DeltaWing at the 24 Hours of Le Mans
By Bob Kozak (Advanced Biofuels USA) Senior Green Racing Editor Bob Kozak has been following the breakthrough DeltaWing race car since the project started. He thinks it has a lot to teach us as we try to bring advanced biofuels to life.
15:23:12 : Sadly the only ” New Technology ” car, the Deltawing, did not finish. Official 24 Hours of Le Mans Race Announcement
It was excruciating to watch a rookie driver in the #7 Toyota hybrid prototype push the DeltaWing into a crash barrier during a restart shortly after the sixth hour mark of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The DeltaWing had been beset earlier by an off-the-shelf broken electronic shifting part that sent it to the pits for a long repair. But, after it was fixed it pluckily motored on and its drivers started turning very competitive laps. (Check out http://www.highcroftracing.com/galleries/ for some great DeltaWing photos.)
It was moving up in the standings and the rest of the race looked to be exciting. DeltaWing was showing everyone that Ben Bolwby’s formula of ½ the power, ½ the weight, and ½ the fuel equals full performance was working as advertised. That part of the experiment was successfully completed. Finishing the next eighteen hours would have left all the naysayers by the wayside.
But, as every racer has probably said after not finishing, “That’s racing.” Yes, that’s racing – the absolutely harshest test that you can come up with for people and their machines. And the 24 Hours of Le Mans is absolutely the harshest test possible. 24 hours flat out on the country roads of central France. From 3 PM Saturday to 3 PM Sunday. The “circuit de la Sarthe” is an 8.4 mile course with straight-away speeds of over 200 mph (on narrow roads closed for the race, not on a superspeedway) and hard breaking for 50 mph corners. The winning Audi diesel-hybrid this year traveled 3,199 miles. Yes, that more than NYC to LA in one-day.
Winning Le Mans is the Holy Grail for all automobile manufacturers. It took the great Ford Motor Company three tries and billions of dollars to finally win it in 1966 with the revolutionary GT-40. Porsche, Jaguar, Peugeot, and Audi spent years and fortunes before they left with the ultimate trophy.
That was the challenge Ben Bolwby accepted from the French Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) one year ago. Bring the DeltaWing and if you can qualify at the ACO target speed you can come to the starting line on Saturday and try to make it to Sunday.
Here’s the thing, and why this means so damn much in a time when seemingly nothing works.
In June 2011, the DeltaWing racing car DID NOT EXIST! Ben Bolwby had turned out a full-size model for wind tunnel testing and publicity photos and had computer models.
But, the car did not exist. It had to be built from scratch. Heck, some of Bowlby’s concepts were so advanced they were in the pre-scratch stage!
So, how did the DeltaWing make the starting line and show it had the Right Stuff for Le Mans?
Here’s the story. And listen well. These are lessons we all need to learn.
Lesson #1: The Scientific Method versus Dogma
The DeltaWing started as an answer to Indy Car’s 2010 problem of high racing car costs and low fan interest. http://advancedbiofuelsusa.info/the-deltawing-indy-race-car-is-not-only-the-future-it%e2%80%99s-important In their infinite wisdom, however, Indy Car management turned down the DeltaWing.
The reason given was that IndyCar considered the combination of torque vectoring transaxle technology, under car aerodynamic downforce generation, new ideas on center of gravity transfer, and a very low-drag narrow front end that made it look like a land speed record car (or a tricycle to some) as “too radical.” And with that judgment they joined a long line of dogma based decision makers that stretch back to the Middle Ages and before.
As if Indy Car’s rejection wasn’t enough, many commenters and a few bloggers on “car guy” web sites who should have known better piled on and assured everyone that the DeltaWing simply would not turn.
Bowlby could have retrenched. The front end could have been widened or drag reduction could have been more conventional. These changes would have reduced popular opposition and development costs. But he didn’t.
Why? You could say that Ben is a very stubborn individual. Well, he is, but that misses the point. Ben stuck to his design because he trusted his data and calculations. Ben follows the empirical scientific method. You run experiments, collect data, and test some more. It’s not based on following dogma, it’s based on clear headed understanding of hard won data. When you make a decision, it’s because you trust the work you’ve done.
When the ACO extended the invitation to Le Mans, the original concept remained intact.
Lesson #2: Let the Geniuses Work!
Transferring Ben’s numbers into carbon fiber, titanium and aluminum is, as the saying goes, “a non-trivial task.” For background, the development cycle of a clean-sheet production vehicle is at least three years (usually closer to five) and the new DW12 IndyCar, which was closely based on existing designs, took 18 months and has still not reached optimal performance after six months of racing.
Fortunately for the DeltaWing saga the legendary Dan Gurney stepped forward and offered to build the first DeltaWing at his All American Racers (AAR) factory in California. Please take the time to learn about Dan Gurney. There simply is not the room here to do it properly. But, here’s a place to start. In one week in June 1967 he won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in a Ford GT-40 Mark IV and the Belgium Formula One Grand Prix in the AAR Eagle he designed and built.
As Dan tells the story he asked Ben to explain how the DeltaWing worked. When he heard Ben’s explanation, he thought the data and calculations were valid and said he’d build it.
The two geniuses came together and from summer of 2011 through February of 2012, together with the AAR people, they put everything they had into the project. As things started to come together, more people came on board. The most important were Michelin Tires and Nissan Motors.
Besides Gurney and Bolwby though, I think there is an unsung hero to bringing the DeltaWing to life – Duncan Dayton.
Duncan Dayton is the owner of Highcroft Racing. They have won two American Le Mans championships. To get to that point, Duncan had been a very successful businessman. From seeing the Highcroft team in action you can see that Duncan has created a very skilled, very disciplined team. Their ability to prepare and rebuild damaged race cars is stunning, Duncan also searches out innovations and makes them work; which is what led him to managing the DeltaWing program. Highcroft would take the raw DeltaWing fledgling and turn it into durable full-on Le Mans racer.
