Drivers sometimes switch between motor racing disciplines, but their cars themselves seldom do. Take, for example, Dan Gurney. The all-American racing driver won races in F1, Indy, NASCAR and Le Mans, to name just a few. Of course, he did it all in completely different types of machinery, but the latest initiative to bear his name looks set to make history in another way.
You may recall the radical DeltaWing concept from last year, when it was proposed as a potential new chassis for the IndyCar Series. The sleek aerodynamic shape – which we caught in person at the 2010 Chicago Auto Show – looks something like a cross between a Le Mans Prototype and a Land Speed Record car, embracing lightweight construction and low drag to achieve a new level of efficient performance.
In the end, officials opted to go with a more conventional and adaptable proposal from Dallara – the same Italian chassis constructor that builds the current cars, along with various racers for numerous other series. But the brain trust behind the DeltaWing project haven't given up. Far from it – they're simply taking their design to the 24 Hours of Le Mans instead.
The door was opened last year when the Automobile Club de l'Ouest (ACO – the body that sanctions Le Mans) created a new category for experimental prototypes of another sort. The ACO wanted to foster innovation, so they created a 56th slot on the grid for a single entry that didn't comply to any of the existing LMP or GT regulations. That's the spot from which the DeltaWing hopes to start the race in 2012, and its designers have recruited a top team of talent to make it happen.
In addition to its own people, Dan Gurney's All American Racers has been brought on board, along with Panoz and Highcroft Racing, under the Project 56 banner. Discussions are reportedly underway to use Ford or Chevy power – fortunately the team has a year to get it all together. And when it does, it promises to be a sight to behold. Follow the jump for the full press release and to watch the video of the project underway.
ALL AMERICAN CONSORTIUM TO SHOWCASE DELTAWING CONCEPT AT LE MANS IN 2012
• DeltaWing car for Le Mans debut
• Le Mans legend Dan Gurney to build the car
• ALMS back-to-back champions Highcroft to run program
LE MANS, FRANCE, Thursday, June 9, 2011: Some of the biggest names in American motorsport have joined forces for the 2012 24 Hours of Le Mans to showcase a unique concept demonstrating extreme performance with half the weight and horsepower of a traditional racing car.
The Project 56 group brings together the design talents of DeltaWing Racing Cars LLC; the manufacturing capabilities of All American Racers - the company owned by 1967 Le Mans winner and American racing legend Dan Gurney; and back-to-back American Le Mans Series championship winning racing team, Highcroft Racing.
American Le Mans Series founder Dr. Don Panoz has also joined the project as a key advisor.
The group has received an invitation from Le Mans 24 Hour race organizers, the Automobile Club de l'Ouest to contest the 2012 race as an additional 56th entry.
The 56th place on the grid is reserved for a technologically innovative car to participate "outside the classifications" – a vehicle showcasing new applications and unique technologies previously unseen in the world's greatest endurance race.
While racing cars have traditionally strived for increased performance through gains in horsepower and aerodynamic downforce, the DeltaWing concept concentrates on exploiting efficiency gains found outside contemporary regulations to reduce fuel consumption without reducing performance.
The new and experimental car is targeting competitive performance with only half the horsepower of the outright contenders. It does this through halving the amount of aerodynamic drag of traditional racing cars as well as a similar reduction in weight.
The Project 56 Group is in discussion with engine partners to provide a 1.6-liter turbocharged power plant for the project – producing approximately 300 horsepower.
The car will be unlike any previously seen at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The car features a slender nose with extremely narrow front track – minimizing the horsepower required to push the car to speeds of 200mph around the 8.5 mile circuit.
Eliminating the use of traditional wings, downforce for the DeltaWing is generated solely beneath the car by the contoured underbody.
The DeltaWing selection was revealed today at the ACO's annual press conference coinciding with this weekend's 24 Hours of Le Mans event.
