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Nissan DeltaWing headed for Le Mans

Nissan’s DeltaWing looks like it could be Batman’s wheels from upcoming summer blockbuster The Dark Knight Rises. It’s not actually a Batmobile, though, it’s a new race car destined to rocket around Le Mans this June. And crucially, it is designed to race using much less fuel than more conventional rivals.

It might look like a work of comic book fiction, but the Nissan Deltawing is set to be a real racer.
It might look like a work of comic book fiction, but the Nissan Deltawing is set to be a real racer.

And don’t imagine the DeltaWing will wobble round corners like a tumble-prone Reliant Robin. About 75 per cent of the car’s weight sits over the back axle, and roughly the same proportion of aerodynamic downforce presses on the rear at speed. This abnormal bias gives great traction for acceleration and also means bigger braking forces can be generated by the rear tyres, giving the narrow front rubber more leeway for cornering.

Under the big shark fin at the back, Nissan has installed a modified version of the Juke’s 1.6-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine. Turbocharged, intercooled and with direct injection, it spits out 300bhp. That doesn’t sound like much compared to the 520bhp of the front-running LMP1 class or even the 450bhp LMP2 category at Le Mans, but the Deltawing’s unique design should help it keep up. It is expected to turn in lap times midway between the two classes on the racetrack and should peak at around 200mph on the Mulsanne straight.

At just 475kg the DeltaWing is about half the weight of current Le Mans designs, meaning it should gobble up much less fuel and eat up fewer tyres than its rivals.

While Nissan’s name is splashed across the car, the Japanese firm is a latecomer to the DeltaWing project. The other partners include Highcroft Racing, which will run the car; Ben Bowlby, designer of the car and the DeltaWing concept; Dan Gurney’s All-American Racers, which built the car; American Le Mans Series founder Don Panoz; and Michelin, which makes the DeltaWing’s unique tyres. The DeltaWing concept has been hawked in various forms before, including a single-seat version designed for IndyCar. 

The DeltaWing will run at Le Mans from Garage 56, a spot in the pitlane reserved for experimental cars. It will wear number zero on its nose and will be driven by British Sportscar racer Marino Franchitti and reigning GT1 World Champion, Michael Krumm. Because it doesn’t conform with class rules, the DeltaWing can’t win the race, but Nissan says it hopes to learn lessons to help build better road cars.

Here’s hoping those cars all look like the Batmobile too.

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