DeltaWing: After Some Time To Reflect

As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned to do a better job of keeping my emotions in check. My family will tell you that growing up, I tended to come to snap judgments and insert my opinions whether they were wanted or not. Over the years, I have tried to keep my mouth shut and mull things over before speaking. Many times, I find that after careful thought and analysis over a day or so – my stance softens and sometimes even changes. However, my reaction to the DeltaWing chassis is not one of those times.

While some sent me e-mails wondering why I did not yet have an article expressing my views on the now-infamous DeltaWing, I thought it best to let it soak in and see if my initial reaction to the DeltaWing car had changed. It did not. In fact, it went from being horrified to that of pure outrage.


I thought that after seeing the three Dallara concepts last week and then the Swift renderings that were released on Monday, that I was pretty well prepared for whatever would come on Wednesday. When I saw the pictures that were briefly released on Tuesday night before they suddenly disappeared, my heart sank. In denial, I tried to tell myself that these pictures had been released as part of a hoax and that the real car to be unveiled on Wednesday would be a sleek breath-taking racing machine. Instead we got this misguided missile that looked like something out of the 1958 version of Disneyland’s Tomorrowland.

By now, we’ve all heard and read the jokes – and there have been some good ones. Roy Hobbson at The Silent Pagoda swears that the DeltaWing was actually inspired by Chip Ganassi’s manhood. Pressdog claims it was the same craft that carried Evel Knievel in his failed attempt at crossing the Snake River Canyon. Jeff Iannucci at My Name Is IRL was dead-on when he compared it to Craig Breedlove’s “Spirit of America” that conquered the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1963.

While the jokes and humor have made for some nice punch lines, there is a very serious undercurrent about all of this that is anything but funny. Chip Ganassi and several key owners are firmly behind this project. They simply want this concept to be chosen for the exclusive chassis of the Izod IndyCar Series beginning in 2012. There promises to be political posturing in the coming months that will make Washington envious. This could turn out uglier than the car itself – which is really quite some feat.

About a month ago, I wrote an article entitled The DeltaWing Quandary. We had already heard a few things about this “radical” chassis that was being designed by Ben Bowlby. Based on what I had heard, I freely wrote that I was not in favor of this project at all. I was heavily chastised for being closed-minded and making my decision before I had even seen the car. Not to be gloating, but I strongly suspected that we would be looking at something similar to this. Curt Cavin is not one to over-sensationalize, and he had dropped enough hints over the previous months that created a car in my mind that was not too far from what we saw on Wednesday.

Maybe the car drives and races like no other. Perhaps it is much more agile than it appears – although I just can’t picture that long nose with the near-tricycle configuration being able to navigate the hairpin turning onto Shoreline Drive at Long Beach. But the looks are simply appalling. I’ve heard all of the arguments comparing the fans of the roadsters thinking that the rear-engine cars were appalling in the sixties. That’s true, but there is one big difference. The rear-engine cars offered a true advantage, and at first — only a select few drivers had them. As their superiority quickly became evident, more and more of the field begrudgingly moved to the rear-engine machines. On-track results dictated it.

The DeltaWing concept offers no tangible advantage. This is a racecar that wasn’t built to be faster than every other car on the grid. It was designed to look different for the sake of being different – and by the way, they made sure there was plenty of room for sponsor logos. If the IRL has its way, it will look like every other car on the grid because they want everyone to run the same chassis. If you read the message boards on any IndyCar site, the vast majority of fans want more than one chassis.

When Adrian Reynard launched his assault on the IndyCar world in 1994, he built a car that was ugly and bulky looking compared to the established and sleek Lola. However, after Michael Andretti drove that car to a win in its first outing at Surfer’s Paradise – the car suddenly seemed beautiful to a lot of owners. By the following year, almost half of the field were Reynards and they proceeded to win the Indy 500 and the CART championship that season. In fact, the Reynard chassis won the next eight CART championships and almost put Lola out of business in the process.

