BMW has responded to powerful new rivals with updates for the M5 and M6 - including a racy new 575hp Competition Package option
Nissan's DeltaWing vs the 2012 Le Mans 24hr race
It is - perhaps - how the gritty version of the movie would have ended. An unlikely hero makes it to the battle, overcomes initial trial and tribulation, and then falls victim to force majeure just when we're starting to believe the impossible could happen.
It leaves the audience wondering what might have been. And it places our hero, our underdog, in the position of the unjustly wronged before it's had a chance to actually fail. This way we'll never know exactly if our protagonist would have ultimately endured, but it's better than having them fade into obscurity.
Nissan DeltaWing: the most radical racer of the 21st century
The DeltaWing is unquestionably the most radical racing car design of the 21st century so far. It doesn't just look insane for the sake of it: the concept demonstrates innovation in motorsport that reflects our environmentally conscious times.
By effectively halving all of the elements that make up a conventional sports prototype racer, its creators - 'concept originator' Ben Bowlby, backed by Highcroft Racing, Dan Gurney's All American Racers, Michelin and Panoz, as well as Nissan - wanted to prove you can significantly reduce fuel and tyre consumption without necessarily compromising on speed.
That this also results in a machine bearing an uncanny resemblance to a Batmobile is a coincidence - but one that adds a huge amount of extra frisson to the story. People who don't care about racing stop and stare, and go "What the hell is that?!"
People who do care about racing stop and stare, go "What the hell is that?!" and then wonder how on earth it's supposed to go around corners.
This is what makes the DeltaWing such a star.
Reaching beyond motorsport
Because it looks so different to the popular conception of what a racing car should be it reaches out and attracts attention way beyond motorsport's usual boundaries. It's cartoonish, exciting - a real life wacky racer. Children, for example, don't care what it is or how it functions, they just want to see it go.
The DeltaWing is like a comic book fantasy made real
At the same time, for those already interested in motorsport it's an enigma. That ultra narrow front track and those ridiculously skinny 4-inch wide front wheels simply don't compute. How does it grip? Where are the traditional wings for downforce? Surely the whole thing is so bizarre it can't possibly work.
That it does work is the ridiculously tasty icing on an already mouth-watering cake. The DeltaWing is like a comic book fantasy made real, and it's proven fast enough that Le Mans' governing body, the ACO, judged it worthy to take on the best at the most famous endurance race in the world.
We could spend some time at this point going into the physics. But I'm not sure it would necessarily help; basically the entire car is the wing - like a V-bomber - and with all the weight located at the back helping the driven rear wheels find traction, all the front has to do is point the way through the turns.
The drivers don't understand it either
Speaking at Nissan's Friday afternoon press briefing ahead of the race, driver Michael Krumm reveals he doesn't understand it either. And although both he and fellow 'pilot' Marino Franchitti downplay the difficulties involved in adapting to the DeltaWing experience, it's clear there are significant differences.
The entire project is only 100 days old
The back end being so much wider than the front end means placing it on the road requires recalibrated thought - easy enough for a pro - but the absence of orthodox reference points makes explaining to the engineers how they'd like the car to be changed somewhat more challenging than usual.
It's in the same press briefing that Nissan also confirms it has absolutely no expectation of getting the DeltaWing to the end of the race. The entire project is only 100 days old, and a mere 10 of these have been dedicated to testing. At the next briefing on Saturday morning, Bowlby confirms:
"The reality is we've covered about half the distance of Le Mans in testing - so there's no evidence to suggest it will finish." There's a pause, and with a characteristic wry smile he adds, "But lots of problems crept up in testing. So maybe, just maybe..."
If you discover an issue early enough it can always be resolved.
Photo story: Nissan DeltaWing at Le Mans 2012
Fix up, look sharp
And so it proves come 3pm on Saturday and the start of the 24-hour race itself. Krumm is in the car for the first stint, and the team watch on with alarm as almost immediately the engine temperature begins climbing.
The downsized 1.6-litre turbo petrol - a 300hp motorsport version of the DIG-T lump in the Nissan Juke - is looking dangerously like it's about to punctuate its own Le Mans debut by exploding.
False alarm. Of all things a TV close-up allows the team to see there's a plastic bag stuck in the air intake. Easily solved. But this is swiftly followed by a problem with the gearbox.
Ironically, it turns out this is being caused an actuator that's one of the DeltaWing's few off the shelf parts. It costs the car 12 laps as it's tricky to get to, but Krumm goes out again and the rest of his stint is a blast.
