The Delta Wing thing arrives

Posted by Iannucci | 2/10/2010 | , , | 32 comments »
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In 1963, Craig Breedlove set his first land speed record at the Bonnevile Salt Flats in one of his series of "Spirit of America" vehicles. Here is one of those vehicles.

Curt Cavin first mentioned the relevance of this epic car to the future of IndyCar a few weeks ago, and today, nearly 50 years after the first record-setting run, this "Spirit of America" design has been applied to the "Delta Wing" IndyCar design as a sign of unprecedented innovation. Behold that which might possibly be the future of IndyCars.

In my less-than-esteemed opinion, it's soaking wet bag of mess. The unsightly offspring of a dragster and an F-16. A high-speed tricycle, and according to several IndyCar fans, a phallic tricycle at that.

It's a steaming pile of retro-inspired junk, summarized ironically by the Delta Wing site when it read, at the expiration of it's longstanding countdown, "Sorry, you're too late." Really, at best this is very Colonial Viper, circa 1978, but flattened and encumbered by wheels.

Maybe I'm off my rocker but I thought in addition to speed and innovation IndyCar racing is supposed to also be about aesthetics and, in recent years, safety. This new design might be fast, but as a race car that would be required to turn is looks ridiculous. As bad as you might think the currently well-aged Dallara design is, can you tell me you'd rather watch this instead?

Really? That doesn't look - forgive me for saying this - utterly laughable to you?

Before I ruffle too many feathers here, I want to say that I do appreciate the "boldness" of the design, and I understand that designer Ben Bowlby has put a lot of thought into this.

“Looking radical was never the objective – the Delta Wing shape is simply the outcome of addressing performance targets. Approaching it as an engineer I was most aware of safety, performance and efficiency and its relevance to the auto industry and also cost. It’s not about making a cheap race car, but there is the issue of cost vs. value for money. This car is high-tech but simple. The parts count is way down and that helps keep it inexpensive and easy to maintain compared to the cars of the last 20 years – and we have a great deal of visible signage area!

“It’s an integrated approach. It’s not JUST the car. It’s the technology, spectator and industry appeal and engagement, combined with the car. What we have proposed for the car is not a styling exercise…. Form has followed function.”
Fine, but let's talk about that form for a moment. I'm not engineer, but what I am is - like most of you - a fan. And I'm certain that even though I feel like this makes about as much sense as an IndyCar as a Kia Sedona does as a Cup entry, I fully acknowledge there are at least some of you who love this thing like it was warm and gooey chocolate chip cookie. And to the extent that it should be given consideration to race against designs already presented by Dallara and Swift - as well as some lovely designed paragraphs from Lola - I say fine, by all means let 'em race.

Except here's the rub: right now the series, in an effort to contain costs, claims that there will be only one chassis design for 2012. As Marshall Pruett has noted amidst some senseless name-calling and mistaken comparisons to a Spike Lee flick, this is a design supported by many IRL team owners, and as such it is has been submitted under the guise of a veiled threat.

It’s sad, lame, and plays into the partisan politics that have no place in a series as fragile as IndyCar. I don’t know if he (Brian Banhart, whom Pruett refers to as "Kee-Rock") realizes just how close he keeps pushing the Delta Wings to a point where they decide to form their own series.

Jackass moves by USAC spawned CART. A jackass move created the IRL. Maybe this latest jackass move will cause the Delta Wings, an ownership base mostly free of jackasses, to take their fire elsewhere.

I can hear it now…“I’m a caveman, and I’m frightened by your strange Delta Wing machine…”

If Kee-Rock keeps it up, he could find himself with an empty paddock in 2012 and no one to drive his new Dallara.
This, from a man who earlier in the same article suggest all parties involved should "Put aside your differences, whatever they may be, and work together." Really? Working together, you say? By calling those who disagree with you names?

But I don't want to be distracted here because this isn't about Mr Pruett or Mr Barnhart, but about the rest of us who dedicate our time and money to this sport. The FANS. And this is the part that as a fan I start swearing, throwing small appliances, and threatening to take up blogging about some other sport. We just got bimergified two years ago after years of insistence by these very owners, and now all of a sudden it sounds like they're ready to tear it all apart again over some stupid-looking car. Excuse me, but anything associated with another open-wheel split is certainly not going to be described as "innovative".

