Ford’s GT claimed first place in its class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans on the 50th anniversary of the first of its four outright victories in the 1960s, and Porsche’s 919 Hybrid snatched a second consecutive Le Mans victory.
The unheralded news of this year’s Le Mans race, however, is a hydrogen fuel cell race car completed laps on the Le Mans circuit for the first time in history.
The pioneering car was a Green GT H2, driven around the French track by former Formula 1 driver Olivier Panis during a break in qualifying, and again before the race started.
In development for a half decade, an earlier version of the Green GT H2 merited the ‘Innovative Car’ space on the grid for the 2013 Le Mans 24 Hours but wasn’t complete enough to run laps.
The car’s appearance at this year’s race is significant because Le Mans organizers have now opened the door for hydrogen-powered prototypes to enter endurance racing in the future.
Two hydrogen fuel cells are located low on each side of the GT H2 driver’s cockpit.
A three-minute refueling fill up time provides 40 minutes of driving.
The GT H2’s fuel cell creates electricity for two 270 horsepower electric motors that drive the rear wheels.
Total power output is 544 horsepower and a massive 2,950 pounds-feet of torque.
Giving an account of the car earlier this year, Panis said, “Acceleration is linear and power seems to be unlimited. You press the accelerator and the power arrives in smooth, consistent, increasing quantities. The electric-hydrogen generator behaves like a very well-tuned engine.”
International racing’s governing body, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), and the Automobile Club de l’Ouest have established a committee to focus on getting hydrogen fuel cell cars to compete at Le Mans in the future.
The club’s sporting director, Vincent Beaumesnil said in an interview with Autosport, “Hydrogen is clearly a direction we want to follow in the future.”
Just as hydrogen fuel cell technology is being introduced in passenger cars, hydrogen cars are taking their first steps in racing.