Death of the DeltaWing

story by steven cole smith • photos courtesy nissan unless otherwise credited

And this is where it ends, the story of the loopy, love-it-or-hate-it DeltaWing that was, inarguably, among the most revolutionary race cars of your lifetime–regardless of when “your lifetime” began.

That ending is being written at Wire Wheel Classic Sports Cars, the Vero Beach, Florida, dealer that specializes in British classics, race cars and the occasional oddball. They don’t come much odder than the DeltaWing.

So it is appropriate that when DeltaWing Racing decided to sell DeltaWing Coupe chassis No. 001, they placed the car at Wire Wheel after an ad on their own website, posted February 15 of this year, drew an inadequate response.

Not that Wire Wheel has done much better. Owner Hayes Harris, a longtime friend of the magazine, says that he has seen “some interest” in the DeltaWing, which is wrapped in the patriotic red, white and blue (called the “God Bless America” livery) that chassis No. 002 wore when it was destroyed at the 2016 Rolex 24 At Daytona, a race it had led overall before smashing into a stalled Prototype Challenge car.

“A very rare opportunity to own the only DeltaWing available to the public,” Wire Wheel’s posting says. At this writing, no one has been willing or able to write a rare-opportunity check for $375,000, certainly the most arbitrary asking price of anything Harris has ever tried to sell.

After all, when no DeltaWing has ever been sold before, how do you figure what it’s worth? With decades of experience, Harris feels he is on firm ground when he’s pricing, say, a 1961 Daimler SP250 ($45,900), a 1966 TVR Grantura Mk III ($49,900), or even a Daytona and Sebring class-winning 2000 Lola prototype racer ($169,900). But asked whether $375,000 is a fair price for DeltaWing Coupe No. 001, Harris shrugs. “I guess we’ll know when somebody buys it,” he says. “Or doesn’t.”

What follows is an unabridged, certainly unauthorized history of the DeltaWing, which I, and pretty much everybody else, began reporting on in February of 2010, when the car debuted during the media preview at the Chicago Auto Show.

You’ll notice that I refer to myself here as “I,” which I almost never do, as I try to avoid first person, and clichés, like the plague. But over the years, I’ve conducted so many interviews about the DeltaWing with so many people that recounting them from the perspective of “we,” or “this reporter,” would be as uncomfortable as the DeltaWing’s tiny seat. (Which I’ve never sat in because of my fat ass, thus losing out on an offer to be the first and only writer to test-drive the original DeltaWing roadster, an opportunity that I subsequently passed to my skinny-assed friend Preston Lerner, who covered it for The New York Times. Which I’m still pissed about. But not so pissed that I’ve lost weight.)

This story may be full of plagiarism, but since I’m only plagiarizing myself, I hope that’s acceptable.

So, a little background before we head to Chicago. There are multiple characters in strong supporting roles in the DeltaWing tale, but only two stars: Ben Bowlby and Donald Panoz. Though they are not currently on speaking terms, had their paths not crossed, there would be no DeltaWing.

Scratch that: There would be a DeltaWing, a lone, stillborn mock-up painted red that now hangs–gills up, like a spray-painted shark–on the back wall of Chip Ganassi’s IndyCar shop in Indianapolis.

Appropriate, since that’s where it all started, when Brit engineer Bowlby was working for Ganassi. It was common knowledge that IndyCar was preparing to dump its aging Dallara race car, and Bowlby had been toying with the idea of a radical new design that looked a bit like an old slingshot dragster, extremely narrow at the front, widening at the rear, capable of matching then-current IndyCar performance using just a 300-horsepower, four-cylinder engine.

Development began in late 2008 and continued through 2009. Bowlby proved the concept to Ganassi via a scale-model RC car, and they went to work on a full-sized mockup.

It showed up, a surprise to most, at the Bridgestone-Firestone exhibit at the Chicago Auto Show media days in February of 2010. Multiple drivers and team owners were in attendance. It was the first official appearance of newly minted IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard, who came from the pro rodeo circuit and had not yet attended an IndyCar race. It was among the last public series-related appearances of Tony George, who founded IndyCar. I did not see them socializing.