Construction of the new machine will begin next month at Gurney's California facility. The Highcroft Racing team will begin track testing of the new car later this year.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans is the world's oldest and most famous endurance race. First held in 1923, the event has attracted the world's finest automotive manufacturers and drivers.
Highcroft contested the race for the first time in 2010 while Gurney won the race in 1967 aboard a Ford GT40 with AJ Foyt – famously spraying champagne on the podium for the first time to kick start a now world-renowned tradition.
Automobile Club L'Ouest
"In 2010 the ACO Sporting Committee decided to create the garage #56 to promote new technologies. When the ACO Management met the representative of the Delta Wing 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."
Chief Technology Officer
Delta Wing Racing Cars
"The secret to the DeltaWing car is simplicity and efficiency.
"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.
"What is particularly impressive is the fact the ACO decided to create the 56th entry where a car that is outside the regulations is invited to participate to showcase an even greater diversity of automotive engineering concepts.
"It's an industry runway, it shows what the future may look like. We are lucky to receive this entry and amongst all the other diversity, the DeltaWing will be very much in the spirit of Le Mans.
"The 56th entry is really a golden opportunity for us because it gives us the chance to make a step change and "race" a car that doesn't comply with the existing rule book.
"We really have to applaud the ACO for having the foresight to create this opportunity for an entry like ours. We believe this is a true automotive innovation which could be the catalyst for changing the way people look at not only racing car design, but automotive design as a whole."
"This is an amazing opportunity.
"To take a car like this with a totally innovative design to Le Mans and run before a worldwide television audience of more than 600 million people is an incredible story.
"This will be the first legitimate test with 55 other cars on the track – it will be a huge challenge but one that we are looking forward to.
"The DeltaWing project really represents a unique opportunity for all automotive industry sectors; the OEMs and suppliers, whether it be engines, drivetrains, lubricant and fuel companies, tire manufactures – it is such an innovative concept that it provides an incredible platform for them to market and prove their capabilities.
"In my opinion, it has the potential to be one of the most significant developments in motor racing in 50 years. It is so new and exciting, and such an interesting departure from the traditional race car development path – it is highly relevant to the future.
"Given that the world is concentrating on efficiency and green technologies in an attempt to achieve sustainability, this project in my opinion will help promote the direction that is being adopted throughout the entire automotive industry."
All American Racers
"The combination of proven items that make up the character and capabilities of the DeltaWing car make it an extremely exciting project.
"It weighs half as much current cars, it burns half as much fuel, uses much less tire and goes the same speed because of the exceptional aerodynamics and low drag.
"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.
"I have a lot of curiosity and when I first discussed this car with Ben Bowlby I listened closely and tried to shoot holes in what he was saying but I quickly found I wasn't able to.
"I told him I was very interested. I believe the targets and predictions are valid and now we have been given the green light from the ACO – count me in.
"It has been a very long time since I have been to the 24 Hours of Le Mans – in fact, the last time I was there for the race I won with AJ Foyt and the Ford GT40.
"I certainly am very much looking forward to heading back there next year and seeing our car compete.
"Once again the French are leading the global charge for efficient automobiles as they have done so often in the past."
American Le Mans Series
"I am extremely proud of the progress that the ACO and the American Le Mans Series have made in showcasing sportscar racing as the global leader in green racing.
"The ACO has proven itself to be a leader in encouraging manufacturers to investigate new technologies to tackle the world's greatest endurance race.
"Their decision to encourage this forward thinking through the creation of "Garage 56" has been the inspiration and catalyst to bring together some of the biggest names in US motorsport with a view to "how can we do things differently".
"I am delighted to play a role in bringing this project to life as I believe it is one of the most important technical innovations and philosophies displayed in the sport for many years.
"I am also thrilled that the bodywork of the DeltaWing car will utilize R.E.A.M.S. - Recycle Energy Absorbing Matrix System – the same system debuted on the Panoz Abruzzi earlier this year at Sebring.
"This is a multi-layer composite system that is lighter than carbon fiber, equally strong and can be recycled. Technologies like this will certainly help us achieve our performance goals.
