By definition racing vehicles are these days developed within the confines of a formula to ensure a level of close competition. The formulas are changed every season or so but developments tend to be incremental rather than revolutionary. One experimental project that has been running outside of any formula and hopes to truly change the face of racing is the Delta Wing project designed by US-based Brit’ Ben Bowlby and supported by motorsport legends Don Panoz and Dan Gurney. Now the project has attracted a suitably hi-tech powerplant, some serious sponsorship, and its first race.

We first wrote about the DeltaWing over two years ago when the concept, with a rolling mock-up, was entered in a competition to design the IndyCar vehicle of the future. It’s unclear whether the conservative IndyCar organization still has any intention of embracing a radically new type of racing car but the partnership of Bowlby, Panoz and Gurney obviously felt the potential rewards justified development of the unusual composite chassis.

The DeltaWing is unlike any other racing car currently on track. The driver sits well back in the car, almost over the rear axle and looks ahead down a long, narrow fuselage to narrow twin front tires, specially created for the car by tire partner Michelin. With a rear-mounted engine, the car has a strong rearward weight bias, which makes it highly maneuverable, while its light weight and slippery shape make it far more efficient.

To take the project to the next stage, and perhaps a slightly different direction, global manufacturer Nissan has committed in a big way to providing engines and engineering development expertise. A race-prepared 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, featuring direct petrol injection and a turbocharger, will power “Nissan DeltaWing”, which is half the weight and has half the aerodynamic drag of a conventional racer.

Nissan is no stranger to endurance racing and indeed the Nissan DeltaWing’s first real race will be at Le Mans. The Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO), the organizers of the famous Le Mans 24 Hours has invited the car to run in this year’s race from "Garage 56" - the spot in the pit lane reserved for experimental cars. As it doesn’t conform to any existing championship regulations, Nissan DeltaWing will not be eligible to challenge for silverware and will carry the race number "0".

The new engine, badged DIG-T (Direct Injection Gasoline – Turbocharged), is expected to produce around 300 hp, sufficient to give Nissan DeltaWing lap times between LMP1 and LMP2 machines at Le Mans, despite having only half the power of those conventional prototypes. It features the same technology found in Nissan road cars, such as the Nissan Juke DIG-T.

Concept originator and designer Ben Bowlby commented: “Nissan has provided us with our first choice engine. It’s a spectacular piece. We’ve got the engine of our dreams: it’s the right weight, has the right power and it’s phenomenally efficient.”

The first two Nissan DeltaWing drivers to be confirmed are British Sportscar racer Marino Franchitti (brother of IndyCar star Dario) and Nissan’s reigning FIA GT1 World Champion Michael Krumm. The 2012 Le Mans 24 hour will be raced on the 16th to 17th of June and there is sure to be huge interest in this unique vehicle - and yes, it does go around corners - here's the video evidence.

Sources: Nissan, All American Racers