If this car were to be proven to be faster than anything else on the track (other than a nine year-old Dallara), I wouldn’t be opposed to it. I would look at it just as I looked at Joe Leonard’s wedge-shaped 1968 turbine powered Lotus – the coolest looking thing I had ever seen. It was cool because it was different looking and the fastest car out there. I am not opposed to change when the change is for improvement – either in speed or safety innovations, but not just to look different. This reeks of being nothing more than a gimmick.

Speed is what racing is built upon. I know that marketing wizards think they have taken over the sport, but they haven’t. To give everyone equal equipment to level the playing field is boring. There is a reason that IROC failed. Equality does not sell. Speed, innovation and risk taking – both on the track and on the design table is what sells. Designing something based solely on looks just to attract new fans will bring you a very fickle fan base. These non-fans will leave you as quickly as they found you.

True racing fans are sold on the idea of speed and innovation. It is the foundation on which this sport was built for over a hundred years. There has to be an untapped group of young potential fans that still appreciate speed, innovation and competition. Yes, you need marketers to promote and sell the product, but when they begin to influence the product – that’s where you cross the line from innovation to gimmick. Keep in mind that my degree is in marketing – so I’m not just bashing the marketing profession.

So now after so much anticipation, we are left staring in disbelief at what I think is a complete joke. Without trying to sound dramatic, I am quite certain that if the Izod IndyCar Series chooses to use the DeltaWing concept exclusively, it will be the deathblow to the IRL. I think if we see thirty-three of these contraptions skidding around the Speedway, open-wheel racing will become a well-deserved laughing stock. I have followed this sport for forty-five years and this is the most idiotic concept I’ve ever seen considered for open-wheel racing in my lifetime.

Curt Cavin has acknowledged that the e-mails he has received have been vehemently opposed to the DeltaWing by a 100 to 1 ratio. Will the IRL listen to their current fans and go for something more palatable so as not to alienate their core, or will they bow down to this latest power play by the owners? This whole phenomenon of the owners being completely unified on all of this has me baffled. A conspiracy theorist might surmise that there is something brewing with the owners and they are using this DeltaWing project as a bargaining chip for something else down the road. I’m glad I tend to not be a conspiracy theorist or I would drive myself nuts trying to figure out that angle.

So where do we go from here? The Lola designs are due to be released as early as today. After that, the IRL probably goes into bunker mode and we will likely hear nothing more on this until May. By then, the dead horse will have been beaten so many times, we won’t even care at that point. There has been one positive note to evolve from all of this. This project has resulted in finally uniting the fractured open-wheel fan base. We have now found something that we can all agree on – how much we hate the DeltaWing chassis.

George Phillips

32 Responses to “DeltaWing: After Some Time To Reflect”

  1. Jason McVeigh Says:

    Great post George. It speaks for what almost every Indycar fan is feeling.

  2. Laughing at your expense Says:

    You say it was built with no tangible advantage, just for the sake of looking different, then why are they claiming this machine can out run the current car at all tracks with half the horsepower?

    • oilpressure Says:

      As I said in the article… There is no tangible advantage except that it will be able to beat a nine year-old Dallara (which will be the age of the Dallara by 2012). When I speak of an advantage in the context written, I am speaking against the fact that it will be like everyting else out there. No design on the track will have an advantage over any other design. Enjoy laughing.

      • Why do you say this. Penske is clear that he is going to build his own competition to Bowlby’s car. Why won’t one have an advantage?

    • IndyCars are regulated to run around 230mph at Indianapolis and no more than that. This car CANNOT improve on that because it is not allowed. As for handling, speed, performance, ect.. it’s only a concept at this point with only a promise of success offered from the designer.

