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.