The Nissan DeltaWing definitely did not win last weekend’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.
In fact, it didn’t even finish — it was struck by another racer at about the six-hour mark, which forced its retirement.
Even if it would’ve managed to go the furthest at the 24-hour mark, it still wouldn’t have been declared the winner. That’s because the sanctioning body of the race only granted the Delta
Wing team the last starting spot on the grid (No. 56) — a spot traditionally reserved for a car that is not allowed to race for points, but has the intent to advance motorsports technology in some meaningful way.
So DeltaWing couldn’t win and it didn’t win, but it easily had the most people pulling for it, and was the biggest story of the race.
Why? Several reasons actually, and let’s start with its looks.
This is definitely a case of one thing that doesn’t look like the others. DeltaWing looks like a rocket laid sideways — small front, big rear. Most race cars look like they’re ready to eat corners. The DeltaWing looks like it would rather not turn, thank you. So it’s got some visual drama going for it, even though it seems incongruous with racing, or in fact, because of it.
It looks the way it does because of its unique mission — to complete the famous endurance race using half the fuel and half the tire material of an LMP1 class Le Mans racer. DeltaWing’s engineers believe this is possible because they’ve designed the car to have half the aerodynamic drag and half the weight of a current LMP1 or LMP2 racer (1,000 lbs versus 2,000 lbs). This means DeltaWing can do its racing thing with a smallish engine. For Le Mans duty it was fitted with a 1.6-litre, four-cylinder engine producing 300 horsepower. This year’s overall winner, the Audi V6 diesel “hybrid,” had over 500 hp on tap.
During its best stint, DeltaWing was running a strong LMP2 pace and its fuel usage was on course to be half that of cars in the LMP1 class. So if you like rooting for an underdog, and a lot of people do, then the DeltaWing was your man.
But at the six-hour mark DeltaWing got clipped by another competitor and was forced into a concrete wall. Driver Satoshi Motoyama’s post-crash actions were not typical fare. For example, he did not wave an angry finger to the driver that hit him, nor did he follow him to the paddock with the intent of punching him out, NASCAR style. Instead, he tried valiantly to repair the car roadside, as per the rules, so it could limp to the pits, where the team was allowed to help.
Now, everybody was roo-ting for Motoyama.
He struggled tirelessly for 90 minutes, with massive support from his team, who joined him to give instructions from trackside. In the end, however, it was just too damaged to move.
“Initially, we were completely gutted, but that feeling quickly gave way to huge sense of pride in what we have achieved,” noted Darren Cox, general manager of Nissan in Europe, in a post-race press release.
Like we said earlier, it didn’t win the race, but everyone involved, or rooting for it, felt something had been won.