  3. I agree with what you wrote, George. I LOATHE the Delta Wing Car!

    I truly cannot understand why some-though not all-of the team owners are behind this…thing. As you mentioned, it has been speculated that the purpose was to jolt IndyCar, Dallara, and others involved in or possibly involved in the series out of their inertia, and force them to build a cheaper car and build it here in the States. Both Chip Ganassi and Ben Bowlby have hinted as such. If that’s the case, then it obviously did that; would Dallara have expressed an interest in building a factory in Indiana to build their new car if Delta Wing hadn’t produced this car? However, if the purpose was to actually RACE this thing, then that is very sad indeed.

  4. Jim in Wilmington Says:

    It’s almost as if Mickey Thompson has come back to life and is once again thinking up wacky designs to “stand the speedway establishment on its head.” His cars looked futuristic but never really did much other than trigger one of the worst accidents in speedway history (the 2nd lap fire in 1964 that claimed the lives of Dave McDonald and Eddie Sachs).

    This car looks like it was designed for going straight, not negotiating high speed corners. In addition, it’s difficult to see how the needle nose can generate much downforce. The only favorable driver comments I have seen came from Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti, both of whom drive for Chip Ganassi.

    This is an open wheel car in name only. This concept is awful!!!!! It’s disgusting that Chip Ganassi and his minion could even consider such a thing.

    • easymusicfordifficultears Says:

      The downforce is generated by compression via the sides of the car – that’s why it doesn’t need wings.

  5. I find this design just ridiculous. I’m one of the many who would love to see more than one chassis option for the teams. If Ganassi wants to race this insanity, fine, let him. But leave everyone else the option to go with the Swift, Lola or Dallara!

    Personally, I love the Swift design. Looks like it would create great downforce and stick to the track.

    Please, oh please, IRL gods, don’t let this laughable hot mess become the standard. It will only confuse the general public (is this the same racing series??) and anger the long standing fans.

  6. I see the deltawing as the only sign of life there is for the series.

    You desperately want a variety of cars and the deltawing concept is the only chance you’ve got for it. Your alternatives are 33 lolas or 33 dallaras or 33 swifts.

    Not one of the owners envisions seeing 33 cars that look like the concept car on the track in 2012. Why do you have this vision? That simply wasn’t the concept they are selling.

    The concept is to specify an economical engine that is similar to wha thousands of guys tuning imports are working with. They want to specify weights, smaller tires and eliminate exposed wings.

    The concept on display is simply what one very talented designer believes will be the fastest, best handling car that could be built that will adhere to a set of roughly laid out design requirements.

    You clearly don’t see it, but this concept is the closest they are going to come to the junk formula.

    Just let it sink in some more. The start of the 2012 Indy 500 is going to be the most anticipated race in decades if the series takes this route. The alternative is the same path to obscurity they have been headed towards for far too long

  7. Maybe the Delta-Wing was an intentional attempt to manipulate the market. After all, the Dallara manufacturer has made a great offer to build in Indiana, at half-price.

    The very sad thing about this “futuristic” rendering is that it is actually retro. It looks like it was designed after the space shuttle, which is being retired because it is dated. The NASA’s Ares rockets, (named for the Greek god associated with Mars,) will replace the shuttle, they are real rockets.
    Most people expect an auto design, with aerodynamics for Open-Wheel, style racing.
    There are formula-one cars that are designed after jets, like the Spyker-car.(My new SAAB owner). But they don’t look lke a jet or a plane, they look like a classy automobile, with an open wheel base and include aero-dynamic mechanical engineering for that automobile.

    It would be almost fun to see this new Delta-wing and another new design on the track but then its the sad “unification issue” all over again. Its the safety issues for the drivers that is the most important issue; this delta-wing looks like it might break in two or three pieces with a crash to the wall. The drivers have to back the owners so the fans are all twisted by the fact that it is their favorite “auto”sport that is being displaced.
    The new guy seemed like he was perfect for his new job, and he will understand that “you want to like the girlfriend that you bring to the dance!” Maybe he will bring some calm into the mix and also give Roy back his S.P.. Shutting down the fans base and their communication is UnAmerican and it shouldn’t be tolerated!

  8. “The start of the 2012 Indy 500 is going to be the most anticipated race in decades.”

    The NASCAR Indy Car Series will be interesting, no doubt.

  9. I think, after some reflection, that there are two sides to this Delta Wing discussion. I’m trying to figure them out under the disadvantage of limited brain power.

    One side assumes that this exact vehicle will be forced onto every owner by Ganassi and that 33 of these identical jetcycles will on the grid in 2012.

    But another side says that this car is only a concept. One that will be tweaked and modified by 2012. A car that will be individualized as each owner has his Delta Wing built by a company of their choosing. And that the Delta Wing is the only way to not have IROC-type spec racing in the future.

    • Redd,

      I’m with you on this. I am hearing 2 different stories that I am having trouble reconciling.

      The first “spin” that I am hearing states that this is just a blue sky concept, and that what really matters is the text of the Delta Wing press release that seems to state that everything you ever wanted in an Indycar can be yours, and that you are free to have anyone you want build you one. In fact, it doesn’t even have to look like the DeltaWang so long as it accomplishes all of the engineering goals of the concept (less drag, less hp, better safety, better fuel economy, price under 600K including engine, fuel control to manage speed, etc.)

      The second message that I am hearing is that “THIS is the car. THIS is the future. Anyone will be allowed to build one so long as they build THIS car to THIS set of prints, and sell it for less than 600K”

      These are entirely different messages. If the true goal of the DW program is the first one, then I am going to keep an open mind. If the true goal of the DW program is the second, then I am going to go into Don Meredith mode and start singing, “turn out the lights the party’s over…”

      • That is the core question that’s yet to be answered. I sent in a version of that question to Curt Cavin in the hopes that he’d ask Ben Bowlby on last night’s show, but it didn’t happen. I hope that somebody can direct the question to Ben or Chip very, very soon.

  10. As always, your take is both thoughtful and thought-provoking.

    Like you, I tried to wait and see if I will warm up to DeltaWing. I am usually pretty open-minded, and the looks of a race car are unimportant to me, but this is just laughable. My attitude regarding this design continues to get worse, and that is not like me at all.

    I’m probably overreacting, but at this rate, they might as well just kill the IICS and add the Indianapolis 500 to the USAC Silver Crown calendar. I’d rather see those cars run than this thing.

    Nonetheless, having stared at that picture for quite some time now, I can still see some potential:
    1. Put the front tires out where they belong and close up the wheelwells so the whole nose flows nicely.
    2. Kill the tail fin.
    3. Get rid of the entire rear fender system – leave the side pod air inlets, but cut off the second bulge and everything behind it. Get those wheels out there in the open.

    You’d basically have something that would be a modern interpretation of the early rear-engine cars. It would probably have no downforce and be a total bitch to drive. That would be excellent.

    • I am tempted to say, just give them an old ground effects F1 / Indycar and be done with it seeing as how that’s how the Delta Wing may appear to create downforce.

      However, I quite liked the Swift concept of flattening the disturbed air from the rear their car, as seen on their Formula Nippon machines – if this can be successfully applied to an Indycar, then I would like 33 of those please!!

      Anyhoo, I will patiently wait for Lola (who, no doubt, are patintly waiting for the Delta Wing fuss to die down) to releas their idea.

      • The problem with “giving you the old F1 ground effects” is how many of the drivers recall that era 💡 Emerson Fittipaldi & others HATED driving those skirted cars ❗

        Sure the guys who captured WDC’s with the ground effects won’t be as vocal… but doing some research on what were their favorite race cars… Doesn’t seem to include the GE cars on their resume 💡

      • Not saying they would – those things used to bottom out horrible and were probably the most uncomfortable cars of all time.

