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Nissan to take revolutionary DeltaWing to Le Mans

The kids have a couple of special acronyms for the natural reaction to a car like the Nissan DeltaWing, above. One of them is the name of this band. What’s even more amazing about the DeltaWing is that it’s not a motor show flight of folly, or another superfluous one-off Nissan PR exercise. Nope, the DeltaWing will race in the Le Mans 24-hour race this year. Touche, Nissan. Touche.

For a nice change, it’s not the powertrain that’s exciting about this latest Le Mans car. In fact, the engine is about as conventionally boring as they come – it’s a tuned version of the 1.6-litre DIG-T petrol engine in grandma’s Juke.

Clearly, it’s the looks that steal the show…we must not mention the Batmobile. We must not mention the Batmobile. We must not mention the Batmobile.

With an aesthetic that evokes the Batmo…damn! Nissan is calling it “this generation’s most revolutionary and exciting motorsport project.”

Obviously it’s exciting – that’s plain to see – but revolutionary?

Well, the potential’s there, for certain. Firstly, its unique shape and relatively small engine give it half the weight and half the aerodynamic drag of a conventional Le Mans race car.

The engine is turbocharged and direct injected, resulting in an output of around 300bhp; Audi’s R18 TDI Le Mans car has just over 500bhp.

But the DeltaWing’s weight advantage means that, despite the power disadvantage, it’s running lap times not too far off the LMP1 class cars that the R18 competes in. So Nissan claims, anyway.

Nissan’s VP Andy Palmer said: “As motor racing rulebooks have become tighter over time, racing cars look more and more similar and the technology used has had less and less relevance to road car development. Nissan DeltaWing aims to change that. [It] embodies a vast number of highly-innovative ideas that we can learn from.”

The man who dreamt up the DeltaWing in the first place, British designer Ben Bowlby added: “Nissan has provided us with our first choice engine. It’s a spectacular piece. We’ve got the engine of our dreams: it’s the right weight, has the right power and it’s phenomenally efficient.”

As the quote above suggests, the DeltaWing isn’t technically a Nissan. It was conceived by Bowlby, who then partnered with US entrepreneur Don Panoz, former F1 driver Dan Gurney, a the Highcroft Racing team and Michelin. Nissan came in as a partner and provided the power, though it was Gurney’s company, All American Racers, that built the car.

The DeltaWing will not actually be classified for this year’s Le Mans, but will instead run for fun, wearing the number 0. It will compete from the famous ‘Garage 56’, the pit lane reserved for experimental vehicles.

Watching how the DeltaWing will perform during the race will be especially intriguing, given its unusual layout. The driver sits pretty much over the rear axle, just in front of the engine, making the DeltaWing’s weight distribution extremely rear biased. Nissan says this makes the car “highly manouverable,” although combined with that extraordinarily thin front track, some might be inclined to replace Nissan’s adjective with “twitchy”.