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Nissan build the Batmobile
June 18, 2012 9:11 AM   Subscribe

Nissan's Batmobilelike DeltaWing in collaboration with Dan Gurney's All American Racers and others is car initially made to be the new IndyCar but ultimately made to contest the 24 Hours of Le Mans and possibly American Le Mans using half the amount of tyres and fuel as any car. It managed to run for 6 of the 24 hours before being taken out in the race.
posted by juiceCake (37 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
That car is teeny.

Not very sporting of the hybrid Toyota P1 car to bump the little Nissan like that.
posted by notyou at 9:18 AM on June 18, 2012


For clarity prior to clicking on the last link, "taken out" refers to another car bumping it and causing it to crash. Or, as the Sun puts it, "BAM! Pow! Holy Jeepers, the Batmobile has hit the wall!"
posted by Atreides at 9:22 AM on June 18, 2012


That is one badass looking machine.
posted by Windopaene at 9:24 AM on June 18, 2012


Here's footage of the driver trying to get the car to start after the crash. It's pretty heartbreaking.
posted by hellojed at 9:28 AM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


notyou: Not very sporting of the hybrid Toyota P1 car to bump the little Nissan like that.

It seems like everyone involved is treating is as an accident, and the Toyota team and driver apologized immediately. It's a shame, but I don't think it was underhanded.
posted by gilrain at 9:30 AM on June 18, 2012


I wonder if the Toyota driver would have seen the front left corner of a "regular" car and not run into it.
posted by notsnot at 9:31 AM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm surprised that the front is so narrow. The front tires are 1/3rd the width of the rears. It must have some real under-steering issues. I can see that being beneficial on a high speed oval course and it would be great for much of the Circuit de la Sarthe but there are still some lower speed tight turns where it would be a pain to drive quick.

Still it looks like it was fast enough that, combined with fewer pit stops that any other car, it probably could have one it's class (LMP2) if it hadn't crashed and was reliable (a major issue at Le Mans).
posted by VTX at 9:35 AM on June 18, 2012


That looked pretty - deliberate. The Toyota car had to go way the hell out of its way to clip the Delta. .. these are drivers that are used to racing inches from each other, and the Delta was in a good position to let faster traffic by. A mechanical or track problem or a very serious driver lapse of judgement may explain, but man, that looked rotten.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:39 AM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


from post: “... using half the amount of tyres and fuel as any car...”

Well, it's about time. Just the other day it dawned on me that six wheels is probably too many for a car – weird that Indy Car didn't think of making one with four.
posted by koeselitz at 9:40 AM on June 18, 2012


That trike-like configuration of the wheels makes me nervous, and I wonder why that thing's not prone to tipping on curves like other trikes. Center of gravity too low?
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:40 AM on June 18, 2012


That car looks strangely familiar...

This "delta" — is it pink, by any chance?
posted by Sys Rq at 9:43 AM on June 18, 2012


Just the other day it dawned on me that six wheels is probably too many for a car

Cough.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:45 AM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


notsnot: I wonder if the Toyota driver would have seen the front left corner of a "regular" car and not run into it

I expect that's exactly what happened.
posted by Decimask at 9:50 AM on June 18, 2012


The car's designer speaks about its handling:
Indeed, video released of the car's first test shows the DeltaWing settling into a normal-looking cornering attitude. Of course, that didn't surprise Bowlby, who for more than two years has insisted that computer simulations indicate the car will go around corners. Even hairpins.

"It's got a very benign, but exciting, handling characteristic because when you reach the threshold of grip, the tendency is towards oversteer," Bowlby said. "This is unusual in a rear-engine racing car which, unless provoked, is normally an understeer-limited vehicle with an inevitable snap oversteer event at the limit of control. From a racing driver's standpoint, understeer is an unstable condition because you can't correct it other than by slowing the car and starting again. But with controlled oversteer -- intrinsic in the layout of DeltaWing -- it's much more controllable."
posted by notyou at 9:52 AM on June 18, 2012


Also, somebody get Brockles on the Batphone.
posted by notyou at 9:53 AM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


...it probably could have one it's class (LMP2) if it hadn't crashed and was reliable (a major issue at Le Mans).

FWIW, the Delta Wing was competing in its own class of one, and not in any of the established classes (like LMP2).

That looked pretty - deliberate. The Toyota car had to go way the hell out of its way to clip the Delta.
Look again. The Toyota was clearly moving to the right to go around the car directly ahead of it. Unfortunately, it was a pretty crowded turn and the Delta Wing got clipped.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:54 AM on June 18, 2012


You're right, I was reading the qualifying results cross-eyed or something. It's qualifying time does put it in the bottom half of the LMP2 class though so I would guess that is where it would have competed if it had been allowed (and if it met the technical regs of the class).
posted by VTX at 10:03 AM on June 18, 2012


What ho.