The little exhibit was dominated by the bizarre Batmobile-like DeltaWing, painted a grim gray-green that made the car look even larger and longer than it was. Playing on video screens was a crude cartoon of two DeltaWings racing at Mid-Ohio–it looked like a rough-draft, drawn-on-a-napkin concept for a “Speed Racer” episode.

Dario Franchitti, who was the current IndyCar champion driving a Ganassi car, was impressed, or at least professed to be. “Is it too weird? I think people can get used to it. I was just thinking that when the first rear-engine car showed up at the Indianapolis 500, and when the first car showed up there with wings on it, people went, ‘Oh my God, that’s so revolutionary!’ This is something really different, and I like it,” he said. “And we’ve got to do something. It grabs your attention, and as a lifelong race fan, I’ve seen all different kinds of cars, and this is the first one I’ve looked at in a long time and gone, ‘Oh, my, what in the world….’”

Though it looked much larger than the then-current Dallara, the DeltaWing was about 6 inches longer, and the width at the rear, 70 inches, was about the same. “Here are the key points,” Ganassi told me, reciting the spiel he, and soon Don Panoz, would repeat hundreds of times for the media. “Half the cost of the current car, half the weight, half the drag, half the downforce, uses half the fuel–same speed. Which is 230 mph on 300 horsepower. And safer than the current car.”

“I think it’s very cool,” said Jimmy Vasser, former open-wheel champion driver and then a team owner. “If people are flipping through the channels on the TV and they come upon a bunch of these cars racing, they are gonna stop and watch for a while. And we need that. We have to do something to counter that other racing series that seems to be getting all the attention.”

NASCAR, he meant. In that sense, not much has changed since 2010. The consensus, by the IndyCar people who didn’t dismiss the DeltaWing outright, was that the series had to do something.

“I’m fascinated by it,” said Kurt Antonius, then the head of public relations for Honda. “It’s time for IndyCar to make some big statement. I say let’s build a few, put ’em on the track, and see what happens.”

As you likely know, Chip Ganassi formally presented the DeltaWing concept to the ICONIC Committee (Innovative, Competitive, Open-Wheel, New, Industry-Relevant, Cost-Effective) and the IndyCar Series; also presented were cars from Dallara, Lola, BAT and Swift. In July, 2010, the committee selected, to no one’s surprise, the Dallara. Three reasons: IndyCar was comfortable with Dallara; the company pledged a big investment in an Indianapolis factory; and the DeltaWing was just too weird.

“Had it been a year further along in development,” Randy Bernard told me later, “it probably would have gotten more attention, but still there were people in our group that were absolutely pro-DeltaWing, wanting us to swing for the fences–a home run or a strikeout. But there was concern that it just might not be ready in time.”

A Sports Car Savior?

And really, that should have been the end of the DeltaWing. It was certainly the end of Chip Ganassi’s enthusiasm for the project, though he remained mildly interested. But as Ganassi’s interest waned, Don Panoz’s interest grew. Yes, the DeltaWing had been developed as an IndyCar, but with some tweaks–the addition of lights, for instance, and reconfiguring the cockpit–might it work as a sports car? It might indeed, Bowlby and Panoz decided.

In earlier years, Don Panoz led the team that invented transdermal medication–think nicotine patch–and he went on to make a fortune in pharmaceuticals. His son, Danny, became interested in building limited-edition specialty cars, and Don thought racing might be a good way to get them noticed. Don Panoz would be the first to admit he went overboard with the idea, fielding teams to run in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, buying Road Atlanta, assuming control of Sebring and Mosport, acquiring IMSA and the American Le Mans Series, building the G-Force GF05 and 09 for IndyCar and the Panoz DP01 for Champ Car.

Coincidentally–maybe–in July of 2010, the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, organizers of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, proposed to accept a 56th car. (At the time they took 55 entries for the race.) The additional entry could come from anywhere outside of all the ACO rules and regulations and any Le Mans-based series, provided that this experimental vehicle demonstrated the use of green, environmentally friendly technology.

