Around 400 meters from the buzz of the paddock throughout this 12 months’s 24 Hours of Le Mans stood a tent with two racing cars and a cell fueling station. Every at times, folks carrying blue T-shirts bearing the emblem of “Mission H24” would stroll by the cars to attend conferences in a motor residence sitting subsequent to the tent.
One of these folks was François Granet of the Franco-Swiss firm GreenGT. He appeared significantly thrilled as a result of, on the eve of the begin of this 12 months’s race, the ACO (Automobile Club de l’Ouest), which organizes the 24 Hours of Le Mans, introduced a brand new class of race cars at the Le Mans occasion for 2025: hydrogen-electric prototypes. The firm’s forerunners had been stationed in that tent.
Creating a class
GreenGT is growing the hydrogen gasoline cell powertrain for these cars, which can be designed round a chassis constructed by Oreca and Red Bull Technologies. “In partnership with ACO, we are helping define the sporting and technical regulations for the new category,” Granet stated.
The H24 automotive, the newest of the two prototypes, is being examined at completely different circuits throughout Europe. It ran some assessments at Le Mans on the days main up to this 12 months’s race and did an illustration lap of the 13.6 km (8.5 mile) circuit simply earlier than the begin on Saturday afternoon. “The data from these tests help us to understand and improve the car’s performance, which forms the basis of creating the regulations for the new category,” he stated.
One of the drivers who examined the H24 throughout the weekend was Stéphane Richelmi, a previous winner at Le Mans. Richelmi, who received the 24-hour race in the LMP2 class in 2016, stated he was most impressed with the hydrogen engine’s energy. “Since it’s a new technology and doesn’t use either petrol or diesel, I was expecting the car to have low torque and a low top speed,” he stated. “But it delivered more torque than a petrol engine, and even without pushing too hard, the car easily reached 280 km/hr [174 mph] on the straights.”
The 32-year-old from Monaco stated driving the automotive for the first time felt a bit unusual. “It reminded me of my karting days,” he stated. “There is the engine, brakes, acceleration pedal, and steering wheel—but no gearbox, which normally is a big part of a racing car.”
The H24 is powered purely by electrical energy. The gasoline cell stacks use hydrogen and oxygen to provide electrical energy, most of which is instantly fed into the motor. But a component is fed into the battery, which is used for quicker acceleration, equivalent to when a automotive is exiting a nook.
According to Richelmi, his function is to “feel” the automotive on the monitor and provides this data to the engineers. “The engineers see many things with data and simulation,” he stated. But as a driver, you get an actual really feel of the automotive. My function is to inform engineers that, in sure circumstances, whereas issues might look good on the computer systems, it is probably not good on the monitor.”
The powertrain makes a high-pitched buzz, and Richelmi stated drivers can hear extra of the automotive. During the assessments, the automotive was full of high-pressure hydrogen at a fueling station developed by TotalEnergies. “While we kept the pressure at 400 bars for the tests, the tanks can hold hydrogen up to 700 bars. The higher pressure means there is more hydrogen volume, which means more autonomy,” Granet defined. For a single lap of the Le Mans circuit, the automotive used 800 g of hydrogen.
Although the assessments have been encouraging, there are lots of hurdles to clear earlier than the automotive turns into prepared for racing when it comes to velocity and endurance. The first of those challenges is weight discount. “At 1,400 kg, the H24 still weighs 450 kg more than a LMP3 car and 155 kg more than a GT3 car. But since it’s a raw prototype, we can work on every single part to try to reduce weight,” Granet stated.
For GreenGT, the H24 challenge has a symbiotic relationship with the hydrogen vehicles the firm has developed for heavy business. The 44-tonne (48.5 ton) vehicles will be capable to travel 450 km (280 miles) on a single fill-up. “We bring technologies from trucks to the racing car and vice versa,” Granet stated. “Though the objectives of a racing car and a truck are different, there are many similarities, starting with the powertrain technology. Interestingly, the power output of the engines for H24 and our trucks is somewhat similar.”
According to Granet, optimizing energy and consuming much less hydrogen are key, they usually would possibly profit from issues like optimizing the humidification of air when oxygen enters the gasoline cell. This form of adjustment is frequent to each the initiatives.
Granet additionally argued for the advantages of utilizing hydrogen powertrains. “An electric engine is far more efficient than a normal aspirated four-stroke engine. More importantly, it is clean energy, as it emits just water vapor. Moreover, we are also targeting the use of only green hydrogen that is produced from nonpolluting sources,” he stated.
Dhananjay Khadilkar is a journalist primarily based in Paris.