By Preston Lerner

100 Automobile October 2010

Scan: worldmags®

Two days before the 500, DeltaWing designer Ben Bowlby shows off his creation to curious fans at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

It's a sweltering Friday afternoon at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, two days before the 2010 edition of the Indy 500, and a full-size model of Bowlby's weapon of mass destruction is on display in front of the famous Pagoda. With its needlelike nose, superwide rear track, and arresting vertical fin, the DeltaWing is a fantastically futuristic, love-it-or-hate-it vision that looks like it belongs on the Bonneville Salt Flats—or in a sci-fi flick—rather than 100 yards from Gasoline Alley, the most conservative bastion in racedom.

Out on the track, Indy Lights cars are racing in the Freedom 100, and on the stage in the infield, the roadies for ZZ Top are doing a sound check. But at the moment, a huge throngisswarmingaround the DeltaWing. As I walk up, I half expect to see Bowlby lead them in an armed insurrection against the reactionaries who run the IndyCar Series. But when I get close enough to make out his crisp, button-down shirt and indestructible smile, I realize that he looks less like a clean-shaven Fidel Castro and more like one of those robotically upbeat ushers hired to pacify the crowds at Disneyland.

On the wall behind him are artists' renderings of four other cars—stylized versions of the winged wonders that have been racing at Indy for generations, what Bowlby dismissively refers to as "Formula 1 wannabes." These are the DeltaWing's rivals. Six weeks after the 500, the ruling class will select the IZOD IndyCar Series' chassis for 2012 and beyond. The DeltaWing, if chosen, will trigger a revolution, and revolutions, Bowlby knows, succeed only with grassroots support. Which is why he's out here, braving the mob and the enervating heat, answering the same questions, over and over and over again: What the hell is it? How is it going to make it around a corner? Why does it look so freaking weird?

"We've been doing things the same way for thirty-five years," Bowlby explains patiently, his smile never wavering. "We're talking about a completely different idea—a car that goes the same speed with half the weight, half the drag, half the power, and half the fuel consumption. It's more efficient, more relevant, cheaper for the teams to run, and more entertaining for the drivers to race. This racetrack is supposed to be a breeding ground for showcasing innovation. We're doing what the IndyCar brand was intended to do. To be honest, I think we're honoring the tradition of what made this race so great for so many years."

At first glance, Bowlby makes an odd spokesman for Indy 500 custom. He's a forty-three-year-old Brit who was born five months after the last front-engine roadster raced at the Speedway. He got his start in road racing in England in cars he designed and built himself. Later, he helped create the Lolas that raced in Formula 3000 and was the chief engineer of the Lolas that won consistently in CART after the split with the Indy Racing League. In 2003, he was hired as technical director of Chip Ganassi's motorsports empire, and he was the engineering wonk behind the team's three IRL championships. But Bowlby has also worked on Ganassi's NASCAR and Grand-Am programs, and he created the team's semisecret aero test track inside a mountain in Pennsylvania. Tt's this broad range of experience that makes him uniquely qualified to think outside the compact box that's long defined the modern race car.

Motor racing was invented to improve the breed. That's why the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was built in 1909, and for decades, that's why manufacturers competed. But the game changed in a big way in the late 1960s and '70s. As major-league sponsors and academically trained engineers flowed into the sport, racing became exponentially more sophisticated and expensive. The immense aerodynamic power of wings unleashed speeds that were far too fast for existing racetracks. So ever since, sanctioning bodies have been compelled to write rules that slow cars down by stymieing innovation. The result is race cars that are inefficient by design, and the current Dallara-Honda looks fundamentally the same as the Offy-powered Eagles and McLarens that conquered Indy back in 1973.

This stunted development has had two peculiarly perverse effects on the quality of racing. First, giant wings make it virtually impossible for one car to run in another's wake without losing scads of downforce, which leads to the dreaded phenomenon known as "aero push" (aerodynamically induced understeer), which makes passing frustratingly difficult. Second, since cars are optimized to run within an excessively narrow aerodynamic envelope, they appear to be cornering on rails when in reality the driver is balanced on the edge of control. Contrast this with the action in a sprint car race, where even the backmarkers look like heroes.

"Racing is supposed to be an edge sport," Bowlby says. "Chip and I were reminded of this while we were

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