I watched a bit of the LE Mans coverage just to see the Deltawing going around and show it to my step son who was (predictably) "What? Whoah. That's TINY".

The incident: I could totally see how the Toyota was unsighted. It was a restart and it was chaos as people were trying ti get un-lapped so they could pull away as traffic opened up. Racing incident and the Toyota was not at all racing the Deltawing for position so there was no need for any shitty behaviour. If Nakajima had looked out his side window (visibility is always worse than you assume in a race car) even if he'd seen the nose of the Deltawing he may not have appreciated which car it was and just assumed he had another 4 feet of room to his right, not realising the rear wheels were right next to him. He coudl have just registered "Car to my right, there's enough room though as it is far off".

An unlucky incident, but telling of how difficult it will be to race those cars - judging the rear of your three wheeler will be hard and drivers already go for gaps that aren't wide enough when they can see how wide their car is.

While I liked the concept of something so bat shit insanely different coming onto the scene, I am glad this didn't get picked for Indycar. I really think the difficulty of driving something that shape would have been an issue on ovals purely from a racing perspective. I think it would have handled fine, but you'd have had really nastily interlocked cars from a purely 200mph Tetris point of view and I couldn't see that going anywhere but bad eventually.

Also:

Just the other day it dawned on me that six wheels is probably too many for a car

Cough.
posted by Brockles at 10:11 AM on June 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


and if it met the technical regs of the class

Yes, it was in its own class and entered under regs almost tailored for it because it is such an enormous break from the norm. It is light years away from usual LM regs so it would be impossible to make it legal (wheel base and track regs alone would screw it up).

It's got a very benign, but exciting, handling characteristic because when you reach the threshold of grip, the tendency is towards oversteer

All kinds of people said it would understeer like crazy, but most of them were journalists... There's no reason for it to understeer just because it is (essentially) a trike. Nobody has really made a trike that wasn't a proper trike (one single front wheel), really, and it is the motorbike style front end that is totally unsuited to a wide rear track, not the fact the rubber is in the middle. The geometry on a single front wheel is crap because you can't make it have camber in both directions, can't have advantageous caster in two directions and so on. Deltawing is so far removed from any other race car that nobody other than Deltawing had any experience of it, but with the CofG so far back (like 2 foot at most in front of the rear axle line, I am guessing) then there is no reason to assume understeer. Most of the weight is carried by the rear wheels, so oversteer is logical (but kind of mind melting when you see the size of the front tyres) to come to as a conclusion. I have no idea how the front suspension works on this car, but it is a phenomenally interesting concept. I suspect the differential set up is critical to even getting it to handle, though, but I'm only armchair idea dart throwing there as diff's are pretty damned important anyway.

From a racing driver's standpoint, understeer is an unstable condition because you can't correct it other than by slowing the car and starting again

Understeer is the shittiest of shitty. It's the same kind of feeling as when you try and extend a tape measure (the metal roll up ones) and you can extend it out further, further, further and then it just goes "twang... bleurgh" and the tape measure falls. Think of that as an analogy for your cornering speed and front end grip. You can extend that tape measure a decent amount (against an understeering problem) but as soon as you lose grip (the tape falls) you have to wind the tape/speed back in and start again. Tortured analogy, but maybe it will get across how annoying and 'passenger' understeer feels when it occurs. The snap oversteer at the end of it is also amusing. Basically what happens is the car scrubs speed off at a decent rate against the understeer until you are going suddenly slow enough for the front tyres to grip and you get an instantaneous yaw impulse from the front wheels and you start looking out the side window.

If you start understeer, you have to go slower to get around the corner. If you have a limit of oversteer, then you can use skill and maybe complete the corner at the same speed. It's a better failure case for momentum conservation. That's the basic advantage. The speed in racing is how fast the car can go and still rotate around its CofG to make the direction change. If the yaw attaining element is easy, you have an oversteering but unstable car (Hence the 'loose is fast' NASCAR saying which often ends in wall - See one D. Patrick this weekend).
posted by Brockles at 10:30 AM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Toyota team had its share of racing incidents at Le Mans this year...
posted by Thorzdad at 10:34 AM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


It was Nakajima driving the Toyota, who I've never rated. He seemed to spend most of his time in Formula 1 crashing by himself or taking other people out. So although I can see that it was an accident, I believe that a better driver would have seen the DeltaWing and avoided the crash.

I tuned in to Le Mans coverage in order to see the DeltaWing in action, but annoyingly this was just after the crash so I missed out. Great job by Motoyama, but it's a shame he couldn't get the car going again. Both steering arms were broken, IIRC.

