Aston Martin’s race team will start using solar power to cool its cars in Le Mans type of endurance race, known as WEC.

Aston Martin Racing signed a partnership agreement with solar technologies experts Hanergy Global Solar in a project exploring how the sun’s energy can be used to improve race car performance in the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC).

Aston Martin Racing explained Hanergy, a Beijing-based, global clean energy company, is the largest thin-film solar panel company in the world. It is best known for its high-quality solar photovoltaic panels that are installed on building roofs to power homes and industry and feeding surplus power back into electricity grids.

As part of its ambitious growth plans, Hanergy stated it is exploring wider applications of its technologies, investigating how solar power can be incorporated into many new areas to improve efficiency and enhance performance. In doing so it has turned to Aston Martin Racing for its latest project.

“We can now manufacture photovoltaic solar panels that are thin, lightweight and flexible, with world leading performance” explains Jason Chow, Executive President Hanergy Global PV Application Group. “We are interested in developing these for cars, so that, for example, a thin layer of cells can be applied to the roof or rear window to power the air-conditioning or other ancillary functions without affecting the performance of the car or using the fuel or battery source. The engineers at Aston Martin Racing are helping us to apply our technology and eventually to put it to the test in the most extreme of automotive environments.”

In line with current FIA WEC regulations, Aston Martin explained GT cars must be fitted with an air conditioning system that keeps the temperature of the cockpit below 32 degrees centigrade or 12 degrees above ambient temperature. This rule has been set because high temperatures in the race car can have extremely negative affects on drivers and, with the WEC travelling to hot destinations such Austin and Bahrain, it is a concern for all of the teams. However, running air conditioning causes loss of power to the engine and negatively affects the car’s fuel efficiency.

“It’s a bit of a balancing game at the moment,” explained Dan Sayers, Chief Engineer at Aston Martin Racing. “The air conditioning system uses engine power, however, keeping the drivers cool and more comfortable is essential. If we can find a solution that keeps the driver cool without the negative effects on performance then it could have a really positive impact on GT racing.”

It is a bit twisted but interesting to see the sun’s energy used to cool down an interior it has heated up through its own rays.

Aston Martin Racing also said it is continually improving the comfort of its range of Vantage race cars that compete in championships around the world and the technology could be introduced to the V12 Vantage GT3 and V8 Vantage GT4 once developed.

“We aren’t looking at solar power technology for our race cars because it is a green option,” explains Aston Martin Racing’s Team Principal John Gaw. “We are looking at how we can use the power of the sun to improve the comfort of our race cars for our drivers and therefore increase our performance on track. However, we are looking at how we can improve our green credentials as a business now that we are moving to new premises.”

Prodrive, which runs Aston Martin Racing on behalf of the British brand, said it will move to new premises in Banbury next year and the company is investigating how Hanergy’s solar technologies can be integrated into the new building to improve efficiency.

The WEC solar project will run throughout 2014 with the engineers developing the technology at Aston Martin Racing’s premises ahead the next round of the WEC, the Six Hours of Austin, at the Circuit of the Americas.