Sam Philip13 March 2012

Nissan DeltaWing gets set for Le Mans start

Futuristic racer to tackle world’s greatest 24-hour race… with a 1.6-litre turbo engine

The Batmobile has landed... and it's racing in this year's 24 Hours of Le Mans.
 
This is the Nissan DeltaWing, a 300bhp, 500kg race car unveiled today in London and set to compete against Audi, Toyota, Porsche and the rest in June's endurance epic at La Sarthe.
 
If you recognise the DeltaWing shape, that's because the dart-like design - penned by Ben Bowlby and based around an Aston Martin LMP1 tub - was pitched two years ago as a potential 2012 IndyCar chassis.
 
It was ultimately rejected in favour of Dallara's proposal, but Nissan has picked up DeltaWing's prototype and fitted it with a direct-injection 1.6-litre turbo based upon the petrol engine found in the Juke.

Gallery: the Nissan DeltaWing
 
The four-cylinder engine develops a modest (by racing standards) 300bhp - though engineers say it is capable of plenty more - but Nissan predicts the DeltaWing will get around Le Mans somewhere between LMP1 and LMP2 class pace: the team is aiming for a lap time in the 3m 45s region.
 
The maths is disarmingly simple: though it has half the power of a full-fat Le Mans Prototype, the DeltaWing carries just half the weight. It also produces half as much drag - the design does away with conventional wings in favour of ground-effect underbody aerodynamics - and will consume half as much fuel and get through half as many tyres. Useful attributes in an endurance race.
 
Speaking of tyres, the two at the front of the DeltaWing are just 10cm wide each. Weirder still, over 70 per cent of the car's weight is over the rear wheels. Which might leave you wondering... does it actually go round corners? According to Marino Franchitti - younger brother of Dario and one of DeltaWing's drivers for Le Mans - it does.
 
"It feels like an LMP car," Marino told Top Gear. "This is something that's completely outside the box, but as soon as you start driving it you know it's a proper race car."
 
The DeltaWing team have been testing on-track in the USA for the last few weeks, and have described the success of initial trials as ‘ten out of ten'.
 
"It doesn't look like it's going to work," said Marino, "but it does. The high-speed stability was very impressive. It's mega."
 
But surely, with a weedy 1.6-litre turbo engine, it won't sound like a proper racer, will it? Marino insists it's making all the right noises.
 
"It sounds very cool," Franchitti revealed. "The exhaust layout is very interesting... the noise reminds me of the old turbo 'Group C' race cars."
 
The DeltaWing will occupy ‘Garage 56' at Le Mans, a spot reserved for one-off experimental cars. We'll see plenty more of it in the coming months, but, for now we want your thoughts, TopGear.commentators. Is this the shape of future racing? Will tiny turbo engines ultimately defeat trick hybrids, V8s or diesels? And where, exactly, are they going to mount the Laser Death Rays?

Video: on-board with the DeltaWing

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