The DeltaWing: The Look of Things To Come?

By Mike Kojima

The DeltaWing is a love it or hate it sort of car.  You can either love its space age looks or hate it because it looks like something out of a Speed Racer Cartoon.  For sure the car is very different.  For sure it's as innovative as hell but does it work?  Does it have advantages over conventional wisdom?  If you are curious come with us for a close look at this car.  Our up close look at the DeltaWing left us with more questions than answers.

A lot of the stuff in this article is purely our opinions and is gleaned from looking at pictures as hardcore information on this car doesn't exist in the media.  So don't blame us if we are wrong, we are taking educated guesses!

We caught up with the DeltaWing at Laguna Seca, while the ALMS circus was in town.  Although the DeltaWing looks all cool and trick with its chrome wrap, it is actually a low buck proof of concept car that has been put together quickly out of scrounged up parts and has passed through several different hands.  This gives it a sort of cobblyness that is unusual for a prototype racer.

The DeltaWing is not exactly a clean sheet of paper design.  The tub is a modified ex P1 Aston Martin AMR part that has a narrow track DeltaWing front module designed by Ben Bowlby attached to the front!  The original integration of the parts was performed by Dan Gurney's famed All American Racers shop.

If funding can be obtained a bespoke DeltaWing specific tub would certainly clean things up and improve performance, particularly the aero performance of the chassis.  That funding will most likely come from Panoz whose Elan Technologies company will continue to develop this car separately from Bowlby's DeltaWing Race Cars Inc.  Panoz intention is to eventually develop the car into a customer car that teams can purchase.

The narrow nose of the car is somewhat high and canted upward which allows a steady airflow to the rear diffuser of the wider AMR tub.  The nose is devoid of obvious aero features which we find really strange.
We have no idea of how the car can tune aero balance. Perhaps the answers are in the car's really odd weight distribution. The car weights only 1285 lbs with only about 25 percent of that weight on the front wheels.  We think the lightly loaded front wheels do not need to generate much cornering force to point the car in the desired direction. 
Supposedly the rear wheels do 97 percent of the work in getting the car about.  We have no way of proving this but that is what the car's designers claim.  The high gently canted upward slope of the nose probably makes the chassis pretty non pitch sensitive and forgiving.

The keel of the car has some odd most likely aero features on either side of it. Probably the byproduct of CFD analysis, these could be vortex generators to modify airflow into the tunnel area of the rear tub.  There is perhaps some Newtonian pressure recovery component to their existence as well where they provide some downforce. 
Another possible function would be to modify the wheel edge vorticies that are probably a big issue due to the narrow front track. The inner vortices especially as they can mess up the undernose flow to the diffuser.  Note there is nothing that can be trimmed or adjusted up here.

Mounted ahead of the front suspension module there is a carbon crash attenuation structure.  The two holes in the keel are quick release attachment points that help positively locate the nose section.  You can see the front brake cooling ducts and perhaps the skinniest racing tires seen on a car since the 60's!
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Tuesday, August 06, 2013 5:34 AM
I'm excited to see the future developments.
I'm sure the carbon block can (and will) take heat much better than those billet blocks. Hopefully they will no longer deal with cooling issues, and maybe (this is just a speculation) a simple NACA duct could feed enough air to the oil cooler than the square box protruding between the two rear humps.
Dan DeRosia
Dan DeRosialink
Tuesday, August 06, 2013 7:34 AM
Hmmm. I guess what just bothers me is that the stated goal is always to see if a car that is half the power can be made to work if it's half the mass, has unlimited aero rules, etc etc etc... but through the whole project it's always seemed like the real goal for the Deltawing is to see if a car that looks like the Deltawing can work if not subject to rules. I'd be willing to bet that it's not the *only* way for point one to be proven, but it seems like their PR has driven the conversation to get everyone to think that it is - IE, how many people are going to look at the DW's on track performance and go "well crap, guess the idea of reducing power but still making lap times isn't going to work because that thing proved it"?