"This entire project is an incredibly exciting opportunity and I am sure the fans will be eagerly awaiting the chance to see the car in action at Le Mans in 2012."
- DeltaWing Racing Cars, Chief Technology Officer
• Former chief designer at Lola Cars
• During his time at Lola, he designed Champ Cars, European and Nippon F3000, SR1, SR2, LMP 675 sports cars and BTCC touring cars
• Joined Chip Ganassi Racing as Technical Director in 2003
• Commenced the DeltaWing concept in January 2009
• Delta Wing Racing Cars will provide all chassis design and overall engineering support for Project 56
- Highcroft Racing, Team Owner
• Back-to-back ALMS Champions, 2009 & 2010
• Former factory team for Honda Performance Development
• Has built a proven sports car development team with world-class experience
• Highly-respected historic competitor – a record 10-time winner at the bi-annual Monaco historic event
• Highcroft Racing will oversee testing, development and all race operations for Project 56
- All American Racers, Owner
• Sports car victories: Daytona, Sebring, Targa Florio (GT), 1000 km Nuerburgring, Le Mans 24 Hours 1964 (GT) and 1967 overall
• Four Formula 1 World Championship victories, including 1967 Belgian GP in his own Eagle Gurney-Weslake V-12, designed and built by AAR, plus three non-Championship events
• Seven Indy car road race victories
• Five "500 mile" NASCAR victories
• His team won 78 races, (including the Indianapolis 500, 12 hours of Sebring twice, 24 Hours of Daytona) and eight Championships, all with Eagles designed and built at AAR
• All American Racers will manufacture the DeltaWing chassis for Project 56
Dr. Don Panoz
- American Le Mans Series founder
• Founded the American Le Mans Series in 1999
• The Panoz marque has achieved considerable success across the globe, winning multiple races and championships in the LMP1 class and taking the GT class win at the 2006 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Vehicle weight: 475kg
Horsepower: 300 BHP
Wheel base: 2.9 m
Aerodynamic drag: Cd 0.24
Front track: 0.6m
Rear track: 1.7m
O/A length: 4.65 m
O/A width: 2.00m
Height: 1.03 m
Brakes: Carbon discs and pads
Fuel cell capacity: 40 liters
Chassis construction: lightweight composite
Front tire: 4.0/23.0 R15
Rear tire: 12.5/24.5 R15
Weight distribution: 27.5% Front 72.5% Rear
KEY TECHNICAL FEATURES:
• Engine and transmission are "non-stressed members" in the chassis structural design which allows the installation of a wide variety of lightweight powertrains.
• The car features a 4 cylinder 1600cc liquid intercooled turbocharged engine that will produce approximately 300 horsepower at 8,000 rpm and weigh 70kg.
• Transmission is a 5 speed plus reverse longitudinal design with electrical sequential paddle shift actuation. The differential features an efficient variable torque steer/differential speed-controlled planetary final drive reduction layout with the entire transmission weighing only 33kg.
• Vehicle weight distribution is necessarily more rearward than traditionally seen with 72.5% of the mass between the wide track larger rear tires.
• 76% of the aerodynamic downforce acts on the rear of the car which has a lift to drag ratio of >5.0.
• Rear wheel drive coupled with the rearward weight and aerodynamic distributions greatly enhances inline acceleration capability.
• Unique amongst today's racing cars, more than 50% of the vehicle's braking force is generated behind the center of gravity giving a dynamically stable response.
• Locking propensity of the un-laden front wheel at corner entry is greatly reduced due to virtually no lateral load transfer with the narrow front track/wide rear track layout, steered wheel "scrub drag" moment is virtually zero greatly increasing tire utilization and reducing mid turn understeer.
• Advanced computer modeling of structures, impact energy management, aerodynamics, vehicle dynamics and tires has been used to develop the DeltaWing design.
• Driver position, restraint layout and energy absorbing structures designed to meet the latest occupant survival criteria.