"I promised many people to bring it back!" he says later. Even so, "once we'd fixed this issue it was getting faster and faster, and after three and a half hours I found myself not wanting to stop. Then I realised I was still on the same tyres."
So as second stint driver Satoshi Motoyama takes over it's clear the DeltaWing concept really is working.
Crash, bang, wallop - wipeout
The trouble for Motoyama doesn't come from the car. It comes from other people's accidents. First of all one of the two Toyota TS03 hybrids that are attempting to challenge Audi for overall victory has a coming together with an amateur-driven Ferrari 458 Italia GT car.
Le Mans rules mean the team can replace almost anything
The result is a massive crash, which flips the Toyota into a full aerobatic roll and shoots both vehicles into the tyre wall amidst a storm of shattered carbon fibre. The drivers get out ok, but Toyota's Anthony Davidson is taken to hospital and it's soon confirmed he's broken two vertebrae.
For a long time this leaves the rest of the field trailing behind safety cars, as the circuit team remove the battered racers and replace broken barriers. This is a problem for the second Toyota, because the only way it can hope to beat Audi's rival hybrids is by running full tilt at a fearsome pace.
The Toyota is petrol, the Audis are diesel, and they can go further between fuel stops. So when the race finally gets the green light again, Nakajima in the remaining TS03 clearly decides he has to be aggressive immediately.
Carving through a pack of slower cars, he jinks left, then jinks right - and in the process bodyslams the DeltaWing right off the track.
Photo story: Nissan DeltaWing at Le Mans 2012
The making of a motor racing legend
There's an outcry. Not just in the Nissan area where I happen to be standing but right around the circuit, as we all watch the plucky little DeltaWing graze the Armco via the TV screens. At first glance it doesn't seem that big of an impact - then the car quickly comes to a dead halt. And by dead, I mean it looks terminal.
A woman swears loudly. Mostly at Toyota. Motoyama isn't about to give up though. Supported by fans instantly relaying pictures of the damage to the mechanics via Twitter, the Japanese driver sets out to try and repair it.
Le Mans rules mean the team can replace almost anything, but only if the car can be driven back to the pit garage. Trackside, Motoyama is on his own - so while a support crew quickly assembles at the scene of the accident, they can only offer advice and look on helpless through the catch fencing.
the car is so radical it was running outside the rules
In the end he spends an hour and a half trying to get the DeltaWing moving. Sadly, the obviously busted driveshaft is compounded by completely smashed steering, and the DeltaWing's Le Mans attempt is over.
A three-minute videoof Motoyama's efforts has already become an internet sensation. He and the DeltaWing are assured their place in racing history.
Is this the end for the DeltaWing?
In the future it may be difficult to understand the significance of this initial DeltaWing outing. It was never going to achieve outright victory at Le Mans 2012 - hell, the car is so radical it was running outside the rules and unclassified, hence the defiantly displayed number 0.
Whether it would have lasted the full race distance without failure is obviously impossible to determine. All I can say is that the team were beginning to think it could as the six-hour mark ticked over. Then Nakajima happened, and the DeltaWing assumed the role of new technology martyr.
it seems unlikely this is the last we'll ever see of the DeltaWing
The incident didn't do Toyota any favours, as the collision damaged the TS03 enough that it was forced to retire. This left the chequered flag to Audi which duly took all three spots on the podium - though the Toyota's apparent fragility suggests this was always going to happen.
As the hours rolled by, an Audi driver would occasionally play pinball with the barriers, and in the process the R18 proved itself ostensibly indestructible. The first hybrid win at Le Mans came didn't really come by chance to Ingolstadt, it came via more than a decade of endurance experience.
Although Nissan is yet to make any kind of official announcement it seems unlikely this is the last we'll ever see of the DeltaWing. Public and professional interest has been too high for that.
Better yet, while we'll never find ourselves behind the wheel of a road-going ride quite like Bruce Wayne's, the efficiency innovations being made here will benefit future road cars. A happy ending for us all to enjoy.
Nissan DeltaWing Le Mans racing car
The road to Le Mans with Nissan
Le Mans 2012: we've arrived
Le Mans 2012: what's all this Nissan DeltaWing business, then?
Le Mans 2012: when hybrid attack
Le Mans 2012: DeltaWing Down
Le Mans 2012: Motoyama's battle to get the DeltaWing going again [video]
Le Mans 2012: the best views are from the sky
Audi wins Le Mans in hybrid racer first
Photo story: Nissan DeltaWing at Le Mans 2012
related stories on msn
Latest Cars videos
A significant horsepower boost and some restyling brings the Aston Rapide on leaps and bounds
Date 21/05/13, Duration 2:30, Views 573