I'm going to be real interested to see what times it turns at Road America this weekend. Last year Scott Tucker had a car built for SCCA's DSR class turn a 1:55.9 in testing at Road America; DSR's basically a baby prototype class, in this case with a turboed 600-some-CC motorcycle motor. The car was at about half the normal P1 horsepower, half the mass, etc... be interesting to see how the lap times compare to the DW. (they turned down the boost for the race - apparently one of the things they discovered in testing was their driveline was reaaaaaally on the edge)

Anyway, just wanted to say my bit about that and then bow out on the side against it.
Dusty Duster
Dusty Dusterlink
Tuesday, August 06, 2013 10:07 AM
Why did Nissan back out of the program?
Tuesday, August 06, 2013 10:52 AM
Since so much of the cars weight is towards the rear, what you essentially have is a mass with a long lever to rotate it. That is why I believe the forces on the front are so small; with such a long lever, you need very little force to get the car to rotate. If there was crazy downforce, or wide tires on the front, the car would probably oversteer like crazy. Or at least have scary-quick turn in, making it feel touchy and jittery. Just my hypothesis.
Andrew Saw
Andrew Sawlink
Tuesday, August 06, 2013 10:57 AM
Details and pictures of the Delta Wing engine here.


Very little production based left methinks.
Mike Kojima
Mike Kojimalink
Tuesday, August 06, 2013 11:27 AM
Carbon has poor thermal conductivity compared to aluminum. They have been making carbon gearbox cases for years though. A properly designed carbon block can serve as a stressed member and lighten the car more. The link to Ken Andersons story is for the old Nissan motor not the new Mazda based MZR powerplant. This car is pretty patched together and poorly executed. It will be interesting how a clean sheet of paper design will work.
Micah McMahan
Micah McMahanlink
Wednesday, August 07, 2013 9:33 AM
^^^to boot, they are working on a plastic MZR engine to shave additional weight over the cnc'ed aluminum block version that they are using now.

For some a video on the car and they do go into some detail on it's design:
Wednesday, August 07, 2013 3:58 PM
I saw this race at Lime Rock at the beginning of July. The air temp was in the high 80's with humidity levels around 70%. I want to say the Delta wing completed around 60 laps before retiring do to overheating issues. I also noticed on corner exits it seemed to have issues putting the power down and was spinning the tires at times.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013 4:11 PM
Probably uses a dune buggy rack like this:


Centerload, and you can build a spreader or narrower (?) for it to adjust for your control arm mounting points.
Eric Hsu
Eric Hsulink
Saturday, August 10, 2013 12:13 AM
The Deltwing ran P2 times at Road America today. It finished 5th in practice #2 behind two P1 cars and two P2 cars.

Like you Mike, I see a lot of flaws in the execution. I think they need to call on two consultants named Mike and Eric lol.

That plastic engine deal was created by some guy who claims to have the magic plastic formula. It is not carbon fiber, but a resin reinforced plastic of some sort. It is a complete waste of time and will NEVER work. Mark my words. The manufacturing process for that particular plastic is so freaking flawed, you wouldn't believe it. Even small parts cannot be made without voids, pores, etc. There are several other companies that have been victimized by this so-called promised miracle plastic.

Several years ago we ran the Tool Racing IMSA lights car with a Cosworth built 450hp MZR (production Mazda block and head castings) at the 25 Hours of Thunderhill that I was the project lead on. The car was retired after 7 hours due to an electrical fire, but the engine was fine. The advice I would give the Deltawing is to not try to reinvent the wheel. Take the weight penalty and finish some races first.
Dan DeRosia
Dan DeRosialink
Monday, August 12, 2013 7:11 AM
It's being run as more of a vanity project tech demonstrator than a race car anyway - there's lots of things where more conventional things could just let them finish races. Looking it up a little, if it's Matty Holtzberg, it's the same guy behind the polimotor in the 80s and that thing did finish races. On the other hand, the plastic back then was carbon reinforced Torlon, but apparently that was dependent on Amoco being interested and funneling money at it for PR purposes and lately he's doing something else that's lower cost.
Eric Hsu
Eric Hsulink
Monday, August 12, 2013 8:29 AM
The Deltawing finished the race at Road America yesterday believe it or not. It is definitely being run as a race car which is why it is entered in races.

