What’s next for Ben Bowlby, Dan Partel and the balance of the Delta Wing team? This is the group that thoroughly shook up in the IndyCar Series with its radical car that proposed to take smaller engines and allow them to compete, side by side, at speeds of 230 mph.
While the Delta Wing chassis received kudos and derision – both – throughout the motorsports world, the project lies stillborn at this time, waiting for the capital to produce something other than the “mule” shown at the Chicago Auto Show in February and at Indianapolis Motor Speedway during this year’s Indianapolis 500 Mile Race.
Bowlby hasn’t lost his spirit – in any way, shape or form – and continues to work on aerodynamic projects with Ganassi’s Indianapolis and Charlotte-based teams, in IndyCar, NASCAR and Grand-Am.
“We didn’t come up with this idea in a vacuum,” Bowlby said of the Delta Wing racecar. “We talked to lots of people and what we ended up with was a response to the issues that were raised.” Dealing with a “platform the auto industry can get behind, one with financial viability and sustainability for the teams,” Bowlby and his associate engineers worked hard to find the most viable solution to the IndyCar problems.
The Delta Wing project car needed to bring value to sponsors and needed to get the younger generation involved in the sport. By all intents and purposes, the design appeared to do all those things without being redundant. The IndyCar Series had requested new designs for its 2012 chassis and Bowlby’s group came up with just that.
“We built an extreme car that would feature the latest technology available and that was heavily biased toward ultra-efficiency in line with the social and auto industry trends toward reduced waste, environmental responsibility and e-consciousness. We focused on all those things that really are going to be the feature of the future – certainly globally – but specifically for an American application,” he told me.
“Frankly,” Bowlby continued, “cost and safety are givens. One doesn’t want to advertise that racing is safe and cheap – it’s not really motor sport. Racing is meant to be the height of technology; it’s meant to be spectacularly, viscerally fast and an edge sport. Let’s face it: motorsport in not anything but an extreme sport.”
An extreme sport like open wheel racing needs extreme vehicles in order to be, as Bowlby so aptly says, relevant. He and his team wanted to see the IndyCar Series go forward with the current “massive shift in technology. It’s incredibly exciting and finally, motorsport has a purpose again. We can show the public and sway their hearts and minds at the premier motorsports level, that there is a fantastic future and performance and excitement and pleasure in a high efficiency vehicle.”
While the Delta Wing Project pushed the IndyCar Series to make a decision on its new chassis regulations – after spending two years (!!) hemming and hawing over the idea of actually doing anything – it wasn’t the chassis of choice once the ICS made its decision known. Rather, the series decided to go with current chassis constructor Dallara, an Italian concern that is bringing its manufacturing to Indiana in order to take advantage of tax breaks and currency fluctuations from its Italian base.
The chassis rendering produced by Dallara wasn’t new in many ways, but it might be safe, as the current tubs have stopped more than a preponderance of broken bodies in some huge crashes of late. There haven’t been any deaths in the series since Paul Dana died in a morning warm-up before the first race of the year in 2006, then held in Homestead, Florida.
There have been accidents in the Dallara and there have been broken backs from those accidents. Whether the Delta Wing would better protect a driver isn’t known but since the bodywork is far more enclosed and Bowlby had the ability to create more of a safety cell, it could have been better. Right now, though, we’ll never know.
Yet the interesting thing about the Delta Wing concept is, “having thrown away the rules, we an achieve anything within the execution of the concept. We can take any powertrain and make any powertrain look terrific, compared to the current class of racing today. Certainly, the car is extraordinarily light, extraordinarily low drag and efficient from the downforce perspective,” Bowlby explained.
Looking at the small front wheels on the Delta Wing, some outside the design community have questioned its veracity in turning the car, using the small front mass. “You can imagine, if it weighs less you need less tire patch to achieve 23 degrees of steering lock at the front of the car. That’s more than the current Dallara. It has more steering lock and the tire capacity is matched to the mass of the front. Significantly,” Bowlby said, “there are some other reasons why it handles better and has better tire utilization in the corner.
“In a conventional rectangular layout of a car, typically with a rear engine installation there is a roll stiffness bias to the front. That means to say the inside front tire, going through a corner, is virtually unloaded. In fact, quite often in slow corner you see the inside front wheel of an Indy car or Champ Car lift off the ground.