And aside from the baggage that already accompanies this car there are some very real issues based on the prototype revealed today. On first glance it looks to me like that car has no mirrors, probably because they'd have to go directly in the driver's line of sight. Couple that with the extremely narrower wheelbase in the front and it would seem drivers would be more likely to run into each other with those big backsides.

And speaking of running into each other, the Delta Wing also has an extraordinarily exposed tub without protective sidepods that makes me wonder if anyone gave Alex Zanardi a consultation. Oh, and it's got fenders, which call me crazy seems antithetical to "open-wheel" racing. Then again, if the wheelbase variance makes collisions more likely then fenders may be warranted. At this point I ask in earnest, "What exactly were you designing here again?"

Early reaction from IRL drivers was mixed - Graham Rahal digs it, Justin Wilson does not, Alex Lloyd is diplomatic - and since these are the people that would have to actually drive the thing they should certainly be allowed some input. As it is, you can sell me on the innovation but not on the aesthetics, so excuse me while I dump a bottle of Hater-ade all over that...thing.


  1. Allen Wedge // February 10, 2010 3:42 PM  

    As you more or less point out. There is still just no reason a new design can't accomplish 90-100% of the things Bowlby wanted to accomplish (better mileage, better safety, less drag, more sponsor space) without being a tricycle.

  2. pressdog // February 10, 2010 3:46 PM  

    I agree with you, Jeff. My main problem is it needs to be a car, first of all, with four wheels (come on, those wheels in the front count as one). This is exactly what happens when you design a new product with no customer (fan) input a'tall.

  3. Glenn // February 10, 2010 3:49 PM  

    ...good point about the mirror. I hadn't noticed that.

    I'm not a fan of this concept compared to the others. It lacks the "open wheel" design and it just looks unsafe, although I have no data/knowledge to truly say that it IS unsafe. It just looks unsafe.

  4. Anonymous // February 10, 2010 3:53 PM  

    It looks strange. I half like it, half hate it. For me, Swifts great desgins, particularly option 32/33, really, really hurt Delta Wing.

    And I've heard the things about Hp, but I don't care, 300 is ridiculously low. The NASCAR "Pr writers" would savage this thing.

    Swifts car is just a lot better looking. And they are innovative, don't look like a Trike, and are by far my favorite car. Now I don't hate Delta Wing, I kinda like it. I'm very confilcted about it, actually.

    I do think a radical looking car is a good thing. I thought the video was okay.

    But how will this thing turn?

    And I'm not sure how it will race.

  5. redd carr // February 10, 2010 4:05 PM  

    sorry, but the nicknames this shape would inspire would fill a dicktionary.

  6. H. B. Donnelly // February 10, 2010 4:13 PM  

    Yeah...the phallic look of the car is definitely NOT a good thing. Non-fans will just look at the up-camera shots where you see the cars from above and say, "it looks like a giant c**k."

    Send this design to the NHRA as a new top-fueler and give me my SwiftLights back!

  7. Inspector // February 10, 2010 4:36 PM  

    You nailed it, Jeff. Will the politics ever end? And why is Robin Miller always in the middle of it?

  8. Declan // February 10, 2010 4:53 PM  

    I'm looking forward to seeing how it performs in August and how different it will be by then.

  9. The American Mutt // February 10, 2010 4:55 PM  

    The DeltaWang is a horrorific looking car, plain and simple. Say it with me people (like it, love it or hate it) IT LOOKS LIKE A WANG. Furthermore, I gotta wonder about cornering in that thing, I can't help but wonder if it'd make the current Dallara look nimble. Apart from that, any thought I had on the practical applications of the car Jeffs already addressed.

  10. crimsonace // February 10, 2010 7:15 PM  

    My IndyCar-obsessed 3-year-old watched the simulation video and said "what's that thing?"

    That about sums it up.

  11. CRB // February 10, 2010 8:51 PM  

    I am intrigued and am willing to wait to see its performance...
    IndyCars have had Fins, 6 wheels, wings, no wings, front wheel drive, all wheel drive, hundreds of driver sitting positions, front engine, rear engine... what is an Indycar again?
    If you think the "fin" is unique you should look at the original winner

    Certainly not the first phalic looking car.. See More

    How open wheel was this little gem?

