Katherine Legge leads in the rain (Photo: DeltaWing Racing Cars)

Innovative DeltaWing delivers at Road America

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Nobody’s laughing now.

Remember when the DeltaWing first broke cover in 2010 as a potential new chassis for the IZOD IndyCar Series? For every person that praised its emphasis on efficiency and innovation, there was always another that couldn’t get over its radical design and then proceeded to mock it.

Later that year, the DeltaWing was passed over by INDYCAR in favor of Dallara. But its journey didn’t end there. Instead, it moved into sports car racing and eventually, it would make its competitive debut at the 2012 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Then, this past February, the machine was called upon to go full-time in the American Le Mans Series. For this venture, it was given some new attributes – a 1.9-liter Elan Power engine, Bridgestone tires, an almost entirely new crew led by manager David Price, and one snazzy chrome paint job.

Prior to last Sunday’s ALMS race at Road America, the DeltaWing – which comes in at half the weight and half the horsepower of a typical Le Mans prototype – had shown flashes of promise this year but didn’t have a lot of results to show for it thanks to various engine and mechanical issues.

But all of that changed in Wisconsin as open-wheel veteran Katherine Legge and Andy Meyrick took the fight to the all-conquering Muscle Milk Pickett Racing team before coming home with a third-place finish in the P1 class and a fifth-place showing overall.

Facing a damp but drying track, Legge was undaunted and following a quick stop to switch to slick tires, she found herself giving the DeltaWing its first lap led in international competition at Lap 20. She would hold on to the point for a number of laps leading up to her hand-off of the car to Meyrick, who took the controls at Lap 30.

Meyrick would also get some laps in at the front of the pack before one of the Muscle Milk men, Klaus Graf, managed to get past him in the track’s “Canada Corner” with 53 minutes remaining in the 2-hour, 45-minute race.

A late splash of fuel put the DeltaWing in fifth, but an attempt to make one last charge for the overall podium was thwarted when a caution with nine minutes to go eventually proved to be the end of the race.

Nonetheless, both Legge and Meyrick were pleased with the DeltaWing’s best performance of the season.

“Everyone has worked extremely hard and every time we go out we improve,” said Legge. “But today, we really proved what the essence of the DeltaWing is all about.”

“We’re happy but also a little disappointed, because I think we really could have gotten second place overall,” said Meyrick. “But to be disappointed at not finishing second shows how this project is moving forward.”

Indeed, Sunday was a true sign of progress for everyone directly involved in this unique project – and a day to cheer for the fans who had always believed in it.

Hamilton and Vettel already focused on 2018 F1 title battle

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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates (AP) Championship rivals Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel are already looking forward to fighting each other for a fifth Formula One title next year.

With Hamilton wrapping up this year’s title two races ago, the pressure is off this week at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Both are projecting to 2018, where the four-time champions get back to the serious business of trying to catch Argentine great Juan Manuel Fangio on five titles.

“Certainly we will never match him in how successful he was in such a short space of time,” Vettel said on Thursday at a news conference. “Back then racing was different. The cars were not that reliable and he still managed to be successful. (He was) the best we’ve ever had in terms of putting it all together and skill.”

Only Michael Schumacher with seven titles has won more than Fangio, who drove in F1 from 1950-58.

“It was the most dangerous period of time in motorsport. I feel honored to be so close to such a great sporting icon,” Hamilton said of Fangio. “He should be celebrated more for his success. He’s not mentioned a huge amount. He’s kind of the godfather of the sport for the drivers.”

Some may come to revere Hamilton like that in time.

He has won 62 races – second only to Schumacher’s 91 – and holds the record for pole positions with 72. The 32-year-old British driver has won three of the past four titles – losing to Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg in 2016 – and was at the peak of his powers this season.

After trailing Vettel at the halfway point, he pulled away after the summer break and leads the German driver by 43 points.

Hamilton is arguably the fiercest competitor around and is already thinking about how Vettel plans to turn the tables.

“Whatever weakness Sebastian had, he’ll work on those over the winter. No one’s perfect, even I have things to work on,” Hamilton said, without a trace of irony. “He’s going to raise the bar next year and I’ll have to as well, otherwise things won’t be the same.

“Ferrari had a very, very good season. Half the season they were in the lead and that wasn’t down to luck,” Hamilton added. “Red Bull is also going to be (competing for the title) next year.”

Considering how poor Ferrari was in 2016, this year can still be viewed as a success with Vettel winning five races compared to none last year.

Vettel joked that winning the title in 2018 will be “a walk in the park” if Ferrari improves by the same amount, then took a more serious view of the situation.

“That final step is always the hardest. But the team is ready and fired up,” said Vettel, who won four titles with Red Bull from 2010-13. “We made the biggest step of all. We lost out as the season progressed. In the end we weren’t good enough to take it to the last race, but there’s so much potential still.”

He accepted that he ultimately fell short because “Lewis made less mistakes” than he did.

Poised to regain the championship lead, he crashed out of the Singapore GP from pole position back in September – turning the tide in Hamilton’s favor. Reliability issues plagued Ferrari at the next two races. He started last and finished fourth at the Malaysian GP and then qualified third before retiring from the Japanese GP.

In June, the rivals were embroiled in their most heated clash at the Azerbaijan GP in Baku.

Vettel drove alongside Hamilton’s Mercedes as they waited behind the safety car for the restart, and was adjudged to have deliberately nudged the side of him. Tempers frayed and barbs were exchanged. Vettel initially denied it was deliberate but subsequently apologized for dangerous driving.

That incident genuinely threatened to spoil their healthy rivalry, but they joke about it now.

Asked on Thursday what their highlight of the season was, both drivers – sitting next to each other – laughed easily when Baku was suggested.

Referring to the upcoming end-of-season F1 awards, Vettel put himself forward for three.

“I should get (overtaking) move of the year, personality of the year, and fair play … maybe not.”