NASCAR has Danica and Dale Jr.
The American Le Mans Series has the DeltaWing.
The revolutionary car with a distinctive profile might not have the massive fan base the two NASCAR stars enjoy, but it does have a cult following that — at least for now — is disproportionate to the success the DeltaWing has enjoyed on the track.
Some argue that the DeltaWing could be the future of racing, as it becomes a more environmentally friendly sport. Others are skeptical about one of the most radical designs to surface in racing in almost 40 years.
“The visuals are a big fan favorite. Everywhere we go, fans are keen to see it,” said Andy Meyrick, one of the car’s two drivers, “but I think it’s also what we stand for, efficiency and green racing. Everybody realizes that the world is changing.”
This week, fans will be very curious to see how much the car has changed. The DeltaWing’s new coupe will make its race debut at a demanding track, the 3.4-mile Circuit of the Americas. The circuit will be host to its second Formula One race in November, but this week the sports cars are in town, the American Le Mans Series and the World Endurance Championship.
The DeltaWing competes in the top of five classes, LMP1, in American Le Mans, which will have practice and qualifying Friday and a 2-hour, 45-minute race Saturday. The sleek car is owned and operated by the series’ founder, Don Panoz.
The car was originally designed by Chip Ganassi Racing technical director Ben Bowlby with hopes it would be adopted as a replacement for the old IndyCar chassis. That didn’t happen, but the car did find a place to race this year in the American Le Mans Series after making its debut at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2012.
On Tuesday, the new DeltaWing coupe was testing at the circuit. The bright silver missile made its way out of the paddock with a push from mechanics and a snarl of its engine. Even with all the classes of cars testing at the circuit, the DeltaWing was easy to pick out. The car’s front is much more narrow than its rear, so much so that it almost looks like a three-wheeler.
The basic idea of the car is to use physics and aerodynamics to do more with less.
“It shows we can achieve the same amount of performance as current LMP1 and LMP2 cars with half the horsepower, half the weight, half the fuel and half the tire (use),” Meyrick said.
This season, British racer Katherine Legge was tabbed to drive DeltaWing along with Meyrick.
“I called (Andy), and I was like, ‘Sooooo, how do I drive this?’ He said the best thing is not to look at it before you get in, so you don’t have any preconceived idea of what it’s going to drive like,” Legge said. “You get in, and it actually drives like a racing car.”
This year, an earlier version of the DeltaWing, with an open cockpit, has had some encouraging results.
“We’ve been getting stronger and stronger,” Meyrick said. “Our strongest showing was the last race at Road America. We led for 16 or 17 laps between the two of us.”
The DeltaWing finished third in its class and fifth overall in that race and did lead for 16 laps. In that race, the DeltaWing also showed it could run in the rain.
Hot and humid conditions, like those expected this weekend, might be a different matter. Developing the new coupe involved much more than enclosing the cockpit. Some of the improvements reportedly involve better managing of engine temperatures, especially that of the oil.
Whether those changes work remains to be seen, but the cosmetic changes are already a success.
“The new coupe does feel very futuristic when you sit in it,” Legge said. “It does feel like you’re driving a spaceship.”
IF YOU GO
What: Sports car racing
Where: Circuit of the Americas
When: Friday through Sunday, with American Le Mans Series race on Saturday and Six-Hour World Endurance Championship race on Sunday.
Price: Three-day passes cost $79; children 12 and under will be admitted free when accompanied by an adult.