Dan Panoz is one of the most successful people you’ve never heard of. Like fellow entrepreneur Roger Penske, Panoz has a Midas touch that has made him a legend in the business and racing worlds. The can-do Panoz has developed more than 300 pharmaceutical patents — including the nicotine patch — while making his racing mark as father of the Panoz race team, founder of the American LeMans racing series, and owner of Road Atlanta race track (where I have turned many a lap).
The soft-spoken Georgian’s latest project brought him to the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this week. If the Ford F-150 is the most radical production vehicle in show, Panoz’s Delta Wing is the most revolutionary design.
The sleek, silver race car lurks in the downstairs gallery in the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix display. It will be competing in the TUDOR Sports Car Championship race as part of the GP weekend, May 30-June 1. Panoz competed in the American LeMans race series last year with moderate success, and on January 25 the Delta Wing team enters the Daytona Rolex 24-hour endurance race as a dark horse to win. Panoz says his radical design could transform more than just America's most prestigious endurance race — it could transform the production car. He met with major automakers here about a partnership for a fuel-efficient sedan or sports car. The F-150 has innovative Ecoboost engine and aluminum solutions to fuel economy. Panoz has ideas of his own. And his ideas rarely miss. He joined me for a Q&Auto interview.
HP: What's your overall goal for this machine?
Panoz: The goal of the Delta Wing concept is to prove technology can win races. And when you view it in the context of today's world of meeting (government mpg) standards, this is a very good way forward. This car, at half the horsepower and half the weight and half the fuel, can be competitive. Its configuration means we can go a little further on fuel, we don't wear out tires, and when it wins — and it will win, we saw it lead races last year — it will be the technology that wins, not brute power.
HP: Diesel-powered race cars have achieved success because of better efficiency. How do you beat an Audi diesel?
Panoz: Let's look at in the sense of a road car. Our Delta Wing car would have the same performance as a hybrid but without any electric motors or batteries. We can do it with a diesel engine or a petrol engine. Our focus is on aerodynamics, weight distribution, lightweight materials that can benefit any power train. Put all of that into a hybrid and we could increase its mpg by 30-35 percent, we'd increase an electric by 30-35 percent.
HP: Upstairs at the show we see a Ford F-150. It's all about power-train efficiency and lightweight aluminum. What are the key elements of your car?
Panoz: The powertrain efficiency and the light-weight materials and all that stuff — and the configuration of the Delta Wing. It's a four-wheel car with the front wheels close together with just four inches of tread. Because of the special materials of this car, and because of the shape of this car — narrow in front, wide back — the weight distribution leads to tremendous braking, tremendous handling. We're very efficient on tire wear and fuel.
HP: Would you translate this design to a production car?
DP: Yes. This meets all FIA racing safety standards. This is a monocoque chassis (Ed. note: A space fame strengthened with riveted aluminum plate) that's very light, yet very strong and that could be produced in a very economical matter.
HP: What's your time line? When does this car win races?
Panoz: In about 10 days at the Daytona 24-Hour. We had some problems last year with the engine — the packaging and cooling — but that's all gone now.
HP: On a single lap how competitive are you?
Panoz: We're about 1.5 seconds off the quickest cars. This car is 320 horsepower, 2-liter, turbocharged 4-cylinder. The other cars are running 650-670 horsepower. But we get better fuel economy. Let's say they do 21 laps, we'll do 22 before a pit stop.
HP: What's the time line on a production car?
Panoz: We're doing the production on it now. One version seats four, another seats two. The size and length of the car is about that same as an Aston Martin DB9 — but this would be a very economical car. The 4-passenger (sedan) would be in the low $30,000s. Maybe high $20s. I can see the GT car maybe 80-90 (thousand). We will license these packages to an OEM. Our business plan is to establish a manufacturer as a partner and use their drive-train, their tail lamps, the look they may have — as long as they stay within the architecture of what we need to do. We've been negotiating with several OEMs. It helps with (federal mpg rules) and there are some companies that need that.
Henry Payne is The News’ auto critic. Find him at firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter @HenryEPayne