  11. My take is going to be similar to Travis R’s, but here goes.

    There’s a lot to like about the Delta Wing. Hear me out. One of those things to like is NOT the looks. That much is clear. What is to like: it’ll accept many different engine options. It is much cheaper than the current car, which should attract more teams. It’s lighter and more efficient. It’s the ONLY one of the cars we’ve been presented with that isn’t insisting on exclusive supply. This last point has been dismissed by a lot of people, but it’s important. People are clamoring for multiple chassis. This is the only option that allows for more than one chassis manufacturer, who can put their own tweaks on the car. That is a fact. I’ve been asking that the manufacturers re-think their business models to assume that they’re only supplying half the field, and then see what their prices come out to. Curt Cavin’s writings of the last few days (including today’s Pit Pass) makes it clear that that will not happen. Therefore, if you want multiple chassis, then you HAVE to think about the Delta Wing at least a little.

    In the meantime, we as fans can ask for some concessions to be made to the “form following function” ethos of the Delta Wing. Function dictated something that people nearly universally hate. OK, what can be done to fix that? I suggest setting the front wheels wider, more like the current cars, maybe 48” apart (the rears are 72” apart on the DW). Then, widen the nose, so that it looks like a cross between the nose of the “red Dallara concept” and Foyt’s ’77 Coyote (or Jackie Stewart’s ’73 Tyrrell). Now, the front wheels look more conventional, but they’re still out of the airflow (and not creating drag) because of the tall flick-ups on the nose. Make the inboard section of the nose channel air to the rear tunnels, so that they still make downforce. Ben Bowlby can play with the inlets and geometry to get the balance right. Bowlby reduced drag over the current cars 80%, so that the engine could get away with making 50% less power. I’m reintroducing maybe 30-40% of the drag he lost (I’m leaving out wings, the biggest source of drag). So, in response, the engine will need to make around 500 horsepower to overcome the drag I just put back in. The ALMS Mazda-AER 2.0 liter turbo makes that *right now*, and it costs under $200k for an entire season. Many engine manufacturers could make the same power with developments of their own road car 2-liter turbo engines.

    I haven’t driven up costs more than maybe $100,000 per car with this redesign (and it’s probably less than that). The car should still be fast, do most or all of the things that the Chicago show car is supposed to, and it no longer looks embarrassing. Thoughts?

    • Speedgeek,

      I think that is one of the first sensible approaches I have heard. It keeps the open spec – multiple manufacturer concept on the table, while fixing the issue that the fan base has made very clear they do not like.

      Of course, this will only be on the table if the Delta Wing group truly does support what I refer to above as the first “spin”. I really would like to hear Bowlby and Gannasi answer the question you sent in last night.

    • Speedgeek: Even you said it… the bright red Dallara concept is your revised DELTA 💡 It adds wings & the wider front track.

      As for the AER-Mazda motor… that gets terrible mileage. So much for Ben’s 10-12 MPG goal. However, I see many of your points. The DW would allow for innovation, but we have to get the “base” DW looking a bit better than the concept launched/ on display in Chicago ❗ 💡

      • Tom and AZZO45,
        Cavin just posted a 1-question Q&A for today (he was apparently trying to take the day off), and he’s heading in the direction of getting his head around the “open spec” of the Delta. He’s also admitted that the Delta guys should have announced the specs first, before showing the car. They screwed up because now everybody’s only talking about how much they hate how it looks instead of how innovative the rest of the tech package really is. Oops. Too bad you can’t put that cat back in the bag, huh? Still no addressing of how “open” the “open spec” is, but I hope that that comes out soon.

        Good point on the Mazda AER being a pig, but that’s just my example of an existing engine that they could bolt in there. There are a lot of manufacturers (GM, Ford, Chrysler, Honda, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Peugeot/Citroen, Audi, BMW, Saab, FIAT) who either currently, recently or will shortly be making 2.0-ish liter turbo-4s. Make it cheap for any or all of them to come to the table (as a 500 HP target would be), and they should be interested.