Might the DeltaWing work as the Garage 56 entry for the 24 Hours of Le Mans?

It might indeed, Bowlby and Panoz declared.

In October, Bowlby, Panoz and the ALMS and DeltaWing teams pitched the idea to the ACO. And in June of 2011, at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the ACO announced that the 2012 Garage 56 entry had been awarded to the DeltaWing. By then the project had gained the backing of only one major company, but it was a big one, and important to the French organizers: Michelin had signed on as a sponsor and as supplier of the unique, ultra-narrow little tires.

Suddenly, Bowlby and Panoz were like the dog who finally chases down an 18-wheeler: Now what? They had to design, develop and build a DeltaWing to race at Le Mans, and they had exactly one year.

In July of 2011, DeltaWing Project 56 Partners, L.P., organized by Panoz, Duncan Dayton (Highcroft Racing), Ganassi and Joe Walton and the DeltaWing Project 56 team moved to Dan Gurney’s All American Racers shop in California. Gurney had always loved oddballs, and though his shop was always comfortably busy, Dan and his family and crew dived into the DeltaWing project. Bowlby left Ganassi and joined DeltaWing Project 56 Partners full-time.

Work continued, largely under the radar, as the partners approached various manufacturers, such as Chevrolet and Mazda, to become engine suppliers. The long-shot nature of the project and the buy-in price DeltaWing was asking were cited as some of the reasons multiple companies declined. Nissan’s European division eventually showed mild interest-though surprisingly, the U.S. arm of Nissan was essentially shut out of the Nissan-DeltaWing project, which in the end was perhaps fortuitous.

At the DeltaWing’s first test, at Buttonwillow in the California desert in March of 2012, Nissan of Europe brought a few engines, a couple of drivers, and a handful of engineers. They were so concerned about the DeltaWing crashing on the first turn that they de-badged the engines, put all their employees in street clothes, taped over logos, and denied all involvement.

I was there. The car ran and handled as advertised. It was a remarkable week, with an exhausted crew working 20-hour days and staying at the Motel 6 to save money. We wondered aloud about the last time such a dramatically different design had presented itself at a venue as large as Le Mans. None of us could think of an answer.

The DeltaWing did exactly what Bowlby, an unassuming, disarmingly honest Brit, said it would do. He was the only one not surprised.

After the test, we asked Bowlby if he envisioned large fleets of DeltaWings competing at race tracks. “Not really,” he said. “I just wanted to show there are different ways to do things. I’m hoping that the DeltaWing might encourage other designers to climb outside the box.”

This was the first sign of a conflict between Bowlby and Panoz, because Panoz, a businessman, did envision fleets of DeltaWings, all coming from his Braselton, Georgia, race shop, each representing an eventual profit after repaying the investment that got the car to Buttonwillow and Le Mans.

Once Nissan realized the DeltaWing worked, it began a loud and vigorous campaign to associate itself with the project and with the car’s debut at the 2012 24 Hours of Le Mans. They brought hundreds of journalists to Le Mans, and immediately the DeltaWing became the belle of the ball, even though as an experimental it wasn’t competing officially. Publicity was enormous. “Top Gear” showed up with its own wacky replica of the car, which was parked outside the barracks that Nissan maintained for us at the track.

That the car made it past the 6-hour mark was a bit of a shock. It cranked out presentable lap times, despite a gearbox problem which has always been its Achilles’ heel. It was a crash caused by a Toyota LMP1 car, and not a mechanical failure, that eliminated the DeltaWing from the race just past the 6-hour mark. The car was crippled on the track, and as such, Le Mans rules say that only the driver can try to repair it. Satoshi Motoyama did try, using tools passed through the fence by his mechanics, before giving up, in tears, after more than 90 minutes.

It was a plucky performance from start to finish by the ugly duckling, an underdog embraced by people well outside the motorsports community. The DeltaWing owned Le Mans, and Nissan, after years of comparatively minor global motorsports participation since leaving Le Mans in 1999, was back in a big way. The effort launched the career of Darren Cox, at the time general manager of Nissan Europe.

