President, Highcroft Racing, DeltaWing Entrant
Architect and award-winning real estate developer, American Duncan Dayton is also the owner of Highcroft Racing, the team entering DeltaWing at Le Mans. Highcroft is a multi-title winner in the American Le Mans series and Dayton himself no mean driver, having taken no fewer than ten wins in the Grand Prix de Monaco Historique event.
What attracted you to the DeltaWing project?
It's different, it's highly innovative and you don't often get the chance to become involved in what will be, in years to come, seen as a real game changer. Over the past 50 years there have been very few innovations which have had a lasting legacy on the sport - putting the engine behind the driver; carbon-fibre; ground effects for example - and DeltaWing is up there with them. If you go to a museum and check out the sports racing cars of the last 20 or 30 years, in terms of layout they are all fundamentally the same. DeltaWing is different.
Aside from less aerodynamic drag, what are the major benefits of the DeltaWing layout?
It is very stable under braking and very manoeuvrable. Changing the front tyres will be much easier, especially from the crew members' standpoint as the wheels are a quarter of the weight of a traditional wheel. And they won't wear as fast as the front tyres on a conventional car. Michelin says that depending on how well we take care of them the fronts will last at least 500 kms and possibly much, much further.
What benefit will that have in a long distance race?
The time saved not having to change front tyres so often is just staggering: it's worth a lap or two over the length of the entire race. If you're a leading sports car manufacturer there's no way you can ignore that performance gain. Michelin is ecstatic as the front tyres use less than half the raw materials and energy to make, and significantly less than half the energy to ship them around the world. If DeltaWing can make small wheels cool, then that has benefits, too. Instead of having to develop larger and larger tyres, Michelin would be able to make smaller road car tyres saving money and raw materials. It all part of the circle of economy that permeates throughout the programme. It's really exciting.
And the Nissan 1.6-litre DIG-T engine?
Again, huge gains in the pits. Because we won't use as much fuel our tank is going to be 45 litres. That means there's less weight to carry around the track, less time spent refuelling - both in terms of fuel flow time and the amount needed - while the lighter weight will aid acceleration and deceleration.
What state is the car is in just now?
We have already spent some time in the wind tunnel and done some private testing, including a couple of days at a skid pad and a road course. The first time the car will be seen in public will be for a demonstration run at the Sebring 12 Hours (March 17, the opening round of the new FIA World Endurance Championship).
There's not much time before Le Mans. Will Highcroft cope?
We pride ourselves in being able to adapt quickly and take new projects to the track in a very short order of time... but usually that's with traditional cars. DeltaWing is going to raise all sort of new challenges and road blocks that no-one's had to deal with before. But we thrive on challenges.
Le Mans is a very public place for a first race
Yeah, I have nightmares about it! But nothing ventured, nothing gained. Besides, to work on a project like this with some of my heroes like Dan Gurney and Chip Ganassi and alongside Ben Bowlby is a real treat. Ben is so creative and can think outside the box like no-one else. He's truly come up with something that's going to revolutionise the future of motor racing.
And Nissan's involvement?
Nissan wants to become known as the most fuel-efficient car manufacturer out there. Kudos to them, and in particular to Darren Cox, for putting their neck on the chopping block. They really have the courage of their convictions and believe in the engineering. But change is something that scares a lot of people. We spoke not just to Nissan but to other car companies to help progress this project and they all claimed to be risk takers, but in reality they are what we Americans call Prairie Dogs... they keep their heads down in case some guy is going to shoot it off. No doubt, Nissan is taking a great gamble but by really pushing the envelope they will differentiate themselves from the other car makers.
What do you have to say to the doubters?
There's plenty of armchair engineering going on from people vehemently opposed to DeltaWing. They think we are making fools of ourselves and could even jeopardise the future of racing. They will soon see how wrong they are. It's so fun to be part of DeltaWing - a car that represents a groundswell of change in the industry. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity.