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Project 56 Will Wing Its Way To Le Mans

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, June 9 2011

The Project 56 car which will head to Le Mans next year. (Photo courtesy of Project 56)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

While the concept of delta-wing race cars failed to move INDYCAR officials, it had the opposite effect on officials who conduct the most important sports car race in the world.

As a result, some of the biggest names in American motor sport will join forces and head to the 24 Hours of Le Mans next year to showcase a unique concept demonstrating extreme performance with half the weight and horsepower of a traditional racing car.

The Project 56 group brings together the design talents of DeltaWing Racing Cars LLC; the manufacturing capabilities of All American Racers – the company owned by 1967 Le Mans winner and American racing legend Dan Gurney; and back-to-back American Le Mans Series championship winning racing team, Highcroft Racing.

American Le Mans Series founder Dr. Don Panoz has also joined the project as an advisor.

The group has received an invitation from Le Mans 24 Hour race organizers, the Automobile Club de l’Ouest to contest the 2012 race as an additional 56th entry.

The 56th place on the grid is reserved for a technologically innovative car to participate “outside the classifications” – a vehicle showcasing new applications and unique technologies previously unseen in the world’s greatest endurance race.

“This is an amazing opportunity,” Duncan Dayton, owner of Highcroft, said. “To take a car like this with a totally innovative design to Le Mans and run before a worldwide television audience of more than 600 million people is an incredible story. This will be the first legitimate test with 55 other cars on the track – it will be a huge challenge but one that we are looking forward to.”

While racing cars have traditionally strived for increased performance through gains in horsepower and aerodynamic downforce, the DeltaWing concept concentrates on exploiting efficiency gains found outside contemporary regulations to reduce fuel consumption without reducing performance.

The new and experimental car is targeting competitive performance with only half the horsepower of the outright contenders. It does this through halving the amount of aerodynamic drag of traditional racing cars as well as a similar reduction in weight.

“Essentially, the car has a three-point layout with the narrow front and wide rear track – as opposed to the rectangular layout of contemporary racing cars,” Ben Bowlby, chief technology officer for DeltaWing, said. “We have a delta-shaped car that allows us to take a different route to achieving our performance goals as well as enhancing driver protection.

“We need much less chassis torsional stiffness for handling performance so we don’t need to use such stiff and brittle materials in the chassis. We can use light, tough and energy absorbing materials instead.

“One of the attractions of Le Mans is the incredible variety of vehicles in competition –with different fuel types, open and closed cockpits, GT cars  – there are lots of different solutions and they all run together during the event.”

The Project 56 Group is in discussion with engine partners to provide a 1.6-liter turbocharged power plant for the project – producing approximately 300 horsepower.

The car will be unlike any previously seen at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The car features a slender nose with extremely narrow front track – minimizing the horsepower required to push the car to speeds of 200 mph around the 8.5 mile circuit.

Eliminating the use of traditional wings, downforce for the DeltaWing is generated solely beneath the car by the contoured underbody.

The DeltaWing selection was revealed today at the ACO’s annual press conference coinciding with this weekend’s 24 Hours of Le Mans event.

Construction of the new machine will begin next month at Gurney’s California facility.  The Highcroft Racing team will begin track testing of the new car later this year.

The 24 Hours of Le Mans is the world’s oldest and most famous endurance race.  First held in 1923, the event has attracted the world’s finest automotive manufacturers and drivers.

Highcroft contested the race for the first time in 2010 while Gurney won the race in 1967 aboard a Ford GT40 with AJ Foyt – famously spraying champagne on the podium for the first time to kick start a now world-renowned tradition.

“After looking at the project and the technical aspects of the car I was asked if we were selected to compete at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, would I like to be involved – or in our case, would we like to build it,” Gurney said. “I didn’t hesitate for a moment – my response was absolutely yes.

“I have a lot of curiosity and when I first discussed this car with Ben Bowlby I listened closely and tried to shoot holes in what he was saying but I quickly found I wasn’t able to.

“I told him I was very interested. I believe the targets and predictions are valid and now we have been given the green light from the ACO – count me in.”

DeltaWing was one of the companies which sought to build future cars for INDYCAR. It submitted a plan to the series’  ICONIC (Innovative, Competitive, Open-Wheel, Industry-Relevant, Cost-Effective) Advisory Committee.

The committee instead opted to go with Dallara and a changeable chassis design.

Randy Bernard, INDYCAR’s head man, termed the DeltaWing entry “radical”.

The DeltaWing concept has now bounced back finding favor in Eurorpe.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, June 9 2011
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