High Hopes, Increased Conflicts

As the night progressed at Le Mans, the poor DeltaWing sat behind a chain-link fence in the track’s impound lot, and the crew popped the tops of more than a few beers. They were like soldiers who had just been told the war was over. In a sense, it was. All involved had worked non-stop. Bowlby hadn’t had one day off in months. The Gurney bunch was exhausted and ready to go home.

No one expected what happened next.

For many of the crew, this was a one-and-done project. They had very nearly reinvented the idea of what it meant to build a fast race car under the most strenuous of circumstances. The car performed as Bowlby hoped, but you got the feeling that even he had little interest in the Delta Wing’s future. For him, this could be the end.

For Panoz, it was just the beginning. Only he and Cox seemed at all interested in talking about the Delta Wing’s future. “This is not the finish line, but just the start for DeltaWing Racing Cars–we’re looking forward to opportunities to further demonstrate what the future of highly efficient motorsport could look like,” said Don Panoz in the official post-race press release.

“Everyone should celebrate the success that the Nissan DeltaWing has been and feel pride in the impact it will have as a test bed for future innovations both on the road and track,” Cox said in the same release. Cox, riding the DeltaWing wave, was promptly named Nissan’s global motorsports director.

While Nissan certainly assisted in the late development of the DeltaWing, the huge white NISSAN painted on the sides of the matte-black race car arguably suggested more involvement than what occurred. In the end, the scramble for a suitable 300-horsepower, four-cylinder engine led to the team using a Ray Mallock Ltd.-sourced powerplant. At the time, RML fielded the Chevrolet World Touring Car Championship entries for Chevrolet of Europe. The engine that was used in the DeltaWing at Le Mans was startlingly similar to one of those Chevrolet Cruze racing engines, with some Nissan-supplied fuel injection parts from a Juke.

Panoz and Nissan agreed that the Delta Wing’s next appearance would be at the 2012 Petit Le Mans, the American Le Mans Series season finale. Panoz not only owned the DeltaWing, but also the Road Atlanta track that hosted the race. After a massive crash caused by an errant Porsche in practice, the car was repaired, qualified in the top 10, and finished an astounding fifth after running as high as third.

So what was next? Bowlby, in a “mission accomplished” mood after Petit, wasn’t sure. “The question is,” he said, “is this car a stepping stone to something else, or will it have a life of its own? Frankly, there’s a lot of unfinished business. It can be a lot faster than it is.”

For Panoz, the answer was clear: It would have a life of its own, especially if he was to go to the expense of creating a tub for the car that would be successfully crash-testable by sanctioning bodies–the original DeltaWing, to save time, used a tub that had already been crash-tested as part of an aborted Aston-Martin project.

As for Bowlby, apparently it was time to move on. Search the Nissan archives for “Bowlby” and his last mention with DeltaWing is in reference to the November 2012 Los Angeles Auto Show, where the car made an appearance.

Bowlby doesn’t appear again until June 21, 2013, when he showed up, now dubbed the Director of Motorsport Innovation, discussing the three-cylinder hybrid Nissan ZEOD RC, which would make an appearance as the Garage 56 entry for the 2014 24 Hours of Le Mans. It was lost on no one that the ZEOD RC looked a great deal like the DeltaWing.

Nissan took pains to keep Bowlby out of the spotlight, especially a light that shone on him as a Nissan employee, during the ZEOD’s development. According to Panoz, Bowlby–who sent word through a colleague that he didn’t want to talk about the DeltaWing for this story–began working for Nissan in December 2012. Two months later, Nissan announced it would return to LeMans in 2014 with another experimental car, which turned out eventually to be the ZEOD.

Meanwhile, Panoz announced that the DeltaWing would race in the ALMS in 2013, using its own Panoz-built Elan four-cylinder, built along Mazda architecture. (The ZEOD RC, which stood for Zero Emissions On Demand Race Car, competed at Le Mans, 2014, but it soon broke. It did, at least, complete a lap of Le Mans on electric power only, but there was not too much else to brag about.)

