A decade ago IndyCar had a choice to make. It had issued a challenge to chassis manufacturers to design a replacement for the aging Dallara IR-05 that had been running largely unchanged since 2003. Traditional open wheel designs came in from Dallara, Swift, and Lola, plus a fourth conceptually radical design from Ben Bowlby dubbed the Deltawing. IndyCar made the wrong choice.
In picking Dallara to continue as its chassis supplier from 2012 onward, IndyCar shoved aside what could have been a forward-thinking decision in favor of staidness and complacency with the status quo. Deltawing held the promise of a completely different future for IndyCar, one that looked as futuristic as it did completely different from any other series in the world.
With backing from Chip Ganassi, designer Ben Bowlby developed a car that focused on aerodynamic minimalism above all else. Instead of big wings and flicks and splitters, the Deltawing was a simplified design that promised ultra low aerodynamic drag. The goal of this project was to provide a new IndyCar design with marginally faster top speed than the outgoing Dallara, despite having half as much power and consuming half as much fuel.
That fuel economy thing was very important in 2012 as consumers finally climbed out of the depths of an international depression, and remain important today. It is possible that this move to a smaller four-cylinder engine still capable of well over 200 miles per hour would have attracted more manufacturers than Chevrolet, Honda, and the since-failed Lotus foray into American open wheel.
Perhaps a focus on future lightweighting and aerodynamic technology concepts combined with relatively low costs and an environmentalism twist would have attracted more sponsors, teams, engine manufacturers, and drivers. It’s possible IndyCar could have experienced some of the massive success that Formula E has seen in recent years.
While the DW12 managed to exceed the speeds of the old IR-05 chassis, it didn’t do it through any revolutionary means. It was just another open wheel chassis from the Italian firm known for open wheel chassis.
IndyCar was reeling from the death of Dan Wheldon in 2011. And while he did help develop the Dallara DW12 (he’s the DW), the new chassis didn’t really make the sport much safer. The series is just now, in 2020, adding a safety-minded windshield to the Dallara, but consider for a moment that the road racing variant of the Deltawing had already transitioned to a safer enclosed coupe design in 2013. With the Deltawing in play, perhaps Justin Wilson wouldn’t have died in 2015, perhaps Robert Wickens wouldn’t be fighting back from paralysis right now, perhaps the series would be safer.
From the time it first competed at the 2012 24 Hours of Le Mans until the chassis fizzled out at the end of the 2016 IMSA season it was the most interesting and innovative racing chassis to come along in decades. It’s a real shame it got the short end of the stick in this deal. It could have really revolutionized IndyCar, but they were too cowardly to see that far into the future. Maybe we all were.