In 2017, 24 Hour of Le Mans organizer, Automobile Club de l’Ouest, began work to establish a zero-emissions hydrogen class for the famous twice-around-the-clock endurance race. The target was a 2024 launch, before being pushed back to 2025 due to concerns about competitiveness. Unfortunately, the ACO has decided to push the target back another year to 2026 due to unforeseen delays the organizer is blaming on the COVID-19 pandemic.
Motorsport reports the ACO is mostly concerned with ensuring hydrogen cars are truly competitive before being introduced during the most famous endurance race in the world. Regulations for the class are due to be outlined this year pending further discussions with interested manufacturers. French brand, Alpine, has gone on record saying development for a hydrogen-powered Le Mans car is already underway, meanwhile, Toyota has had a hydrogen-powered Corolla running around racing in the Japanese Super Taikyu series for nearly two years now.
All of this actually started back in 2013 when GreenGT was granted a Le Mans Garage 56 entry for its hydrogen-electric project– the same Garage 56 is slotted to host a converted NASCAR Cup Car later this year. The GreenGT hydrogen car never made the race in 2013, the technology was too nascent and unreliable at the time. However, the goal hasn’t been forgotten, and the Swiss-based GreenGT team has been steadily working with the ACO to develop a hydrogen-powered LMP3 car under the MISSIONH24 banner.
The first LMPH2G prototype was launched in 2018 with the car making several demo runs at Spa-Francorchamps during the European Le Mans Series weekend at the legendary Ardenne circuit. At the time, ACO president Pierre Fillon “We believe in hydrogen, just like we believed in hybrid technology and the introduction of a limited energy allocation.”
Fast forward to 2021 and the GreenGT LMP3-based prototype made its official debut during free practice sessions of Michelin Le Mans Cup events. During 2022 the LMPH2G participated in several MLMC race events, posting times on par with GT3 machinery. Since 2018 the LMPH2G has racked up over 10,000 km of hydrogen running. Look for the team to continue developing the concept as the ACO looks to develop a proper ruleset for the hydrogen class.
While competing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans represents the pinnacle of motorsport and endurance racing, there are hydrogen race cars that have already proven the validity of the technology. In particular, Toyota has already fielded a hydrogen-combustion-powered Corolla race car in Japanese endurance touring car racing.
What could it mean for the sport? What could it mean for how automakers like Stellantis, General Motors, and Ford Motor Company pursue a zero emissions future? And how would hydrogen racing technology transfer to production vehicles? Hopefully in amazing ways. We’ll have to stay tuned to see what happens next.