This weekend’s inaugural American Le Mans Series race at Circuit of the Americas marks the long-awaited debut of the DeltaWing coupe, built with an eye towards the future.
The new prototype contender is an evolution of the initial Ben Bowlby-designed car, which Don Panoz has campaigned since the start of the ALMS season. Featuring the obvious addition of a roof, there’s also been a number of other significant developments to the narrow-track car.
With a brand-new, specially designed Elan-built tub, narrowed rear frame around the engine, and most importantly improved cooling to better accommodate the 2.0-liter Mazda-based turbo engine, it hasn’t necessarily been a trouble-free transition, according to team manager Dave Price.
Following a breakout race for its outgoing roadster at Road America, which saw both Andy Meyrick and Katherine Legge lead overall at stages, the new coupe only turned its first laps less than two weeks ago at Roebling Road. On Tuesday, it completed 27 laps in an open test at COTA, which brought a few teething issues to light.
“I’m always realistic with my expectations but I think it would be fair to say that coming off Road America, we hoped to have hit the ground running,” Price said. “We had two small problems [on Tuesday] but they did consume a lot of time. We had a wastegate problem and a gear selection problem. They were tiny, software issues. It took a bit of time to fix it. We’ve made more [modifications] to it now.
“I guess we’ll spend a good part of this week fixing it and hope to have a nice, trouble-free run through the race. I’d be surprised if we were as competitive as we were at Road America because looking at where we were [on Tuesday], we’ve got a bit of ground to make up.”
Price, though, is confident the car will eventually exceed the performance levels of its predecessor. He said it was already 7 mph faster in a straight line than the roadster at the initial test in Georgia, while plans are in place to debut a 9 kg lighter engine for the next round at VIR.
As for 2014, when the DeltaWing coupe will be performance balanced with Daytona Prototypes and P2 cars to race in top Prototype category, Price is not expecting any wholesale changes, particularly in the engine department. However, there is an initiative to shed up to 25 kgs from the current specification, to bring the base weight down to 500 kg.
Price said a tire test with new class-wide supplier Continental is scheduled for shortly after Petit Le Mans next month, which should also help provide a better gauge into the car’s 2014 performance levels.
“I spoke to Scot [Elkins] last week,” Price said. “He was asking me about our engine program, in terms of balance of performance. The engine development program has been arrested in terms of power. We produce anything from 350 to 370 hp. If you look at it longevity, it really doesn’t need much more power or torque.
“We’re now [focused] on weight and fuel consumption. That’s where we’ll concentrate all of our winter development on.”
While Panoz is aiming to sell DeltaWings to customers, with the capacity to build and support up to three cars for next year, Price doesn’t anticipate any changes to the factory team’s program, as plans are on track for a full-season effort USCC effort in 2014.
“I can’t see any reason why we wouldn’t run a factory car,” he said. “There is development to carry over as well as giving technical support to customers. [The car] is different, so it needs a different approach to running a car, setting up a car and racing a car. Customers need to benefit from our experience.”