It's not all gloom, though, as I hear that the Delta Wing has been very popular so there is interest by other endurance events around the world who are planning to invite it along to race.

The concept has been quite successful too. It doesn't behave like other race cars, so the predictions of massive understeer are unfounded. Both its centre of gravity and centre of downforce are just in front of the rear wheels so it has very benign handling. All this, plus the low weight, low fuel and low tyre wear makes for an exciting car.*

What also needs to be remembered is that this was built on a low budget using a hacked Aston Martin chassis. A dedicated tub, optimised drivetrain, improved aero, carbon parts etc would make the car faster still.

* (Unfortunately my main source of information - the Autosport website - is locked behind a paywall.)
posted by milkb0at at 10:36 AM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Cough

I wonder if advances in materials and manufacturing could allow something like the P34 to compete (should the rules allow?) IIRC, it's only real drawback is that the tire companies were improving their rubber from month to month when it was racing, and there wasn't enough money to keep pace with the rest of the field when developing the tiny front tires.

Are tire compounds still developing so quickly, and could automated manufacturing and computer modeling keep pace for a one-off tire like that?
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:36 AM on June 18, 2012


"BAM! Pow! Holy Jeepers, the Batmobile has hit the wall!"

I was just reminded of Rock N Roll Racing. Ouch! WOAH! Toyota lights 'em up!
posted by Hoopo at 10:40 AM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


The accident is a pretty good indication of why this particular design -- while innovative, interesting and full of promise -- has two significant drawbacks as a one-off on a track: first, in a rear-view mirror the back wheel will indeed look like the front wheel to another driver, making they think they're clear when they're not, and second, half the weight of the other cars means a very unequal give and take when two cars collide, hence the brunt of the collision energy diverting the DeltaWing off the course while the Toyota's line was essentially unaltered.

The mismatched weight obviously wouldn't be an issue if all the cars were DeltaWings (or DeltaWing-like), but even in an all-DeltaWing field you're going to have a lot of collisions until drivers get used to the entirely-unlike-any-other-car-they've-ever-raced proportions (not only made manifest in mistaking back wheels for fronts in the mirror, but also as they imagine their car to be as wide as their cockpit, forgetting that the back of the car is actually substantially wider.) If you raced an all-DeltaWing field tomorrow, I would expect to see a steady stream of drivers making the same mistake as the Toyota driver did.
posted by davejay at 10:44 AM on June 18, 2012


At first glance it looks sketchy as hell, but considering the size of the car and how new and thus unfamiliar the design was for the other drivers, it almost seems inevitable in such a tight cluster. Wonder if the same thing would have happened if the car was painted high-visibility yellow and accented with reflective silver? Probably.

Thorzdad: The Toyota team had its share of racing incidents at Le Mans this year...

Bloody hell. Nose-first into the barrier. And a broken back as the result. Surely in this day and age we can manufacture some kind of barrier that is kinder on the human body other than "bunch of discarded tires"?
posted by pyrex at 11:02 AM on June 18, 2012


Bloody hell. Nose-first into the barrier. And a broken back as the result. Surely in this day and age we can manufacture some kind of barrier that is kinder on the human body other than "bunch of discarded tires"?

Actually, the broken back was from the landing, not the impact with the barriers.

There are newer barriers which I think are meant to be better than tyres, such as TecPro, but I don't know how much of a benefit they are and why they haven't been implemented here. Cost, probably.
posted by milkb0at at 11:10 AM on June 18, 2012


Surely in this day and age we can manufacture some kind of barrier that is kinder on the human body other than "bunch of discarded tires"?

From Davidson's interview that I have seen, it was when he landed from the car flipping that he broke his back. It wasn't nose first into the barriers as such, it was more a 'twenty foot drop onto a hard surface'. When that car landed again it is likely that the suspension bottomed and the tub crashed into the floor. Then there is only a few inches of carbon fibre, aluminium honeycomb and maybe some resin and beads between Davidson't arse and the track. Not much give in all that.

I suspect the barriers didn't do much more than crush the car extremities a bit.
posted by Brockles at 11:12 AM on June 18, 2012


I guess I hadn't thought about where the center of gravity would be but it makes sense that having it so far back would make the handling more neutral. I guess I was thinking more about the direction of force in a corner and, more importantly, the much smaller tire patch on the front tires since they are only 4" wide to the rear's 12.5". Apparently the camber on the front isn't so much that it throws the tire wear off too much. That or it's so much lighter that they can put a ton of camber into the suspension (take camber out? Put negative camber in? I'm not sure what the jargon should be here, but the top of the wheel gets pointed closer to the center-line of the car.) and still get the tires to wear slower.

On a normal car with wheels out at the corners of a rectangular shape and a center of gravity closer to the middle, tires that small would cause all kinds of understeer issues wouldn't it? I mean, smaller contact patch means it loses grip before the rears assuming that we're not complicating things with the brakes or throttle and the car would just keep going straight right?

