Video: Nissan DeltaWing burns rubber

If the Caped Crusader turned from fighting crime to a life of auto racing, the Nissan DeltaWing would undoubtedly be his vehicle of choice.

At first glance, this wild looking car seems all wrong for any type of racing, as it boasts a very narrow front end and an exceptionally wide looking rear. However, there is a lot of engineering put into the shape of this car with the ultimate goal of ensuring both fuel economy and smooth aerodynamics.

The vehicle was a joint project between Ben Bowlby and Chip Ganassi Racing. Bowlby is a former Lola chief designer, so together the two partners know a little something about designing race cars.

The DeltaWing was originally pitched to the IndyCar league, which ultimately passed, as they felt the design was too radical. The two previously mentioned partners also worked with Dan Gurney and Don Panoz on the project, while later refocusing their attention on endurance racing with the goal of testing the car at the prestigious LeMans circuit.

Along the Way, Nissan and tire maker Michelin joined the project. Nissan provided the engine for the DeltaWing out of the Japanese version of the Juke crossover SUV called the DIG-T. The small 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine puts out 180 hp in basic street trim. When the engine is massaged for racing power output increases to about 300 hp.

True, that’s not very much power for a racing car, but the DeltaWing focuses more on fuel economy and aerodynamics. Both of these play a very important role in endurance racing where a more fuel-efficient car is desired. The narrow front end of the car allows the DeltaWing to use narrow tires – due to the engine being placed behind the driver and the driver sitting further back in the chassis. The lightweight car and the weight distribution means that the DeltaWing doesn’t need a lot of tire for stability and control in corners.

The DeltaWing weighs a mere 1300 pounds with a full tank of fuel and the driver onboard, which is about half the weight of a LMP1 class racer running at LeMans.

The slippery design of the car also promises a 50% reduction in aerodynamic drag. With lightweight and lots of aerodynamics, the car should have to pit for fuel and brake swaps less than other vehicles in the race. The downside? The DeltaWing is allowed to participate in the June race only as as an exhibition car, rather than a true contestant.

“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,” says Nissan exec Andy Palmer. “Nissan DeltaWing aims to change that.”