Cylinder pressures are much higher today than they were in the 80s. Your average production 4 cylinder in the 80s probably made less than 120hp where's today's engines probably average 180hp or more. Same deal with race engines. The polimotor and it's predecessor doesn't stand a chance. There's absolutely nothing special about the plastic resin being used. Besides, if it were worth a shit, I would think Ford, GM, or VAG would have picked up on the concept back in the 80s. Rather it was left to fade into oblivion. One day perhaps plastics will be able to be used for a race engine, but that day isn't here yet.
Dan DeRosia
Dan DeRosialink
Monday, August 12, 2013 12:43 PM
Hm, okay. This is just my viewpoint, but I think of the DW as a vanity project tech demonstrator more than a race car because it is effectively a class of one; it wasn't built to P1 regs, there's no BoP relative to P1 cars, they just stuck it in there because it'll have no effect on the P1 "championship" - no offense to Dyson's efforts but without Lola supporting them there's no chance of catching up to the Muscle Milk HPD without weird flukes. Anyway, that's just my opinion, everyone else is entitled to their own obviously.

Now, the Polimotor... I note the 80s race motor was basically a BDX; they claimed 312hp out of 2L, NA, which isn't exactly terrible. But looking it up, he's saying now about doing things out of glass reinforced phenolic instead of carbon fiber reinforced Torlon which... yeah, isn't anything special, completely agreed. If you know about specifics on quality of parts being turned out now, I'll bow to your expertise.

I think on that sort of thing though, even if it did work perfectly (not saying it did) there's all sorts of reasons automakers would turn up their noses. For one thing, it's up to them bothering - the "average" production engine in the 80s was just a cast iron block, not even aluminum, much less anything more advanced. Foundry technology is nice and cheap, and the automakers often own their foundries - and incremental change to stuff has proven "good enough". I mean hell, with the exception of the BMW N52 (and maybe others but that's the only one that comes to mind) every "modern" engine is still some flavor of cast 300-series aluminum. There's plenty more incremental changes doable with what's still pretty basic casting technology, so why would they go away from it? There'd be huge risks going to something less proven for not a hell of a lot of gain... and complete retooling of huge chunks of the production facilities. There's also the "not-invented-here" mentality... or even ignoring prejudices against outside inventions, it gets to the question of who owns the basic research. Since he's not still using Torlon (which, for argument's sake, let's assume worked) maybe it's a safe assumption that he doesn't.

Oh a hypothetical basis, I bet doing something like the BMW N52 motor, with aluminum for the liners and water jacket and something else for the rest, but with some hypothetical not-porous polymer composite instead of magnesium could work - if it was something too like how the Rover K was (I think) set up where the tension loads from head to crank bedplate were taken up by studs running the whole height of the engine, there's more potential for mass reduction. If, you know, you got to design from a clean sheet of paper.

I dunno; from what I've seen on my day job I'd put money on some polymers being able to be substituted for some metal engine parts. I'd put $50 on being able to make a polymer bucket follower for example... not that I have a spintron to prove it would work.

Fun stuff to think about anyway.
Eric Hsu
Eric Hsulink
Monday, August 12, 2013 3:02 PM
The goal for DW/Panoz is to sell DW racecars. So while it is a proof of concept, the only way to get interest from teams/customers is to win. And of course to win, you need to race and beat other cars. This is why I believe it is not just a vanity thing. Sure, the vanity thing is a convenient thinly veiled excuse for how poorly the concept performs because they can always fall back on "well it was just a proof of concept". But who knows with development, funding, and a lot of fixing, perhaps it can do some damage in P1 eventually. The DW has no place in P2. They've already removed themselves the possibility of P2 with billet blocks and plastic engines. Panoz wants to go after P1 cars which is also why they are competing in P1.