    If you think the wheel are unique you should look at

  12. Unknown // February 11, 2010 6:00 AM  

    Nice mention in the Cavin article today, Jeff. It seems to me that Bowlby and the owners are trying to bill this as the "open source" racecar. It's the java of racecars. Anyone can build one and race it which makes it cheaper. I say, allow it to race against one (or more) of the other car designs. Open up the competition. I think the car itself is b'tugly but if it is fast and can beat the others, let em race. It would also be cool to see it against a more powerful, better looking car. That'd be some drama. (I don't want to see only these cars though, that would be bad).

  13. Unknown // February 11, 2010 6:49 AM  

    Let me start by saying I never want to see this thing race.

    I will follow by saying that the rubes in racing fandom have missed  
    the point all together.   This isn't a prototype.  This isn't the car  
    that they really want to SPEC (not manufacture). This is a CONCEPT.

    People familiar with autoshows understand what concept cars are  
    actually about and the readers of this site do not.

    Anybody at the show yesterday saw the Kia Ray.  It has no mirrors, the
    interior isn't finished and the trunk/hatch doesn't even open.  They
    have no intention of actually manufacturing the concept they showed the
    world.  But people at the auto show realize that concept cars are
    intended to provoke the viewers imagination.  Think about the following

    "It is important to imagine what people will want in the future from a
    green perspective early in the design process, because people want to
    reduce their carbon footprint without driving carbon copies," says Peter
    Schreyer, chief design officer, Kia Motors Corporation

    Delta wing introduced a concept yesterday, not a prototype of a race

    The Delta wing concept is a SPECIFICATION!!!!  

    Not only that, it is a specification that uses engines that are relevant
    to the cars on the road. It is a spec that reduces horsepower so that
    there is tremendous headroom for design evolution.  It is a spec that
    changes downforce to where driver skill becomes more meaningful and
    raceday setup is less critical.

    Most importantly, it is a spec that makes it feasible for multiple
    manufacturers to not only put cars on the track, but evolve their
    designs in different directions!  This is something that everyone seems
    to actually want!

    Yes the car looks insane, but so do dozens of other concept cars in that
    convention center.  They are meant to create inspiration of where things
    could be in the future, not to paint of picture of what you will be
    driving next year.

    So please, for the sake of Indycar, try to expand your mental horizon. And remember, concept cars are like inkblot tests. What you see when you look at them says more about you than it does the concept. If you look at the deltawing and see a cock, what does that say about you?

  14. The American Mutt // February 11, 2010 7:19 AM  


    A suggestion. You want people to listen to your point with an open mind, I'd suggest don't start out by calling them rubes. Just a suggestion, yours to take or leave. Kind of makes you sound like an elitist douche...just sayin'

  15. Rich Lather // February 11, 2010 7:52 AM  

    Ken Hamilton's "crop duster" lives!

    I'd paint mine buff and purple. Maybe get a Vera WANG sponsorship?

  16. Unknown // February 11, 2010 8:19 AM  

    Mutt, I'm sorry if my use of the word rube offends you or distracts you from my point. However, if your primary point is that the car looks like a wang, then there is nothing sophisticated or intelligent in your interpretation of yesterdays presentation.

    The design is not attractive because it has no context. But if you put it on the track against more conventional designs with similar design constraints and it won? That would change how it is viewed.

    I'm sorry that my attitude is elitist and douchey. But do you really want indycar to pick a new chassis and engine based on a 3d model of a car that has not been fully designed and would have to be run as a box stock chassis to keep things close?

    I don't. I buy the concept that would let anyone build anything tha fit the spec because in the end it would be attractive because it would be purposefully designed.

  17. Declan // February 11, 2010 8:20 AM  

    @ Scott

    Thank you!

    The first post that actually gets it!

    Great post!

    How many concept cars have we seen at motor shows? And how many have ever seen the road?


  18. Declan // February 11, 2010 9:27 AM  

    Q for pressdog.

    Did Swift or Dallara consult the fans? Or is it only a problem when its a design you personally don't like?


  19. Anonymous // February 11, 2010 10:39 AM  

    300 Hp is a joke. There's no nice way to put it. Thats CLUB RACING level. No, it's worse. The local short track has cars that wiht more power then that.

    I have no idea if Swift consulted fans, but they at least could build a desgin people can get behind.

    I don't want Dallara either, and I want a car that looks very differant from the current car. But Swift has given us that with option 32/33, and Lola's desgins come out tommorow. There are better alternitives to both Dallara and Delta Wing.