        Also agree on your thought, AZZO, that it actually sort of looks dated. The GM Firebird is what I see as well. I’m also not opposed to closing in the wheels somewhat, both for speed’s and safety’s sake, and Fangio and Moss’s Mercedes W196 streamliner is one of my all time favorite cars. I think it’s too bad that that’s one of the things that some people seem to be dead set against, since the drag of exposed, rotating wheels is probably worth 100 HP to these cars. Just shrouding the leading face of the wheels would go a long way toward reducing drag.

  12. My profession for the last 15+ years has been automotive design (or styling) Aircraft has always inspired designers, but the Delta Wing looks more dated than modern. People have mentioned Bonneville Salt Flat cars, while I see the GM Firebird concepts of the late 50’s & early 60’s 💡

    Salt flat racers, GM & even cartoon makers (like the Jetson’s) seemed to think adding wheels to aircraft shapes was “The FUTURE” Problem is the Delta Wing looks like a 1960’s concept & that doesn’t help the ICS twelve years into the new century ❗ Being in design I’ve seen numerous aero studies that close up the open wheels of a race car… its nothing new. Just look at the Auto Union speed cars of the 1930’s 💡 Even one of Fangio’s F1 cars had semi covered wheels.

    I too understand the DW is a concept & I do like the tech package behind it. Love the fact that the owners want a cheaper car & something made here on our shores. I just want a better looking car ❗ ❗

    Right now I’m a Swift 23/ 32 fan & have high hopes for Lola’s 2012 concept 🙂

  13. It’s interesting that the “hate it” vote on this blog page isn’t the same as the 99% against emails received by Curt Cavin. I suspect that those who really hate it were upset enough to send an email, while those who like it or are still in “wait and see mode” weren’t so motivated.

    It seems the key to the DeltaWing’s future is not about the car’s performance. The IICS will have to employ considerable demographics skill to determine whether this design will attract a new generation of fans or just drive away current fans. They better have the Izod marketing staff on speed dial.

    • The other thing is that it doesn’t take much time or effort to send a pithy, one-line e-mail to Cavin comparing the looks of the car to a piece of anatomy. The “wait and see” and “cautiously optimistic” viewpoints are far harder to nail down, and usually require a few paragraphs of justification (uh, see my novellas above).

  14. George, the rear engine was still an open wheel car. The Wing isn’t. Also, it is a modified three-wheeler.

  15. imjustsayinisall Says:

    I have to admit that it is quite the radical departure, however, what I would really be intereted in knowing is what tools were used to produce this design, was it CFD, computational fluid dynamics? Also, whether or not there has been any scale model wind tunnel testing accomplished as yet. This design is clearly very similar to Craig Breedlove’s Spirt of America Salt flats vehicle, (obviously a straight line vehicle) the primary differences being actual full side pods with angled winglets of sorts along with a vertical stabilizer all of which is designed to maintain tight high volumn airflow over the airfoil areas producing downforce. I suspect that there is also to be large multiple underside diffuser trays, along with what is clearly an fairly sharply angled nose plane up forward. A very slippery sleek design with plenty of downforce. The next question is, how much mechanical grip will this machine have during the low speed hairpins and chicanes of road and street courses…. As Bugs Bunny would say, “what an interesting monster” !!!!!

  16. tim nothhelfer Says:

    It reminds me of an old girlfriend, slender to the waist with wide hips and powerful legs.

    Maybe it’s the Emperor’s New Clothes.

    Fact is any owner would pain this car in flesh colors and add hair to the back end if he was convinced he could win with it!
    And if there are lots of options, it is reliable, affordable, and develops technology that is relevant to automotive needs it should be used.

  17. Because the amount of money invested by the IndyCar team owners in Delta THING, they are not going to accept any design concept proposed other than their own. They MUST understand that we refuse to watch something this hideous, and another Open Wheel war will lead to the end of the sport once and for all.

    I urge IndyCar fans that hate Delta Wing to FLOOD the corporate IndyCar office with emails, phone calls and personal letters sent to Brian Barnhart and Randy Bernard at the below address.

    Indy Racing League
    4565 W. 16th Street
    Indianapolis, IN 46222

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