So, Top Gear’s favourite pointy underdog proved it’s more than just a freak-racer this weekend. The Nissan Deltawing came fifth in a field of regular LMP1 and LMP2 cars at the ‘Petit Le Mans’, 1000-mile race at Road Atlanta, the last race of the American Le Mans series.
Remarkably, the team thought the car could have done even better still had it not got snagged on the wrong side of the safety car more than once. And all this after a practice accident that set YouTube on fire last week. Good stuff.
The Deltawing, for those who’ve spent the summer in a Crofter’s hut, is the one-off renegade refugee from Indycar racing that the Le Mans authorities were smart enough to grant an entry, and that Nissan subsequently threw its name, budget and a tiny four-cylinder turbo engine behind. Half the horsepower of the rest of the field, yes. But also half the weight, and half the drag. And it flew at the real Le Mans too, before one of the mighty Toyota hybrids knocked it off the track to mass opprobrium.
So the Highcroft racing team had only one aim this weekend, and that was to finish. Even that looked unlikely when driver Gunnar Jeanette got nerfed by an inevitable 911 in practice and launched into a wild roll, which had large chunks of Twitter wondering whether a car with its front wheels in the normal place might not have flown so easily.
Still, American driver Jeanette clearly wasn’t scared. Starting at the back of the grid, he’d passed eight cars by the time the first lap was over and had the car eighth overall (out of 42) by the first driver change. Spaniard Lucas Ordõnez then raced as high as third as the Deltawing’s ability to make its tyres, especially those biddy little fronts, go further than the ‘regular’ cars’. Less time in the pits. More time on track.
The AMLS organisers have agreed the Deltawing’s one-off appearance will become a regular thing next year. There is however, still no word on a return to Le Mans, the unclassifiable ‘Garage 56’ slot having already been allocated to the hydrogen-powered GreenGT.
Meanwhile Don Panoz (remember him, the man who brought front-engined race cars back to Le Mans?) says the concept may have a future in single-seater racing too. It was originally conceived as an Indycar after all. We can’t wait to see more of our pointy friend, wherever it’s racing…