‘We reached our goal’ – Don Panoz on the Nissan DeltaWing

The Nissan DeltaWing was by far the most popular car at Le Mans this year. No amount of Audi and Toyota propaganda could diminish the popularity of the #0 car and the unprecedented effect it had on fans and media alike. From initial skepticism by many, its ontrack looks and performance soon made everyone a fan.

Tragically, just after 9pm on the Saturday evening of the race, a poor move by the #7 Toyota resulted in contact and elimination of the car from the race just after the Porsche curves. The sad moment was further compounded by the DeltaWing’s driver, Satoshi Motoyama, trying in vain to repair the car himself in an effort to limp the car to the pits where further repairs could be undertaken. Sadly this was not to be the case and a crestfallen Motoyama tearfully abandoned the car more than 2 hours after the accident. Not long before the retirement we spoke to a still upbeat Don Panoz about the car and his views on it, and the impact that it has made at Le Mans.

Q: Did you expect to get this far (just over 1/4 distance) into the race.

Don Panoz: We thought so, but you never know, it’s racing, we had a little shifter/pneumatic problem that we fixed, but the car ran fine otherwise.

The purpose of it being here was 1: it was not going to be able to win, as they told us our expected lap times. 2: The purpose of the car being here was to show that in whatever period we were here ontrack, in the same conditions as everyone else, could we perform and keep up with everyone else; Could we perform with half the horsepower, half the fuel, half the weight and with half the tire wear and I’d like to think that we have shown that. We would have liked to have gained more data, but we got data and that’s what we were looking for.

It was a racing incident, of course you would say there was plenty of room, but you would say that about any incident, its racing. You don’t come here expecting favors; unfortunately Lady Luck sometimes decides that you should not be in someone else’s space.

Q: Given the massive impact the car has made here, could there be perhaps a DeltaWing class in the future?

DP: I don’t see a class for Diesels, one for Quattros or one for Hybrids – this is a car people want. They want to see something different and this is it. It performs in the same category and with the same performance as what others are using batteries and electric motors for. This car complies. Why is there a big deal to adjust the rules for diesels or hybrids or anything else? They let the Genie out of the bottle and now everyone has seen it.

Q: If the car was able to make it back to the garage for repairs, would you be happy to see it finish the race and would that be mission complete?

DP: The mission was complete when the car ran on the track and got through test day. Our mission was proven. The race was to gain data, competitive, comparative in the same space and time as other cars in that class might be doing and in the same conditions. We did almost 8 hours, as far as I’m concerned the car has met its criteria. Many want to finish Le Mans but never accomplish anything. We reached our goal, we couldn’t win and we didn’t lose, we established our credentials and the car performed as we hoped.

Q: Ideally what would you like to see the car do next, both at Le Mans and in the ALMS?

DP: I’d like to see the car race on in the future. We need more data and we will need to make new rules for the car. Besides my passion for the car, I think it’s fair the data gathered is used and that we could gather data from other tracks. It would be nice to run the car again, maybe racing as a guest, collect more data, then maybe the people who make the rules sit down, and make informed decisions based on the data.

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