Blog: DeltaWing Is The New Can-Am
By Tom Martin
August 12, 2013
Recent experience suggests the DeltaWing, despite some cries to contrary, should be a part of the future of racing. Not DeltaWing the car, but DeltaWing the idea. That’s because DeltaWing shows us the new Can-Am, and Can-Am is the series most often referred to as the soul of the golden age of American racing.
The DeltaWing was recently at Road America for a round of the American LeMans Series and I had a chance to see it in operation for the first time on a track that I’ve raced on. Seeing the car in person is much different than seeing it on TV or in photos. Seeing it on a track you’ve run can be more impactful because you have a better sense of what corners and braking and passing areas are tough.
I’ll summarize by saying, “Wow.” I’ve seen some impressive cars over the years. For example, in person, Formula 1 braking is otherworldly, as is the engine sound. Shifter kart acceleration, on a small track, is scary. You can add DeltaWing to that group of cars whose on-track operation is impressive. The thing about DeltaWing that caught my eye was its ability to come off a corner and pick up speed.
The other thing about DeltaWing that caught my attention was how many people in the stands were talking about it. This mirrors what happens when WR does a post about the car. There tend to be more comments, and more emotion behind the comments.
The final thing I noticed about DeltaWing is how different, and to my eye, how cool it looks on track. I’m not talking about the static shape of the car, which isn’t all that pretty. I’m talking about how it looks, and how different it looks, when you see it rolling down the track. I happened to be at pit out at Road America when Katherine Legge did her single qualifying lap for the race. As DeltaWing came past start/finish, the car looked like an alien spacecraft doing a flyby one foot off the deck. The width of the car, the location of the lights and the shape all contribute to this. I noticed the same kind of effect from other vantage points.
But please don’t misunderstand. If we want to talk about the future of racing, my point isn’t that DeltaWing per se should be our model. The lesson of DeltaWing, I think, is that race fans would love to have something different on track together with the current crop of “conventional” racecars. Whether you like DeltaWing or hate it, most fans still are engaged by it. Almost everyone has an opinion and almost everyone pays attention. You don’t that happening with LMPC class cars, which are just slower versions of conventional cars that almost no one follows. We want more of DeltaWing involvement, not less, in the future of racing. And DeltaWing shows that you get it by allowing something visibly different.
DeltaWing also shows that spec racing in the world has evolved to the point where multiple formulae can be run together. This is crucial because, to go back to the Can-Am reference, Can-Am was great at getting something visibly different to show up, but often that difference meant a runaway. Can-Am killed its innovators (except Porsche) rather than putting them on a leash. DeltaWing shows that modern sanctioning bodies know how to adjust weights and intake sizes and so on in a way that yields competitive fields without having identical cars. ALMS isn’t the only sanctioning group that does this, by the way. The SCCA pulls it off in Pirelli World Challenge, where Porsche Caymans fight with Camaros and Boss 302s and Kia Optimas. There are many other examples. Every modern race series is a spec or formula series and the sanctioning bodies are good at managing this. There is no strong reason that they can’t manage two or three different approaches (DeltaWing vehicle dynamics are about as fundamentally different as you’re going to get and ALMS/IMSA managed it and quite quickly).
I do think the other lesson of DeltaWing is that some attention could be paid to design (“styling”) for some of the sub-classes in a new series. I wouldn’t insist on this for every sub-class, since DeltaWing exemplifies the form-follows-function approach that is also a good thing, but it would be a great idea to have a sub-class that plays to (non-physics-based) fan expectations of what a racecar “looks like.”
Money, of course, is an issue. Yet somehow the stateside world has been building three Daytona prototype chassis, plus Honda, Lola, Audi, and Toyota chassis, along with DeltaWing and soon the Nissan ZEOD
. Now ALMS and Grand-Am have merged to reduce this arms race a bit, but that’s nine chassis types, at least! I think we only need three, though four or five would be nice.
I, for one, would love to show up on Sunday and see HPD ARXs running against modern Chaparral 2Es running against DeltaWing or the Nissan ZEOD. Throw an Audi e-Tron Quattro into the mix and United SportsCar Racing would be the series to watch.