Revolution calling: DeltaWing stirs controversy after Chicago Auto Show unveiling

The DeltaWing concept IndyCar, unveiled on Wednesday, February 10, 2010 at the Chicago Auto Show (Photo: DeltaWing, LLC)

You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
You tell me that it's evolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world
But when you talk about destruction
Don't you know that you can count me out.

- The Beatles, Revolution

It has been a week of unveilings and concepts and thoughts about the future. But none of the concept cars that were released by Dallara Automobili and Swift Engineering matched the audacity - and subsequent hue and cry - that the new concept from DeltaWing, LLC did today.

In a masterpiece of understatement, DeltaWing's CEO Dan Partel said in the company's press release, "Today marks a fundamental shift in how race fans and the general public will view all racing cars in the future; this is a game changer."

What he left unsaid - but what erupted all over the Internet after the unveiling - was that IndyCar fans might not react well to a game-changer of this magnitude.

DeltaWing posted several videos of the new car, including two videos of DeltaWing mockups built in the rFactor video game racing at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and Indianapolis Motor Speedway:

Additionally, a video was released to show in graphic detail the airflow around the chassis:

In an interview with SPEED.com's Robin Miller, DeltaWing designer Ben Bowlby maintains that simulation tests show that the DeltaWing will be a more stable, higher-performance racecar than the current IndyCar - even with less power:

What we’ve found is that we have better acceleration because of the dragster like layout and low drag and weight. We’ve also got better stability under braking because we can keep more of the braking on the rear wheels behind the center of gravity. The drive-ability envelope has been expanded. Our simulations show it’s going to be a lot of fun to drive. We have targeted maintaining aerodynamic performance at high yaw angles so that drivers can recover from over-cooking it.

Significantly, the DeltaWing relies almost completely on ground-effects downforce, while an aircraft-style vertical stabilizer acts to solidify the car's yaw performance while simultaneously spoiling lift in side-on aero profiles. The increased surface area of the car also allows for more significant sponsor signage area over current designs.

The DeltaWing is probably the most significant change in IndyCar design philosophy since the change from front-engined roadsters to rear-engined racing machines. But while revolutionary design always sparks controversy, this particular revolution has many fans infuriated and worried for the series' future. While Internet comments are not always the best repository for an accurate cross-section of opinion, the backlash over the DeltaWing design has been rapid, vitriolic and vehement.

The questions looming over the DeltaWing project are important to address:

  • How much of a revolution can IndyCar racing stand? How fine can the line be between revolution and alienation?
  • How much support does the DeltaWing consortium have within the Indy Racing League?
  • With so many team owners committed to the DeltaWing, would the rejection of Ben Bowlby's design spark more than just controversy?
  • If the DeltaWing is approved, can IndyCar survive until a new generation of fans can replace those who give up on the series in protest?

DeltaWing, LLC plans to have a working prototype on track by August 2010. In the meantime, the Lola Group is expected to issue its own, probably far more conventional, 2012 IndyCar designs before the end of the month.

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