On the eve of the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans, Toyota rolled out a concept car fueled by hydrogen that may just preview a race car that will take to the Circuit de la Sarthe in 2026.
The Toyota GR H2 Racing concept is a Le Mans prototype race car that features a hybrid powertrain, where the internal-combustion engine runs on hydrogen.
As automakers look to eliminate tailpipe emissions, one solution being investigated is the use of hydrogen engines. Toyota is one of the biggest proponents of the technology and has competed with a Corolla-based race car fitted with a hydrogen engine in Japan's Super Taikyu Series since 2021.
When burning hydrogen, there are zero CO2 emissions. However, there are harmful nitrogen oxides that need to be treated with using urea-based selective catalytic reduction like in modern diesel engines. Another drawback of hydrogen is the current lack of fueling stations.
Toyota didn't say what engine features in the GR H2 Racing concept, though the automaker is known to be developing a V-8 hydrogen engine with Yamaha, the same company that developed the 4.8-liter V-10 used in the Lexus LFA supercar. It's possible the engine will end up in a race car similar to the GR H2 Racing.
Toyota said the concept isn't purely a styling exercise. It was developed with future competition in mind. The World Endurance Championship, whose main event is the Le Mans race, plans to introduce a class for hydrogen-powered cars (including fuel cell cars) in 2026. The organizers have also pledged to use Balance of Performance rules to ensure the hydrogen-powered cars are competitive.
Alpine, which also competes in the World Endurance Championship, last year rolled out its own concept car with a hydrogen engine, and Porsche, the most successful automaker at Le Mans, has confirmed it is developing a hydrogen engine.