This meant letting the geniuses work, but also getting automotive giants Michelin and Nissan to focus their talents and resources on this project. Finally, it meant having to guide everyone to realize what ideas would be on the car at Le Mans and which one would have to wait for another day. This was far from easy. I’ve spoken to Duncan and I toast to him now for what he did.
If you’re running a bleeding-edge technology business I’d suggest talking to Duncan. If you work for one, make sure your boss learns about Duncan. If you are at a business school, the DeltaWing story needs to be at the centerpiece of your business innovation curriculum.
Lesson #3: Remember and Use Your History
Science and technology do not move forward at a regular pace. Scientific “progress” isn’t some continuous upward sloping line defined by a business school “law.” Science and technology moves forward in fits and starts. There are dead-ends and blind alleys. There are also very viable ideas that were stopped by shortages of funding, changes in public acceptance, and adverse rule making. Never forget them. If they made sense once, they probably will make sense again. Here are three key elements of the DeltaWing that have these histories.
BLAT: In the late 1970s and early 1980s, forward thinking racing car designers like Collin Chapman and Dan Gurney were trying to crack the aerodynamic conundrum of creating maximum downforce with minimum drag. A key concept was Boundary Layer Adhesion Technology, or BLAT. Low drag downforce could be created by lowering the pressure of ambient air running under a car and extending the low pressure zone behind the car. However, creating a low air pressure generator under the car without using a power sucking fan was the challenge. Dan created the Pepsi Eagle IndyCar in 1981 that solved the problem. It was fast, won races, and was made illegal on 1982 IndyCars.
When Ben and Dan starting getting into the details of how the DeltaWing would create undercar downforce, guess what came up? BLAT, largely put aside years ago is again showing why it was successful.
Skinny Tires: For the narrow front of the DeltaWing to work, skinny durable tires that could go 200 mph and have lots of grip had to be used. With just a year, how could such tires be developed? You know that little spare tire you have in your car?
Michelin had a wealth of data on the traction characteristics of tires that size. And, going back even further, it turns out that tire size was on the famous (or is it infamous) Citroen 2CV. Michelin says the front DeltaWing tires are the most efficient tires they ever developed. Does this mean your road car will have skinny, light weight tires in the future? Don’t bet against that.
Nissan Engine: Darren Cox, the head of the Nissan side of things at DeltaWing has reminded me that the engine is greatly updated, but… In 1970 Nissan, then called Datsun, introduced the 510 model in the US. It was a spunky, fun to drive, low fuel consuming very technologically advanced sport sedan. For about half the price of a BMW 2002 you got independent rear suspension, a smooth 4-speed gearbox, and an aluminum block, overhead cam 1.6L four-cylinder engine. The car quickly found its way to the racetrack and was a Trans-Am champ over the BMWs. It also is something of an icon among car people.
The engine in the DeltaWing? A Nissan 1.6L aluminum block overhead cam 4-cylinder. Yes it is turbocharged, but in keeping with Ben Bowlby’s concept of less power and good fuel economy, the power output is not much above what comes from the stock version of the engine which is available in the Nissan Juke. From the start of the Nissan racing heritage to the future.
Lesson #4: Enlightened Regulations
All the science and technology in the world is great. However, if the governing bodies are held back by dogma or ideology and are unable to see to the future or don’t want it to happen, it won’t. Yes, in a perfect world legislative and regulatory agencies would clearly consider the science (Climate Change for example) with a scientific eye before making decisions.
In the case of DeltaWing, there was an enlightened regulatory body, the French Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) which runs the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The ACO is has recently been at the forefront of pushing automobile racing to develop new energy efficiency and safety technologies (the proposed 2014 regulations are very exciting for energy and biofuel people).
Besides enacting vehicle design regulations, ACO has something called the “New Technology” program. Every year they can invite a team to race a car that, while it doesn’t meet existing regulations, does represent the future of motor vehicle technology. In the past this included a car with the flywheel hybrid technology that was used by this year’s winning Audi. One year ago, the ACO invited Ben Bowlby to bring the DeltaWing. The car would not race for prizes, but would have the worldwide audience of the 24 Hours of Le Mans seeing it and would be able to produce extremely valuable technical data that couldn’t be obtained any other way.
Remember this ACO “new Technology Program” before you condemn all legislative and regulatory bodies and the rules and regulations they write. The real issue is getting rules and regulations in place that understand science and encourage smart innovations.
Lesson The Last: Stick Together and Don’t Give Up
When the DeltaWing was pushed off the track by the #7 Toyota it wouldn’t run. Le Mans regulations require a car to make it back to the pits for repairs under its own power. It can’t be towed, the driver has to fix it. The DeltaWing driver Satoshi Motoyama tried hard. For ninety minutes he tried everything. The team rallied around and gave him all the help they could within the rules but it was too badly damaged. http://www.highcroftracing.com/news/ and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xi_AsxRuyus&feature=player_embedded#!
Satoshi didn’t give up and I’m sure the DeltaWing team won’t either. This isn’t the last time we’ll see them.
They’ll be racing again this year. Circle October 20th on your calendar. That’s the date for the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta. Tell the American Le Mans series http://www.alms.com/ you want to see it there. And after that? How about more DeltaWing racers built from bioplastics? That’s the next step in the project. And as Dan Gurney says, he’d like to drive one on the street. So would I!
It’s hard most of the time in the advanced biofuels world. Not much funding, little public support, adverse regulations. We could learn a lot from the story of the DeltaWing.
Photos: Bob Kozak