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Wild Nissan racer tests
Batmobile-style Le Mans racer hits the track as Nissan prepares for 24 Hour classic
19 Apr 2012
ALL eyes will be on Nissan at this year’s famed Le Mans 24 Hour race in June as the Japanese company has entered one of the most innovative new race cars in decades – the American-designed DeltaWing.
The experimental prototype sportscar – which looks more like the Batmobile than a racer – this week began serious testing in Europe, having been shaken down at Sebring in the US after the Nissan tie-up was announced on March 1.
Designer Ben Bowlby conceived the DeltaWing to have half the weight, half the horsepower and half the aerodynamic drag of a traditional Le Mans sportscar like the Audi R18 turbo-diesel that will start a short favourite at this year’s French classic on June 16/17.
The long and pointy DeltaWing uses front tyres that are only 10cm wide.
It is powered by a turbocharged direct-injection Nissan 1.6-litre engine, based on the four-cylinder unit found in the small Juke crossover.
Nissan’s Le Mans program brings together some of the biggest names in motor sport, especially in the US, as it was constructed by All American Racers (owned by 1966 Le Mans winner Dan Gurney), the project is being overseen by former constructor Don Panoz and the team will be run at Le Mans by Highcroft Racing, which has won the American Le Mans Series for Acura/Honda with Australian driver David Brabham (the 2009 Le Mans winner).
Scotsman Marino Franchitti (the brother of two-time Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti) and German Michael Krumm put the black DeltaWing through its paces on a wet Snetterton circuit in the UK yesterday, which at least provided a good opportunity for tyre supplier Michelin to test its wet-weather tyres.
Nissan Europe general manager Darren Cox said the DeltaWing team was still on a massive learning curve, so the wet testing was valuable.
“Testing in the States was a stable, predictable way of doing the initial groundwork, but this exciting car is going to be racing in the French countryside,” he said.
“Today, the whole team got a taste of the conditions they may well face in June, so it may not have been much fun in the Norfolk rain, but it’s about the best thing that could have happened for a project and a car that will face an enormous challenge just to make the end of the race.”
Krumm, who is married to Japanese tennis player Kimiko Date, said the test had gone well and he is looking forward to another two-day test next week.
“Even though the conditions were quite damp today and we really didn’t get a proper run in the dry, I am really pleased with how the car felt,” he said.
“We’ve made some changes to the car, including the steering, which is now a lot better.
“Everyone was wondering before the car ran whether it would turn – in fact it probably turned too well and we have made some improvements in that area.
“It is great to kick off the European testing, because Le Mans is looming fast. Sebring was obviously a lot warmer and sunnier, but the conditions we had today could be exactly like you face at Le Mans sometimes.
“Getting that wet weather running under our belt – working with Michelin on the tyres – we now know what to expect.”
Krumm will race the car at Le Mans with Franchitti, who coped with the worst of the wet conditions but reported that the engine and gearbox performed strongly.
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