Nancy Knapp Schilke, Le Mans correspodent
Marino Franchitti takes DeltaWing prototype on its first public laps
Scotsman Marino Franchitti took the new Highcroft Racing’s DeltaWing prototype around the Sebring International Raceway with one out-lap from pit lane and then taking a full lap before he finished off the show by returning to the pit lane. While it was short-lived, that was all it took to show off the radical design and prove that the innovated racing machine can handle even the bumps on the historic circuit.
Recently at the Buttonwillow Raceway in California, Dan Gurney was the first one who put took the new car for its initial test. The former champion driver proved that the car does indeed turn and there was no doubt that it does when Franchitti took it out for on track today.
“The car turns very well,” said Franchitti. "It is very encouraging to see the project come together, and to see public reaction. It has been a great concept to begin with.”
It has been less than one year since the project was announced at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2011 with team owner Duncan Dayton, Dr. Don Panoz and DeltaWing designer Ben Bowlby. Gurney and his All American Racers group were in charge of transforming the idea into reality. Not an easy project considering that from the start, the weight target for the car was a bit over 1000 pounds and most of the parts had to be designed, tested and built in a relatively short amount of time.
The team succeeded with a recent first test by Franchitti before the official unveiling and today’s show in front of the media and the fans that had arrived at the Florida circuit for this weekend’s endurance race.
"As a designer, to have your baby shown to the world for the first time is a bit like wearing your heart on your sleeve. You never quite know what people are going to think, but in this case the reception has been incredible," said Bowlby. "For the hard work and commitment from the partners, it was fantastic to see the DeltaWing run in public for the first time."
The ACO had approved the car to contest this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans in June; however, it is classified as an experimental car and therefore will not count in the official results for points.
The first driver named for the DeltaWing project was Franchitti and just days ago, the second driver, Michael Krumm, was named during the Nissan announcement in London, England. Nissan confirmed their partnership and the Nissan DeltaWing will have a 1.6-litre DIG-T engine. The Nissan representative from Europe, Darren Cox enjoyed the show today and spent time with the fans gathered at Sebring. "We did a fan forum today and it was brilliant. I love racing in the US because it is a completely different atmosphere. The fans have shown a huge amount of interest in this car," said Cox.
Michelin announced last year that they would create the tires for the prototype and due to the shape of the car; the front two tires are very narrow. Today, the tire manufacturer who is a major partner in motor sports had the Audi R18 tire on display, along with the DeltaWing tire. The front tire on the Audi LM P1 car is 14” (36 cm) while the Delta front tire is only 4” (10 cm).
All that remains for Dayton’s Highcroft Racing team is further testing in preparation for the grand show in Le Mans, France.