Before this years’ Le Mans 24 hour endurance race took place, Motor-Vision reported on the radical design of the Nissan DeltaWing (Original article here) and questioned whether it might change racing forever or if it would just crash instead. I half-expected the latter to be the case and so I thought I’d end up writing a follow up article entitled, “Nissan Batmobile / Delta Wing Crashes at Le Mans.” Well, guess what? That is exactly what this article is called. The DeltaWing did in fact crash at Le Mans. But then, we all knew it was going to – right?
For all those doubters who were expecting a horrific recreation of the 1999 Mercedes CLR-GTR aloft and back-flipping violently through the air, the Nissan DeltaWing has let you down. Although it did crash, it was nothing to do with the design of the car. So while the Nissan DeltaWing is listed as a retirement on the results sheet, it’s a listing that doesn’t quite do its six and a quarter hours racing at Le Mans much justice.
Nissan’s take on the Batmobile really could have done with some of the super hero’s defensive gadgets as it was pushed off the famous circuit and into a concrete wall by former Williams driver Kazuki Nakajima in a Toyota prototype. It is unknown as to whether the Toyota driver had a Joker-like smile as he pushed the Batmobile off.
Until that moment the DeltaWing had been looking good and was completing 11 lap stints at LMP2 pace. Satoshi Motoyama had become caught up with the front-runners in the battle for race leadership at the Porsche Curves and had done exactly the right thing by moving off the racing line so as not to interfere with the race. As the Nissan was a prototype and running out of garage 56 (reserved for experimental cars) it could not officially win and had to be on it’s best behaviour by not interfering with the official race cars. Nakajima, in the Toyota, seemingly did not see the unique, innovative, dart-shaped, Batmobile styled, Nissan DeltaWing as he pushed it off into a concrete wall. Clearly it’s a car that’s easy to miss. Or rather, not miss.
The Nissan drivers were of course furious at Nakajima. Franchitti said, “He used to hit a lot of things when he was in F1 and things don’t seem to have changed.” The Nissan team were understandably upset by the retirement, particularly as the car was starting to prove that everything they’d said before the race might just be true.
The DeltaWing has captured racing fans attention like no other Le Mans prototype racer that I can think of and the quarter million fans at the circuit were very much supporting the unusual concept. It is the aftermath of the crash where this story really starts to become rather touching. When a car crashes or fails at Le Mans, the driver can have a bash at fixing it and limping it back to the pit lane for the team to work on. The teams engineers are not allowed onto the circuit but are allowed to shout instructions to the driver. Montoyama worked for 90 minutes trying to fix the car and at one point it looked like he’d just about got it done but when the car started, it revved briefly, spluttered, stuttered and then died. He carried on trying to fix it but it was a fruitless attempt. The impact with the concrete wall had done too much damage. Motoyama said, “I tried everything I could to fix the car but since the power train damage was particularly serious we couldn’t revive it.”
Darren Cox, the Nissan Europe General Manager, could be seen staring through the fence at the broken car. In fact, if it were possible to repair a car with a glance alone then Darren Cox would have had the DeltaWing up and running again in seconds with his transfixed stare. You could see that emotions amongst the whole team were running high as there was a very warm and tender moment between Cox and Montoyama as they held hands through the fence in a scene reminiscent of the prison visit in the film Midnight Express.
After a year of hard work, the Nissan team were clearly upset and you could see that Montoyama had desperately tried everything he could to get that car running and back to the pits. It was a very sad end to a promising run by the Nissan team. Upon seeing the video above one of the girls in our office said, and I quote, “Aw – that’s so sweet.” While I’d normally steer clear of such sentiment when describing motor racing, I personally cannot think of any words to better describe the hand holding moment.
So what’s next for the Nissan DeltaWing? That’s a tricky one to answer. I’m sure that we’ve not seen the last of the concept but at the moment there is no other racing series that it could qualify for. There are no similar cars for it to race against. Other than Le Mans 2013 there isn’t really anywhere for the Nissan to go to. I hope that we haven’t seen the last of it and that it won’t disappear into insignificance. While researching my original article, I read an interesting proposition from one of the cars developers. With a car such as the DeltaWing it would be possible to start a brand new racing series where the only restriction was on fuel flow. As we all know, series such as F1 have more regulations than I could even hope to list out in this article regarding weight, power, down force, the type of underpants that the drivers can wear – you name it, it’s regulated. It’s all quite prohibitive to innovation. Imagine for a moment a racing series where the only single rule governing the cars was on fuel-flow. It could be a great leveller and would allow competing teams to innovate as they saw fit to develop unique aerodynamics, more economic engines, lighter race cars, and in general be much more in tune with where the commercial motoring industry is currently headed. If the race series became faster than was safe the only rule that would need amending would be to allow less fuel-flow to slow the cars down again.
Nissan and the DeltaWing team have given us all food for thought. And they held hands too. Awwww….
Images from LeMans.org