Scottish sportscar ace Marino Franchitti has been selected as the first driver for the unique DeltaWing program that will debut at this year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Franchitti’s name was revealed today at the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) press conference that announced the entries for this year’s twice round-the-clock endurance classic.
Launched at last year’s Le Mans event, the DeltaWing program was awarded the 56th entry for this year’s 80th running of the race. “Garage 56” is reserved for an entry demonstrating new and innovative technology previously unseen in the sport.
“It is so different from everything I have ever seen and everything that I have known a racing car to be – my initial reaction was “what is this?” – it really takes your breath away,” Franchitti said.
“When you look at the people behind the program like Ben Bowlby, Don Panoz, Duncan Dayton and somebody like Dan Gurney who is a hero of mine – if they have faith in this program, then that gives me a lot of confidence.
“I am so excited about getting the opportunity to drive the car. I have no doubt in my mind that it is going to turn, but I am really looking forward to finding out how it is going to feel and how it will work as a package.
“I have nothing to compare this against. Like the car itself, I will be going in with a clean sheet of paper and will start exploring the limits.”
The Project 56 DeltaWing program brings together American Le Mans Series founder Don Panoz; American racing legend Dan Gurney’s All American Racers organization who is building the car; two-time ALMS championship winning team owner and Le Mans entrant, Highcroft Racing’s Duncan Dayton; and award-winning DeltaWing designer, Ben Bowlby.
Franchitti has worked with members of the consortium in the past. The Scotsman drove for Highcroft in 2010 and 2011 – winning at Laguna Seca and taking second place at last year’s Twelve Hours of Sebring. He also previously drove for Don Panoz in 2004 and 2005.
“It is not something that has been done before and it kind of feels like when the first rear engine F1 car hit the track, or the first car with a wing, or the first ground effects car – the DeltaWing will be so new and unique and I am really honored to be given this opportunity,” Franchitti said.
“In recent times, we really haven’t seen major advances like this – great leaps and changes. Technological steps have been quite small and now it is very exciting to be a part of something this huge.
“Being somebody who loves the history of the sport, I am really looking forward to experiencing something that my heroes experienced.
“Those opportunities don’t come along every day. I’m looking forward to being that guy who can say – “yes, I turned the wheel and round the corner it went’”
“I have obviously worked with Duncan and Highroft Racing recently and Don Panoz gave me a great opportunity early in my career – it is great to be involved with those guys again.”
The DeltaWing car is set to enter the Windshear wind tunnel early this month with the first test laps scheduled to take place soon after.