After delving into the new Nissan ZEOD chassis last week, RACER turns its attention to its American skinny-tire rival, the DeltaWing Coupe.
Owned and operated by American Le Mans Series founder Don Panoz, the closed-top prototype is creation of DeltaWing’s Simon Marshall and has been built by Panoz’s Elan Technologies firm in Georgia. Scheduled to make its competition debut during this weekend’s ALMS event at Circuit of The Americas, DeltaWing team principal Dave Price gave RACER an inside look at the Coupe’s development heading into COTA.
“The recent shakedown we did with the Coupe was probably one of the best shakedowns we’ve ever had,” said Price. “We had a difficult gestation period with the [DeltaWing] Roadster but, as you saw at Road America, we finally got on top of most of the issues. But the issues that really gave us most difficulty was the packaging and the heat problem we had, which the Coupe has dispensed with pretty much.
“We’ve got separate radiators for water, oil and intercoolers now, so they’re not all trying to vie for the same amount of air. We’ve got separate ducting for them all. So we’ve got a nice cool charge temperature to the turbo; we can contain the water temperature and we even had to tape the oil radiator up, which is good because it was 90 degrees at the test the other day. Comparatively, we really struggled with oil temperature in the Roadster. I mean really struggled.”
At the urging of the ACO, the original open-top DeltaWing design used a homologated, crash-tested tub from the Aston Martin AMR-One project, and with it came certain packaging limitations. By starting with a clean-sheet Coupe tub, many of those packaging issues have been overcome, and in a nod to the original Roadster design, Price confirmed the rest of the 2012 car’s mechanicals have been retained.
“Simon and all of the DeltaWing staff were working toward solving all these problems in the Coupe and we’re just finishing off and tidying up now and finishing some of the detail in the cockpit, which is all new on this car,” Price continued. “But basically, all the suspension is exactly the same as the Roadster, the gearbox is the same. So we didn’t expect too many problems there. And what we were hoping to achieve, which is the biggest difference from the Roadster, is temperature control.
“The difference in the Coupe and Roadster is you’ll see apart from the roof, of course is the center of the nose is a lot lower between the wheels, so we’ve lowered the frontal area. Most of the changes have been aimed at trying to improve the aero a bit. And we’ve still got another development to go on that with the underbody. We deliberately made modifications to the chassis so that we’ve got some ability to improve the underbody further.”
Like Ben Bowlby’s new Nissan ZEOD tub, the DeltaWing Coupe has been constructed as a one-piece shell, but within the cabin, Marshall has gone in a different direction with a center-drive position for drivers Katherine Legge and Andy Meyrick.
“It’s one piece,” Price confirmed. “We went down that route and it takes a bit longer to lay it up but it’s the right way to do it. I mean, I’ve read what Ben said about their car, his offset driving position. But ours can comply very readily with the 2014 regulations. It’s got all the side impact structures there. It complies with everything else, the doors. For us to move the seating to one side is a couple of hours work.
“Simon’s taken all of that into consideration when it was designed. His view of putting the driver in the middle is, from a safety point of view, is that we don’t have a lot of bodywork around the side to absorb energy like a conventional LMP car does. So his view was to put the driver in the middle to make them even safer.”
Panoz embarked upon a new engine program for 2013, switching to a Mazda-based powerplant from the Nissan unit that was used throughout the DeltaWing’s first season. Once the Elan Power Products team got a handle on reliability, the turbocharged four-cylinder mill has been less of a concern, and with the car set to compete in the United SportsCar Championship next year, Price says they will pause engine development while IMSA’s technical staff attempt to benchmark the car’s performance against P2s and DPs.
“[IMSA technical boss] Scot Elkins came out to the shakedown to have a look just because he was in the area, and wanted to keep abreast to where we are,” he said. “Our engine development, for instance, is arrested, for want of a better word, in terms of power. We’re not looking for any more power; we are satisfied with where our engine is.
“We’re taking weight out of it, which is what we’re doing now. We will have a lightweight engine before the end of the year. And so we’re not looking for more power; just looking constantly to reduce mass.”
Earlier in the year, Panoz revealed his company was working on a massively ambitious method to reduce engine weight but, according to Price, the solution is still be developed.
“It is a fascinating element,” he remarked. “Don’s come to some arrangement to do a carbon fiber block before I came on board. And that’s a work in progress. It’s something they’re working on and we’re just trying to concentrate on what we’ve got to do. I know Don’s keen on it and it’s been a work in progress, that’s about all I can say, really.”
With the United Sportscar Championship technical team working to balance P2s and DPs, having to include the DeltaWing in the process will add another lather layer of complexity, but unlike the other prototypes, the arrow-like car isn’t required to comply with every single aspect of the P2 rulebook. As a result, adjusting its performance to meet a specific performance levels can be done through increasing or decreasing its horsepower.
“It’s a P2 car, not a P1 car, so where we’ll stand with the other balance of performance, I don’t know, but we have more options at our disposal to fit the other cars in the Prototype class than some of the other chassis, I imagine,” said Price. “We’ve got this balance of performance test in November which will shine the light on what’s needed from us then.
“I would suggest that we are a very competitive P2 car option for next year. And the car is not expensive to run, it’s not difficult to maintain. We will support the program, technically anyway, if anyone buys it. We’re laying up three cars. We’re not planning to flood the market with them but certainly get a couple more out there that should be plenty competitive.”
Once the Coupe completes its first race at COTA, Price hopes the DeltaWing will be seen and received as a worthy Prototype competitor, rather than the oddity among traditional sports car products. If potential buyers can make that leap in perception, Price believes the extra Coupe chassis could be sold.
“The difficulty is going to be people overcoming their prejudices against it because it’s different,” he explained. “And I think that’s what a lot of people will think: ‘I’ll go for the safe option.’ Don, in the usual fashion, didn’t go for the safe option and he’s proved it to be a very viable option.
“It’s not going to happen this week, next week; it may need to overcome a bit of skepticism at first. We need to establish where we are with this car for the three races that remain in this year. Don’s planning to showcase the car for potential customers after Petit, and if everything goes well, we hope to have a few Coupes to contend with next year.”