Anyway, it was all getting to be too much for Don Panoz. To him, it was clear that Bowlby bailed to Nissan, taking along some DeltaWing technology that Bowlby created, but Panoz paid for. In September 2013, Panoz suggested what might be to come. “We feel very strongly that there is a potential problem,” he said. “It’s been interesting to watch people from Nissan trying to dodge the question, but the fact is that in their own press release they admit that the configuration of the ZEOD is the same as the DeltaWing. And we do have patents; in fact another one was just issued last week. We are in discussions with our legal advisors, and we’ll see what happens.”

What happened was that Nissan, in November 2013, unveiled the Blade Glider, a street-car concept that, to Panoz, looked far too much like the ZEOD, which looked far too much like the DeltaWing, to be a coincidence. This was the last straw for Panoz: He had suggested that he planned to build a streetable DeltaWing, and now Nissan had built a racer and was showing a street-car concept that it might sell?

A day after Nissan unveiled the Blade Glider, Panoz filed his lawsuit naming as defendants Ben Bowlby, Darren Cox, Nissan Motor Co. Ltd., Nissan Motorsports International Co. Ltd., Nissan International S.A, and Nissan North America Inc.

As the suit dragged on, Nissan had little to say, but in June of 2014, Panoz took out a full-page ad in several publications, one with the headline, “You Can Put As Many Nissan Logos On It As You’d Like: It’s Still Our Design,” above a photo of the DeltaWing, next to a photo of the ZEOD RC.

At issue, of course, was whether Panoz or Bowlby owned the intellectual property that is the Delta Wing. It is easy to write that one off as the attempt of a pissed-off rich guy hoping to draw blood, but multiple points in Panoz’s 142-page lawsuit were troubling, one being that Nissan never paid Panoz.

The suit claimed Nissan promised $2 million, plus testing and racing costs, plus some engines. The suit claimed Nissan received a “substantial amount” of publicity worth in excess of $2 million, an enormous understatement. The suit claimed that Nissan never paid the $2 million, or expenses.

Nissan filed multiple motions of its own, and one of them, a motion to dismiss the case for lack of personal jurisdiction, caused the Superior Court of Jackson County, Georgia, to appoint a special master to review the motion. The special master, Atlanta attorney Cary Ichter, issued a 32-page report that backed the continuation of the court case, and made some additional notations that likely had Nissan attorneys peeing their pants, as Ichter had access to many of the hitherto-private communications between the two parties, and among themselves.

Ichter cited an internal Nissan document that says Nissan decided not to spend $60 million to buy into a partnership with the “original DeltaWing partners” because Nissan would not own the intellectual property. “Therefore,” the document reads, “ONLY way to gain knowledge of narrow track cars was to poach Ben Bowlby and make him a consultant.”

Ichter cited an email from Darren Cox to his associates: “Contractual relationship with DeltaWing partners (owners of the car) is very delicate. THEY MUST NOT FIND OUT WE ARE CONSIDERING A ROAD CAR. There would be serious implications.”

Why didn’t Nissan just get out its checkbook and make this go away? Because, Panoz said, corporations and lawyers don’t like to admit they’re wrong.

Another Hail Mary

As the lawsuit lingered, Nissan, Bowlby and Cox went forward with Bowlby’s GTR-LM NISMO, an LMP1 car that would have Nissan going for the overall victory at Le Mans for the first time since 1999. The car was introduced, prematurely, in a pricey Super Bowl XLIX commercial that suggested there were Great Things To Come. The car had a V6 engine up front, driving the front tires, which were larger than the rear tires. A kinetic-energy recovery system could power two flywheels that could send additional power to the rear wheels. Theoretically. The car had to be simplified before racing at Le Mans, or it would never get there.

I was at a test of that car at Sebring prior to Le Mans, and it looked like a glorious disaster waiting to happen. It made a handful of unfortunately slow laps at Sebring before breaking a carbon-fiber mounting point, and lay in pieces during the last day and a half of testing.

Nissan subsequently canceled its participation in two pre-Le Mans, FIA World Endurance Challenge races. Nissan, and especially Darren Cox and Ben Bowlby, had a lot riding on the GTR-LM, a car far more ambitious than the original DeltaWing was. They needed a great Le Mans, and they didn’t get it. Only one of the three cars entered made it to the finish line. Bowlby clearly needed another year to develop such a complex car. He didn’t get it.

