The rocket-like machine, dubbed the Batmobile because of its looks and matt black paint job, performed brilliantly before its cruel end six hours into the epic event.
Running in a special “innovative technology” class, drivers Michael Krumm, Satoshi Motoyama and Marino Franchitti — brother of Indy champ Dario — captured the imagination of the 250,000 fans lining the track.
As expected the DeltaWing, with half the horsepower of leading sportscars but also half the drag and fuel usage thanks to its narrow front wheels and fuselage, was slower than conventional prototypes but faster than the top GT cars.
It was running reliably until it became caught up in the lead battle between a gaggle of Audis and the Toyota hybrid of ex-Formula One star Kazuki Nakajima.
The former Williams driver appeared not to see the DeltaWing, being driven by his fellow Japanese Motoyama, and gave it a hefty sideswipe in the Porsche Curves.
Motoyama flew off the track and crunched into the wall.
And despite a heroic 90-minute effort in which he tried to repair the car to get it back to the pits — helped by mechanics shouting instructions from the sidelines — it was too badly damaged to continue.
The DeltaWing drivers were furious at Nakajima’s clumsiness.
Franchitti said: “He used to hit a lot of things when he was in F1 and things don’t seem to have changed.”
Krumm pointed out there is often contact in the Japanese Super GT series in which Nakajima now competes — and he possibly forgot where he was.
Krumm added: “Satoshi did everything right. He made space to let the leaders go through but Nakajima misjudged the situation.”
Motoyama said: “I tried everything I could to fix the car but since the power train damage was particularly serious we couldn’t revive it.”
Nakajima’s Toyota was damaged by the impact. And although it was repaired in the pits the car was later retired with engine problems.
The future for the DeltaWing is uncertain as there is no motorsport category in which it can compete outside Le Mans.
Nissan Europe’s Darren Cox said he and the rest of the team were “initially gutted” by the crash.
But he added: “That feeling quickly gave way to a huge sense of pride in what we have achieved.
“Everyone should celebrate the success that the Nissan DeltaWing has been and feel pride in the impact it will have as a test bed for future innovations both on the road and track.”