    And I still am uncertain how Delta Wing will turn.

  20. The American Mutt // February 11, 2010 2:01 PM  


    Didn't say your attitude was elitist or douchey. I said Starting out your argument by making fun of people makes you SOUND like one.

    I'm completely fine with a concept car, but aesthetics do matter (and regardless of whether or not you see a wang when you look at it--I fully admit my sense of humor permanently resides in the gutter) and the car is ugly. I realize that's merely my opinion, but it happens to be shared by most of the fans who choose to use the internet to voice their opinions. Does that mean all would see it that way, probably not.

    However, your point about it being a concept car, and not the finished product does in still leave room for a variety of questions. Many of which are voiced in Jeffs post, and others through this forum (speaking in the broader sense of the word forum--as in online, and in all likelihood on the radio program tonight, which sadly all we fans have as a means to voice our opinion).

    I digress. There's a very real concern for safety without the sidepods farther up protecting the driver. As I stated earlier--I don't see how a car with such a close front wheel base will be able to corner, and I worry that it'd make the current Dallara look nimble. Ultimately, I think the idea of putting a car/tricycle will ultimately be problematic. I'm not an engineer though. I merely have an art degree, and am incredibly picky when it comes to aesthetics.

  21. Unknown // February 11, 2010 10:54 PM  

    Jeff (Pressdog): congrats on an excellent summary of the Deltawing presentation, and an excellent summary on why it's a godawful mess of a concept that should never have even seen the light of day. I truly believe that in the mind of the die-hard Indy fan, the die-hard IRL hater, and those in between, yesterday was nothing but laughable for the IndyCar series. And regardless of the old saw "there's no such thing as bad publicity," bad publicity is the last thing IndyCar needs.

    Now, to Scott: it shouldn't be the responsibility of the remaining IndyCar fans, sponsors, and supporters to find "the point" of this abomination of an "open wheel" vehicle. I do fully acknowledge what it takes to produce a concept. Further, I fully understand that: "The Delta wing concept [aspires to be] a SPECIFICATION."

    Unfortunately, the message has been sent: it's a specification to look like sh*t, and to not listen to the fans desire for certain aesthetics AND good racing. Guess what? IndyCar has looking like sh*t down pat, and I often hear they have ignoring the fans down pat also.

    Now, just maybe, IndyCar will get a chance to prove that the SPECIFICATION can be broadened to the point that the average couch potato, the wistful CART enthusiast, and the die-hard IRL fan can agree that a respectable IndyCar lies somewhere in the spec. But not yesterday.

  22. Declan // February 12, 2010 6:11 AM  

    Hey J Ian.

    The Panoz DP01 Champ Car was lovely, you could argue it was what the fans wanted.

    Nobody watched and the series was gone 12 months later.

    Giving the remaining IndyCar fans excatly what they think they really want is not going to change anything.

  23. The American Mutt // February 12, 2010 6:32 AM  


    Putting out a sleek sexy car isn't going to attract many new fans. Putting out an ugly ass concept that can't corner for shit won't attract new fans either, and it'll likely turn away current fans. Champ Cars demise had nothing to do with the cars they were running. Ironically it had mostly to do with the mentality of those who want this car.

  24. Unknown // February 12, 2010 7:01 AM  

    Could somebody show me where they said that the front or rear must be a specific width, or that they wish to specify that the C.G. must lie within a specified distance from the rear of the car?

    The concept isn't to specify ugly. The concept is to make going 235mph a real challenge. The concept is requires a new form to follow a radical new function. In the end the best looking car will be the one that outperforms the others. Will it be Bowlby's design? Hopefully we will find out in 2012.

    What I don't understand is how anyone finds the dallara and swift sketches attractive. We have been watching cars that look like them go run beyond 200mph for decades now. The world cares about that about as much as they care about watching the space shuttle launch anymore. There is nothing new to interest them. They are new designs for the sake of having new designs. The world will view them as akin to headlight stickers on a NASCAR... form without function.

  25. The American Mutt // February 12, 2010 8:50 AM  


    I tend to disagree. How many fans actually care about function when it comes to racing? If that were the case, Nascar would have gone out of business LONG ago. The technology behind it hasn't changed much in how many years? Hell they only started using unleaded gas a few years back, they have power steering, and carburetors.

