From its inception, the DeltaWing has always been a topic of conversation. Ever the fan favorite, the car has been called many things: radical, cutting edge, and groundbreaking, yes, but rarely has it been called a factor in the final outcome of a race.
That may be changing in 2016.
Originally conceived by then-Chip Ganassi Racing engineer Ben Bowlby as a potential replacement model for IndyCar, the DeltaWing has come into its own in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
Since making its racing debut at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2012, the car has undergone significant alterations, most notably from an open-top roadster design to the enclosed-cockpit coupe that will compete this weekend at Long Beach.
Driver Katherine Legge, who has been a part of the project since 2013, said the upgrades to the car go well beyond what meets the eye.
“Literally nothing on the car is the same,” she told Sportscar365. “It’s all been developed, modified, and made better. Suspension, gearbox, damping, you name it.
“We’ve even developed the wind screen wiper and the wind screen and the tear-off. So there’s been a number of upgrades.”
Legge, who has enjoyed a successful open-wheel career as well as a stint in DTM, has found a home with the Don Panoz-owned program, and has relished the opportunity to be a part of such a unique project.
“It’s been very important in the development of my career to be part of this,” said Legge. “I don’t think many drivers get a chance to be a part of such a cool development process.
“Dr. [Don] Panoz is renowned for his innovation, and it’s very cool for me personally to be a part of it, and I feel like I’ve made a difference.
“I feel like as a development driver and as a race car driver, I have come on leaps and bounds, and I’m very grateful that I got the chance to be an integral part of it.”
For Legge, the season opener at Daytona proved to be the most fulfilling in the two-plus season of work with the DeltaWing.
Starting at the rear of the Prototype field after the team elected not to qualify in extremely rainy conditions, Legge surged forward and took the lead during her stint.
She said that drive through the field was groundbreaking for the team.
“Coming through the field and knowing that finally the DeltaWing was going to have its day, showing that this is what we can do, I think that it opened people’s eyes,” she said. “It was very gratifying.
“I think as a driver, the goal is to lead. The goal is to win. If you’re in a position to do so, then that’s what you need to do. I was very lucky to be given a fantastic car and the tools I needed to make that happen.”
Despite the strong start, the race at Daytona ended abruptly for the team when the car suffered damage after contact with a stranded Prototype Challenge machine, but they rebounded with a near trouble-free run at Sebring until retiring in the final hour with steering failure.
Legge acknowledged that bumpier circuits like Sebring or Long Beach this weekend do not suit the car’s unique design, but added that the team has made major progress.
“We really do know the tracks that we’re strong at,” she said. “Road America, for example, will be a good one for us. We knew we’d be strong at Daytona.
“We knew we’d struggle at Sebring, and honestly we struggled less than we anticipated, just because we’ve made leaps and bounds forward.
“Really over the bumps at Sebring and over the bumps at Long Beach, it’s going to be a little bit more of a challenge just because of the nature and design of the car.
“Katie Crawford, Tim Keene and the entire team have done an amazing job at re-engineering the car to be good in those situations, and I think we showed that at Sebring.
“With every outing, we’ve improved and learned something in some way, shape, or form, and that’s what a development project is all about. I think that showcases the team and what Panoz is about as a company.”
The Georgia-based squad will be without Crawford this weekend as she is still recovering from successful emergency surgery to treat a brain tumor. Legge was quick to point out how much the team’s lead engineer will be missed.
As for the future of the program, the plans beyond the 2016 season are unclear.
Since it is not considered LMP2 machinery, the car does not appear to be included in the exemption for 2016-spec prototypes in the 2017 regulations.
Legge admitted to some uncertainty about the future of the project, but is hopeful that it will continue beyond 2016.
“I don’t know if Dr. Panoz has decided what the future holds yet,” she said. “I’m sure that we’ll all be made aware when that point comes.”
“It is difficult because I’ve heard the same rumors… but how and where we would race the DeltaWing if it served its purpose to promote the DeltaWing road car that Dr. Panoz is going to produce.
“These are all things that the business side of Panoz, Elan, and DeltaWing will decide.
“I literally get paid to stab and steer, so who knows. But I hope that it does continue because I love the project. And if it doesn’t I’m sure Dr. Panoz will do something equally innovative and awesome.”