The OEMs have massive benefits with going to plastic engines. Weight reduction equals MPG, faster acceleration, etc. With injection molding cost cones down immensely even over casting. Then during the car assembly process, the plastic engine becomes easier to handle requiring less heavy machinery too handle and transport the engines. Less injuries in the production line due to engine weight, etc. Plastic engines would make everything exponentially better and reduce costs at the same time. Why don't they do it? Because plastic technology isn't quite there yet.

For one off production at huge immense costs for development and prototypes, it might be feasible. Like you said, there many super trick polymers out there now. But it is unlikely that some guy who has conned a handful of people and companies into his magic plastic crap has the magical formula. In fact I guarantee he doesn't. Would you believe some guys who has been talking about plastic engines for 30 years and only had one supposedly successful example? Was there any durability testing done on this plastic engine? If it was so successful, why hasn't it been picked up by Cosworth, Illmor, Ferrari or some other legendary race engine design firm? That's because it doesn't work as advertised.

I have first hand experience with producing parts from that material and it was a PITA to get small simple parts successfully produced without pores, voids, and other flaws. I cannot imagine that a complex casting like a cylinder block would be possible. The previous company I worked for was a customer of this bullshit magic plastic and I've spoken to other companies that have pending lawsuits. Trust me, the guy is full of shit. If somebody is going to produce a successful plastic race engine, it isn't going to be him.
Dan DeRosia
Dan DeRosialink
Monday, August 12, 2013 3:57 PM
Hm; well, we'll see where the DW does go. I really would prefer to pay to see a race class built off a rules-set inspired by the thing rather than just more DWs though, but whatever. It does sorta fit the philosophy for next year's P1 class in terms of fuel efficiency... if not for that it still won't actually fit into the class.

I think the OEMs may still be ruled by cost engineering (transitioning would be a significant cost even if production cost per unit would go down, I think) and risk avoidance right now. No doubt about all of the advantages you mention with lighter parts though and... come to think of it, on a mass production basis I can't argue about the technology not being there. I'm not sure who, if anyone, is driving in that direction though - I really think clever metal castings (multi-material, more advanced aluminum alloys, MMCs, etc) will happen first and or be more widespread, at least in the short term. Maybe P1 will have room for them in racing - F1 sure doesn't.

And from everything you're saying, it really does sound like the Polimotor guy doesn't have the answer.
Micah McMahan
Micah McMahanlink
Tuesday, August 13, 2013 8:41 AM
Correct Eric, Matti Holtzberg (http://blog.caranddriver.com/is-this-the-engine-of-the-future-in-depth-with-matti-holtzberg-and-his-composite-engine-block/). One of the places I've consulted at was looking to use the technology for their engines. I have my strong doubts about it as well. However plastic has been used in part as race pistons in the past but obviously that had faded out.

I think a larger reason the large OEMs aren't putting plastic blocks into production is that the block wouldn't survive the life cycle. I don't think it has anything to do with long term. It's the same reason that some OEM's have kept iron versions of the same block in trucks and leave aluminum for the cars.

Modern composites are leaps and bounds beyond where they were in the 80's. One of my current parts was driven to be made from plastic (the company's penny pinchers told me to) and it goes into testing this week...you'd probably freak if you heard what part of the engine it was.

I'm glad to see the Deltawing finish a race. As my old FSAE mentor told us, keep it simple and first finish the race. It's a lesson that I've kept in the back of my engineering mind as sometimes 'we' get lost in the cool concepts going on.
Dan DeRosia
Dan DeRosialink
Wednesday, August 14, 2013 10:13 PM
https://www.flickr.com/photos/thebenwedge/sets/72157635078483476/ Came across more photos, from someone who was it at Road America.
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