Crain News Service report
BRASELTON, Ga. (Feb. 11, 2013) — The principal financial backer of the innovative DeltaWing racer is keen to keep the idea alive despite having lost most of the project's technical partners, including tire maker Group Michelin, one of the project's first corporate backers.
"We are proud to have been involved in the DeltaWing project, which provided the opportunity to develop an innovative 4-inch, lightweight tire that delivered high performance and durability," said Craig Hodges, external communications director for Michelin North America Inc.
"Our goals for a successful partnership were achieved, as evidenced by the car's performance in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and again at Petit Le Mans in 2012," he said. "The new technologies and processes used for the DeltaWing tire will play a crucial role in helping Michelin to develop the next generation of innovative competition tires."
The DeltaWing—a lightweight, needle-nosed low-drag concept—debuted at the 2010 Chicago Auto Show, where its creators pitched it to become the new IndyCar. The design required special narrow front tires.
It lost that bid, but went on to compete as a sports racing prototype at last year's 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the American Le Mans Series season-ending Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta using tires developed for it by Michelin.
Don Panoz, founder of the ALMS and principal financier of the DeltaWing, insists the car will return for the Mobil1 12 Hours of Sebring on March 16, but now he needs to find replacements for the car's engine and tires as well as recruit new drivers.
Mr. Panoz's engineering company, Elan Motorsports Technologies, is developing a new engine, based on a Mazda four-cylinder, to replace the Nissan power plant used last year.
Mazda North America is not involved in the project, however, according to John Doonan, head of Mazda's U.S. racing operations. Panoz had approached Mazda multiple times about a partnership, Mr. Doonan said, but the timing was never right.
The project also has lost Dan Gurney's All-American Racers, which built and tested the DeltaWing, Duncan Dayton's Highcroft Racing, which helped develop the car and raced it at Petit Le Mans, and perhaps most of all, Ben Bowlby, the engineer who conceived and designed the car and is no longer in the picture.
The driver lineup has not been set, but is likely to include drivers who have worked with Panoz in the past, such as Cadillac World Challenge factory driver Johnny O'Connell.
Mr. Panoz also said his company is building an enclosed version of the DeltaWing that he expects to offer for sale. The Grand-Am series, which merges with the ALMS on track in 2014, favors closed cockpit designs for its prototype class.
Separately, Al Speyer, longtime director of motorsports for Bridgestone Americas, said speculation that his company will replace Michelin as the tire supplier for the DeltaWing race car is premature.
This story in based on reporting by Steven Cole Smith of Autoweek magazine, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business, and other sources.