pack of the LMP2 field.

The car’s race, however, came to an early end in the sixth hour, following an accident by Satoshi Motoyama, who was pushed off the track at the Porsche Curves by the Toyota TS030 of Kazuki Nakajima.

Despite a valiant effort to get the DeltaWing back to the pits, which captured the hearts of spectators and a worldwide television audience, the Japanese driver was forced to abandon the car.

Marino Franchitti, the team’s third driver, did not get to drive in the race.

Redemption at Petit Le Mans

Four months later, the DeltaWing squad found redemption at Petit Le Mans, when Gunnar Jeannette and Lucas Ordonez drove the car to a remarkable 5th place overall finish.

The team managed to triple stint their Michelin tires and complete the 1,000-mile race on only five sets.

The result came after a heavy crash by Jeannette in testing earlier in the week.

“The car was fantastic to drive, Michelin did a great job with the tires and we’ve been working really hard on developing the entire package,” Ordonez said at the time.

“We’ve shown everyone in motorsport that the car is really strong and fast.”

Bowlby added: “It is amazing what has happened in 12 months. This was our goal to finish our first endurance race.”

While it ended up being the second and final race with the Nissan-Michelin package, further evolutions of the DeltaWing would go on to race under Panoz’s operation in the ALMS, and later, the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

John Dagys is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Sportscar365 as well as the recently launched e-racing365 Web site for electric racing. Dagys spent eight years as a motorsports correspondent for FOXSports.com/SPEED Channel, and contributes to other publications worldwide. Contact John

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. pdxracefan

    December 30, 2017 at 1:29 pm

    Saw the Wang at Sebring in 2012. Still think the same thought. Why?

  2. Mike S

    December 30, 2017 at 3:06 pm

    A lot of knowledge and innovation in engineering circles no matter the discipline come from failures and unsuccessful projects. I’m sure Michelin learned nothing from the venture or Nissan with the engine.

  3. Jeff Wagner

    December 30, 2017 at 4:11 pm

    it was a very good idea to have a look back at the %hitWing Project, as there is of course a very well known saying “If we forget history, it’s bound to repeat itself”! We did learn some things from the project: 1. The V.1 open cockpit car was much better looking than V.2, 2. After this and the Nissan the name Ben Bowlby will be a distant memory, 3. This car is the COMPLETE opposite from a Can-Am car which isn’t famous 50+ years later because those cars had narrow tires, low H.P., were quiet on the track, and low Aerodynamic drag. 4. The fans HATE the entire concept together as one! They want today’s cars with less downforce YES, but they want the cars to have 1,000 H.P.!

  4. Jenner

    December 30, 2017 at 6:54 pm

    It was still faster than a Grand Am DP car until IMSA dumped $$$ into it to make it faster than the Delta Wing.

    • Steven

      December 30, 2017 at 7:21 pm

      Every class other than GTC was faster than the Grand AM DP before the merger

  5. matt

    December 31, 2017 at 2:39 am

    Glad that piece of junk no longer exists

  6. Herr Koenig

    December 31, 2017 at 6:05 am

    Missed opportunity for a new class of Sports Prototype.

  7. juneracer

    December 31, 2017 at 8:11 am

    its fairly easy to build a race car with no rules to be as quick as another race car held to strict rules. novel car? i guess. i’m also glad its gone. never was a fan…

    • Panoz

      January 1, 2018 at 8:59 pm

      Wow!!!! You all have no respect for someone trying something new. You all are horrible. Wait til Hoover cars run for ASSCAR. You all you like those won’t you. It was a great car to see on the track.

  8. Kirk

    January 2, 2018 at 10:09 am

    I actually enjoyed seeing the Deltawing on the grid because to me it embodied what sports car racing is all about – innovation.

    • Panoz

      January 3, 2018 at 5:48 pm

      Thank you Kirk. Innovation at its best and tried to beat the rest. It was a great idea and try for years

    • curtis

      January 10, 2018 at 2:38 pm

      Amen to that!

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