The GTR-LM program was cancelled. In a statement, Nissan said: “The teams worked diligently to bring the vehicles up to that the program would not be able to reach its ambitions and decided to focus on developing its longer-term racing strategies.”

In March of 2016, the lawsuit between Panoz and Nissan was quietly settled, with both parties claiming to be happy with the result. Both were bound by the terms of the suit not to discuss the settlement. But rumor is–and I’m saying it is a rumor because I don’t want to get sued–that the Panoz party was considerably happier than the Nissan party.

An additional rumor was that the Panoz attorneys–speaking of which, after decades in the highly litigious pharma industry, Panoz stunningly told me that he had never sued anyone before-worked on straight commission, and were happier than anybody.

Darren Cox and Ben Bowlby left Nissan. Cox is busy consulting, and reportedly Bowlby is busy working on multiple projects back home in England. Still another rumor–or so I’m calling it–suggests that neither Bowlby nor Cox would be well served visiting Georgia, Panoz’s home state, unless they want to deal with possible criminal charges that might be outstanding there.

One Last Run for the DeltaWing

As for the DeltaWing, it soldiered on after Panoz sold the American Le Mans Series, IMSA and his track holdings to NASCAR for a reported $8 million or so. NASCAR rolled the ALMS into its Grand-Am series, creating the Tudor United Sports Car Championship, now the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. Panoz and his company built an enclosed, coupe version of the DeltaWing as IMSA was closing the books on open-cockpit cars, a move that will be complete this year, the last one for the Prototype Challenge class.

When the WeatherTech series introduced the all-new Prototype class at the Rolex 24 at Daytona this year, they offered to let Panoz run the DeltaWing one last time as a grand sendoff, but late in the game he declined, instead racing the Avezzano in the Pirelli World Challenge series. It sticks in his craw–and it should–that the DeltaWing never won a race; its best chance came at the 2016 Rolex 24, where it was unquestionably the class of the field, leading early before crashing out. It finished 53rd of 54 cars, 617 laps down.

Ryan Dalziel, who finished third with the No. 90 Chevrolet Corvette Daytona Prototype team, told me no one had anything for the DeltaWing before it hit a stalled Prototype Challenge car that was sitting in the racing groove in the dark, lights out. Frankly, many at IMSA were not sorry to see the DeltaWing go–perhaps it fit into the semi-experimental atmosphere that the ALMS embraced, but it wore out its welcome racing against Prototypes that were built to, and raced under, a strict set of rules that did not apply to the DeltaWing.

So that was the end of the DeltaWing as a race car. But it is not the end of Don Panoz as a race car visionary. At Le Mans this year he introduced the Green4U Panoz Racing GT-EV via a full-sized model of an all-electric, all-wheel-drive car shown at the company display in the 24 Hours of Le Mans Village. If the ACO, the sanctioning body for the 24 Hours, likes it, the car might be awarded the Garage 56 exhibition entry for the 2018 race, as the DeltaWing was for 2012. The car will, Panoz says, be the basis for a street car that should perform like an electric Ferrari.

The GT-EV–which looks like a Prototype, although Panoz insists it’s a GT–has tandem, fighter jet-style seating on the left side; the passenger, when there is one after the street car is completed, sits behind the driver. On the right side, there’s a battery. A big battery. It would last somewhere around 100 miles in race conditions at Le Mans, or about 55 minutes, for the 600-horsepower motor. At which point the driver would pit, just as you would for fuel in a conventional car. But on the GT-EV the right side of the body would swing up and out of the way, and the pit crew would unplug the depleted battery and slide in a new one.

The problem: Right now it looks like the battery will weigh maybe 1000 pounds. And given recharging time, a race car might need to swap out a dozen or so. The battery in the street car, of course, would be rechargeable while still on board.

