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Odd-looking DeltaWing turns heads at Daytona

The No. 0 DeltaWing DWC13 tours Daytona International Speedway in preparation for this weekend’s 24 Hours of Daytona.

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The No. 0 DeltaWing DWC13 tours Daytona International Speedway in preparation for this weekend’s 24 Hours of Daytona.

DAYTONA BEACH — There's a shiny, odd-shaped car turning laps — and heads — at Daytona International Speedway.

It has been dubbed the "chrome missile," and though it's not the fastest Prototype entered in this weekend's 24 Hours of Daytona, it certainly could wreak havoc in the first race of the newly formed United SportsCar Championship series.

The DeltaWing is the freshest and funkiest car to hit the famed track in nearly 50 years.

"It's different," said Christian Fittipaldi, who is driving a much more conventional Action Express Racing Corvette. "It almost looks like a three-wheeler. You look at it and say, 'Is a motorcycle going to be racing against us?' "

The technologically advanced DeltaWing, which looks like a cross between a fighter jet and a concept car, is racing a full season in the Prototype series. No one expects much from the underpowered entry, which made its debut in 2012 with an open-cockpit version.

The car gained national attention at the 24 Hours of Le Mans later that season. Drivers Andy Meyrick and Katherine Legge grabbed more headlines by leading eight laps each at Road America last year in the American Le Mans Series.

The uniquely designed car has been tweaked and tuned even more heading into this season, the first under the United SportsCar Championship banner after a merger between ALMS and the Grand-Am Series, the previous sanctioning body for the 24 Hours of Daytona.

The DeltaWing has raced just four hours continuously and a maximum of six hours over multiple stints. So the twice-around-the-clock endurance race at Daytona will be the ultimate test for the upstart team.

"It's a pitch into the unknown for us," team manager David Price said. "We're not a threat to anybody at the moment. … But perhaps in time, everyone will want a DeltaWing."

Maybe, maybe not.

The car surely catches eyes, but it also causes many racing purists to cringe.

"In the beginning, it was a bit of a freak show really," Price said. "We're trying to grow out of that stage, but there's still an element of that. People still look at it as something you want to barge out of the way. But we're at the stage now where we're not an embarrassment to ourselves or anybody else. We can compete."

There is the problem.

Though few competitors have complained publicly, they surely would if the car starts challenging for the podium.

"If we were to win this race, people would have issues with it," driver Alexander Rossi said.

That's because the DeltaWing looks nothing like the other cars in its class.

The two front tires are just 4 inches apart and look like they came from motorcycles. The car, when empty, weighs a little more than 1,000 pounds — less than half of the other Prototypes. And it's powered by a turbocharged, 1.9-liter four-cylinder engine that is expected to top out at 195 mph on the straights.

"It's still a massive, 'What the hell is that?' " Rossi said. "There's a big draw to it, which is really exciting to be able to drive for a team and car that attracts such attention. Everyone's biggest question is what does it feel like? It feels like a normal race car, which is quite amazing, to be honest.

"It is a radical design, but at the end of the day it is a normal race car."

Gabby Chaves teams with Rossi, Legge and Meyrick for driving duties this weekend in the DeltaWing, which qualified eighth Thursday with a lap of 1 minute, 39.270 seconds, exactly a second off of the pole.

Alex Gurney earned the pole for this weekend's race, putting the No. 99 Corvette in the top spot with a lap at 130.416 mph.

IndyCar series champion Scott Dixon and Indianapolis 500 champion Tony Kanaan are on the same team, owned by their IndyCar owner Chip Ganassi, alongside Marino Franchitti and Sprint Cup rookie Kyle Larson.

Also among big names from other series in this race are NASCAR's Jamie McMurray, AJ Allmendinger and Max Papis and IndyCar's Sebastien Bourdais — a St. Petersburg resident whose Corvette starts fourth — Ryan Hunter-Reay, Graham Rahal, James Hinchcliffe, Justin Wilson and Simon Pagenaud.

Hall at Daytona: The Motorsports Hall of Fame of America is moving from the Detroit area to Daytona International Speedway. The move is expected to be completed by January 2016, coinciding with the scheduled finish of the track's $400 million renovation. The Hall of Fame is currently in Novi, Mich.

Formula One: An online vote with more than a million ballots has determined that Ferrari's new car will be named the F14 T. The "T" is for turbo, with turbo engines returning to the series this year. … Gerard Lopez took over as the team principal of Lotus to replace Eric Boullier, fuelling widespread media reports that the Frenchman is on the move to rival McLaren.

Odd-looking DeltaWing turns heads at Daytona 01/24/14 [Last modified: Friday, January 24, 2014 10:03pm]
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