We knew there would be changes to the DeltaWing project when Dr. Don Panoz and his Elan Motorsports Technologies group became involved. What we didn't realize was that everything would change. Everything.
First we heard that Nissan was withdrawing its engine support late last year. Now Michelin, the first corporation to join the DeltaWing project is withdrawing from the program. The tire giant spent untold money to produce bespoke rubber front and rear for the revolutionary, triangulated sports racing car, including tiny four-inch front tires that are available - well - nowhere else.
According to a report on autoweek.com by Steven Cole Smith, "The new technologies and processes used for the DeltaWing tire will play a crucial role in helping Michelin to develop the next generation of innovative competitive tires," Craig Hodges, Michelin external communications director for the company's North American operations said.
When the DeltaWing - then known as the Nissan DeltaWing - ran at last year's 24 Hours of Le Mans and at the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) season-closing Petit Le Mans, it was fielded by Highcroft Racing with support from Ray Mallock Ltd (RML), the British company that built the Nissan engine (actually based on a Chevrolet block). RML helped prepare and race the car - but now they're gone from the project as well.
As is Dan Gurney's All American Racers (AAR), the iconic Southern California race-bred firm that built and tested the car prior to its trip to England and then France. Even Duncan Dayton's Highcroft Racing is out of the loop, the autoweek.com report stated. That would explain Dayton's intense looks as he visited last month's Rolex 24 at Daytona, looking for a new avenue for his racing team.
And what happens with Ben Bowlby, whose vision birthed this project? No one seems to know.
The DeltaWing was not at the ALMS' pre-season test that took place this past week at Sebring but Dr Panoz has stated he expects it to compete at Sebring during the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring in mid-March.
The Mazda-based four-cylinder engine that's being developed by Elan is being prepared without Mazda's expressed cooperation. While Panoz has approached the company many times in order to secure their participation, John Doonan, who heads Mazda's stateside racing programs has long said the timing's not been correct for the company's participation. He reiterated that to autoweek.com
What does this mean? We're all scratching our heads wondering the future of the DeltaWing, now that it's without Ben Bowlby, without Nissan, without Michelin, without AAR, without Highcroft Racing and RML. Even the team's drivers at Petit Le Mans haven't been approached to drive at Sebring.
What was a dream and a calling for a tight group of exceptionally talented people has now gone a different route. Will Dr Panoz' vision meld with the excitement that accompanied the DeltaWing from its inception through its two race outings last year? Right now, there are more questions than answers.