All this seems far-fetched, and it would be, were it not for two factors. First, the lead engineer is Brian Willis, who started his 30-year career in motorsports working for Skip Barber. Then he became Paul Newman’s track engineer. Then he got his master’s degree in engineering from MIT. Then he went to work for Dan Gurney’s All American Racers, helping design and develop the legendary, all-conquering No. 99 Toyota GTP car. Then he went to Nissan to work on its GTP car. Then Swift, then Bobby Rahal’s IndyCar team, then Williams/BMW designing the BMW LMP that won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1999. Then he came to work for Don Panoz on his race cars. Then he went to work for Team GOH on its Audi R8 LMP, which won Le Mans in 2004. Then Aston-Martin. Then he went to work for Multimatic, the Canadian design, construction and racing company, on their race cars. And while confidentiality agreements prevent him from confirming or denying it, while at Multimatic he was lead engineer for the Ford GT–both the street car and the 2016 Le Mans-winning race car. So Willis has three Le Mans wins, but can only put two down on his resume.

The other factor: Don Panoz and his checkbook, as well as an inherited trait of sheer stubbornness. So the Nissan ZEOD RC went one lap at Le Mans on electric power? Big deal. How about we do a whole race on electric power?

“This car is my holy grail,” Panoz says. At 82, he knows he may not have a lot of grails, holy or otherwise, left in him. He is asking the near-impossible of Willis and his crew, and my guess is if it takes writing a lot of big checks to make the near-impossible happen, it just might.

A great many of us race fans complain that there’s no room left for true innovation, whether it be in NASCAR or Formula 1 or IndyCar. Ben Bowlby, Dan Gurney’s AAR, Darren Cox, Nissan and Don Panoz: Although no one on that list is likely sending the others Christmas cards, all deserve credit for creating, building and racing a car no one thought would work. It did, and the DeltaWing deserves its rightful place in motorsports history.

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View comments on the GRM forums
Trackmouse SuperDork
11/15/17 2:13 p.m.

Too bad there isn’t another chassis. Buy two, weld them together and have a proper 4 wheeled racer. Sell the rest of the expensive parts off and hope to come in under budget for the challenge. (Largest stretch I’ve ever attempted...)

Joe Gearin
Joe Gearin Associate Publisher
11/15/17 2:15 p.m.

Love this story!  Steven Cole Smith always finds the hidden nuggets in any story and brings them to light.

Ed Higginbotham
Ed Higginbotham Associate Editor
11/15/17 3:26 p.m.

This is probably my favorite story to come out in the magazine. Wait, am I allowed to pick favorites?

tuna55 MegaDork
11/15/17 3:28 p.m.

Free pass to enter the $2018 challenge with this?


I'll bet I could get a free pass for Lemons.


I am 100% positive I could not get $375K.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
11/15/17 9:43 p.m.

We saw Hayes from Wire Wheel this past weekend. The DeltaWing is still available. And, yes, Steven is an awesome, awesome writer. It's a pleasure to work with him. 

mad_machine MegaDork
11/15/17 11:51 p.m.

it's a shame these cars were so hated, they had a lot of potential.

racerfink UltraDork
11/16/17 1:05 a.m.

The only design goal chassis 001 met was, it actually went around a tight corner.   Other than that, it was a failure, struggling to run LMPC class times..  Subsequent cars had to just about double the hp the be competitive.

Driven5 SuperDork
11/16/17 1:08 a.m.

It's a shame that it's a coupe for sale, and not a roadster.  The roadster looked badass.  The coupe just looks...

AaronBalto Reader
11/16/17 11:35 a.m.

I saw the Delta Wing race at Daytona in 2016--and it was a lovely thing to behold. I was in the Ferrari hospitality trailer--actually two trailers that transformed into three-level, air-conditioned grandestands with catering and a shopping. Everyone was into the Delta there that night. Until it crashed into that dead car in Turn 1. We all stood there, hoping they could get the thing back together. It didn't really look that bad as they hauled it out, and I was surprised to hear that it was toast. So glad I got to see it in its natural habitat. 

HapDL New Reader
11/17/17 7:20 a.m.