    This design, in all likelihood, would only appeal to engineers who look at it from a purely functional design standpoint. Your average race fan (in the US at least) doesn't care about these things. They want to see cool looking cars going fast. All you need in terms of proof of this is to look at the vast popularity of Nascar, and the significant lack of popularity of F1.

    So pushing aside the argument of function, you're left with a purely aesthetic appreciation. Will most people find this car ugly and laughable? Probably. Will people tune in to watch an ugly car? Probably not. I'm holding complete judgment on it until seeing one perform, and more importantly, crash.

    If this car isn't intended to be designed exclusively by one manufacturer I also wonder if the haves would be that much better off over the have-nots. I also wonder how they can guarentee this car will be made in Indiana if it's being made by different manufacturers. As a hoosier, I do in fact care about job creation in my home.

  26. The American Mutt // February 12, 2010 9:05 AM  

    Here's a thought though. If this car is to be made individually, why not say ok, you wanna make it, go ahead. We'll also have the Dallara/swift/lola available for you to use. Cost containment would still probably be the issue.

  27. Unknown // February 12, 2010 9:09 AM  

    Scott, I agree with you that if the car can beat the others, it will be looked upon differently, but that really only counts if it is racing against cars that are not like it. Your argument only works if the innovation is done to beat the traditional style of IndyCar. However, if it is innovation to make going 235 mph a challenge, then that can be done without a radical new concept. In fact, nobody has been able to do that for a long time because there are other ways to limit speed.
    It is my opinion, for whatever it is worth, that people want good racing but they also want something new that challenges the spirit, so to speak. The Delta Wing does that. However, it is also my opinion that it can be done without something so hideous. Here are a couple of thoughts: 1. Spending caps but allow much more flexibility with the cars. The base model is supplied by one maker and then anything you do to it is fine as long as you don't overspend. 2. Reduce the amount of fuel allowed. Make them run the race with less fuel. As they get better and can do it faster, shrink the amount allowed. Let them run batteries or different motors. That should inspire innovation. This would have to be combined with #1 to work I think but it would certainly make it more interesting if they can hit 230 mph and make enough mileage to get to the end of the race on 50 gallons.
    I'm not generally an advocate of spending caps and other "spread the wealth" away from the haves to the have-nots to even the playing field, but I think it is a lot better to allow innovation with less money than to manufacture the competition in other ways.
    In the end, it is all manufactured competition. I think this debate over which car to go with makes that point quite clear. If we are going to manufacture competition, at least make it a car that I can look at.

  28. The American Mutt // February 12, 2010 9:16 AM  

    Here's another thought, that I just sent Cavin.

    The Indycar series is already struggling with having a relevant feeder/support series. How does Indylite/Mazda/Atlantics perpare you to drive such a completely different car? Would you have to build a feeder series from the ground up?

  29. Anonymous // February 15, 2010 1:07 AM  

    Indycars Replaced With Gay Bat Trikes, Trucker Chip Ganassi Gone Batshit Insane. Bonneville dragster tricycles can't go around corners, of course, as the Commie New World Odor makes another laughingstock of dumb Amerikans, enroute to its successful overthrow of USA. Trikes on the Dragon prove the suicidal tendencies of that design, with the highest death rate (reverse trikes have the safest record). Lapspeed will be cut by 70% to 100 mph at Indy, by cutting horsepower in half for improved fuel economy, to increase Al Gore's carbon footprint tax profit.

  30. The Aqua Buddha // February 15, 2010 8:13 AM  

    Okay, as a part-time fan, I just have to say this.

    The first thing I though when I saw this concept was, "Tim Burton's Batmobile."

    See for yourself

  31. Atomas // February 15, 2010 9:39 AM  

    I think the Delta Wing is fantastic! Forget about the need for a "traditional look", car racing needs a paradigm shift and no race series needs it more than IRL. No longer will they be the poor step child of F1. Bring on the american innovation! I agree, that a 3 wheel deisgn doesn't feel like it could/should be able to handle road courses, but if it does, its gonna make awesome racing!

  32. Don // February 19, 2010 9:17 AM  

    The hicks at NAPCAR must be laughing their asses off!

    Tony George couldn't kill Open Wheel, but the Owners behind Delta THING sure will. This will start the war to end all wars.

    Delta THING is a very sad, sad development.