My Gran Tourism 1 manual (which has an excellent introduction to vehicle dynamics) says that a with ideal handling would have some oversteer at lower speeds but very slight understeer through high speed turns (like the Dunlop curve). Did GT1 tell me lies?
posted by VTX at 11:31 AM on June 18, 2012


ideal handling would have some oversteer at lower speeds but very slight understeer through high speed turns (like the Dunlop curve). Did GT1 tell me lies?

This is assuming an inherently stable car, with the emphasis more toward controllability. At low speeds you need oversteer (instability) to get the car to actually turn. In high speed corners this instability needs to be lessened or you will have a massive accident if you lose grip (Backwards at OHHOWFAST mph). You'd want that balance on any high performance road car, with your low speed oversteer most likely caused by power (strong limited slip diff causing slight power sliding at low speeds/tight corners) and the understeer from suspension geometry.

But for racing, where the standard of driving is higher, you always want the car to be only just stable enough that the driver can handle it. It's easier/better (from an engineering perspective) to have an exhausted driver at the end of the race and a car that can hold an extra mph or two at mid corner than a relaxed driver that isn't on a knife edge all the time. This is a bit of a risk, though, as if your driver isn't 100% and gets tired too early, your car can be 75% the length it was when you started...

On a normal car with wheels out at the corners of a rectangular shape and a center of gravity closer to the middle, tires that small would cause all kinds of understeer issues wouldn't it?

Yes. They'd have a much more equal responsibility for controlling the weight of the car compared to the rear. It's really all about weight, and how that weight moves around a corner, and also how fast you can change that weights direction of momentum. Basically, with the front wheels so far from the CofG they have a lot of leverage of that weight compared to the rear and so can be smaller.

it's so much lighter that they can put a ton of camber into the suspension (take camber out? Put negative camber in? I'm not sure what the jargon should be here, but the top of the wheel gets pointed closer to the center-line of the car.)

Camber is almost always negative and (confusingly) more negative is considered 'more camber'. Negative camber is the top of the wheel leaning to the inside of the car. How much camber you can run is mostly affected by contact patch - not enough camber and you'll run on the outside edge, too much and you run on the inside edge. Finding that critical angle where your contact patch is maximised while retaining heat in the tyre is the hard bit (if you're contact patch is too big you won't get enough pressure on the rubber to keep the tyre hot and sticky). Simplistically explained, anyway.
posted by Brockles at 11:53 AM on June 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


Also...
posted by Huck500 at 12:24 PM on June 18, 2012


The concept has been quite successful too.

I'm flabbergasted as to how they can make such a pronouncement. Indycar said "no thanks" to the concept before it could so much as turn a lap. Le Mans was the first outing for the Delta Wing. Unless they define "quite successful" as "didn't make a right-angle turn into the grandstand at the start of the race", of course.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:28 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


> That car is teeny.

Gracious. First pic I saw of it I thought "Where's the motorcycle that sidecar came off of?"
posted by jfuller at 12:33 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thorzdad: I'm flabbergasted as to how they can make such a pronouncement.

Well, IIRC it was lapping Le Mans at around LMP2 pace, so I'm flabbergasted that you think it hasn't been at least partially successful.
posted by milkb0at at 12:51 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm flabbergasted as to how they can make such a pronouncement. Indycar said "no thanks" to the concept before it could so much as turn a lap.

Some would say that not being adapted by IndyCar is a success. It looked to be far out of that particular series comfort range.

But I imagine the makers of it think of it as a success because:

It works
It has been in a race
There's interest in it
It ran at Le Mans

It's like when two people have a baby and the baby is born and the limbs work and it breathes and seems to be generally helpful. Success. Now that baby can succeed and fail in life as it ages.

What would be an alternate definition of success?
posted by juiceCake at 12:51 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


The concept has been quite successful too.

I'm flabbergasted as to how they can make such a pronouncement.


I'm having trouble understanding why this is surprising - this is a massive and fundamental change in concept from what traditionally 'works' as a race car. Lots of people said it'd be awful and would never work, yet it competed in the biggest motor racing event in the world, within a couple of seconds of its predicted target time and basically stuck two fingers up to the naysayers. It's a hell of an achievement and it truly works.

It's a major departure from established racing car design. It worked and held its own against the highest competition in its debut. That's pretty damn good.
posted by Brockles at 1:13 PM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well, IIRC it was lapping Le Mans at around LMP2 pace

For SIX HOURS!
posted by notyou at 1:22 PM on June 18, 2012


A little follow-up to the crash story, this might bring a tear to your eye,
posted by Purposeful Grimace at 6:37 AM on June 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


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