Stuff like this is how we make progress.  Or not.  But it sure was fugly, and I'm glad it's gone.  Now if we could get rid of some more of the aero ugly race cars of today ......

alfadriver MegaDork
11/17/17 7:45 a.m.
racerfink said:

The only design goal chassis 001 met was, it actually went around a tight corner.   Other than that, it was a failure, struggling to run LMPC class times..  Subsequent cars had to just about double the hp the be competitive.

Given that that one of the big benefits was pace vs. fuel economy- a quick look at the results suggest that it's ability to run much longer than the LMP2 cars, it may have spent enough less time in the pits to make up for the lap time loss. 

If everything works out, a pit stop was roughly 1/2 lap in time, so every 2 pits stops avoided is a lap made up.

It can also be said that the original Nissan engine wasn't nearly what it was supposed to be, whereas subsequent engines were, so when it was leading at Daytona, that was more indicative of what it was supposed to be at LeMans.

I certainly would not call it a failure.  It wasn't NEARLY as bad as many of Mazda's individual efforts have been.  Those were failures.

NickD UltraDork
11/17/17 8:29 a.m.

Fun fact, a division of the company my father used to work called Indicon made some data-logging equipment that was on the Deltawing and they flew some of the employees down there to watch it race.

Devilsolsi Reader
11/17/17 10:55 a.m.
AaronBalto said:

I saw the Delta Wing race at Daytona in 2016--and it was a lovely thing to behold. I was in the Ferrari hospitality trailer--actually two trailers that transformed into three-level, air-conditioned grandestands with catering and a shopping. Everyone was into the Delta there that night. Until it crashed into that dead car in Turn 1. We all stood there, hoping they could get the thing back together. It didn't really look that bad as they hauled it out, and I was surprised to hear that it was toast. So glad I got to see it in its natural habitat. 

I saw it run there in 2016 as well. It was so much faster than everything else on track. With how much IMSA obsesses over BOP, to have it be that much faster was a bit obnoxious. It seemed the fix was in. Till it hit the PC car that had been sitting there for quite a while. How the driver didn't know the car was there in turn 1 is beyond me.

It seemed like every race it had a transmission blowing up, or an engine, or people running into it because it was so hard to judge where the front end was. My friend and I used to place bets on how long it would last in each race. LOL

pinchvalve MegaDork
11/17/17 11:09 a.m.

I didn't think the enclosed version was too bad.  I wish I could find the shot of me standing next to it, you can't imagine just how small this thing is.  

racerfink UltraDork
11/17/17 5:26 p.m.
alfadriver said:
racerfink said:

The only design goal chassis 001 met was, it actually went around a tight corner.   Other than that, it was a failure, struggling to run LMPC class times..  Subsequent cars had to just about double the hp the be competitive.

Given that that one of the big benefits was pace vs. fuel economy- a quick look at the results suggest that it's ability to run much longer than the LMP2 cars, it may have spent enough less time in the pits to make up for the lap time loss. 

If everything works out, a pit stop was roughly 1/2 lap in time, so every 2 pits stops avoided is a lap made up.

It can also be said that the original Nissan engine wasn't nearly what it was supposed to be, whereas subsequent engines were, so when it was leading at Daytona, that was more indicative of what it was supposed to be at LeMans.

I certainly would not call it a failure.  It wasn't NEARLY as bad as many of Mazda's individual efforts have been.  Those were failures.

Seeing as it was an LMP1 car though...

mad_machine MegaDork
11/17/17 5:40 p.m.

I never understood the hate on the Deltawing. Yes, it looks different, and certainly looks a LOT different than anything on the track since the days of Tyrrel 6 wheeler, but I never found it offensive. I personally find it better looking than most of what is on the grid these days.


It does, however, prove one thing. Modern Race Cars do not need the super wide wheel base. They don't lean any as it is, so the need to keep the wheels widely spread is overstated.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
11/17/17 11:54 p.m.

The wide track is to minimize weight transfer, which happens whether the car leans or not. This car had most of its weight at one end - and that end had a wide track. 

randyracer New Reader
12/23/17 1:44 p.m.

In reply to mad_machine :

Hated?  Not by me.  Well, the hardtop preggo version was disliked by me, I admit.  But I love the first gen.


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