In a clear sign that fuel-cell cars have entered mainstream automotive culture, the Toyota Mirai hydrogen-powered sedan last month made official appearances at two prominent motorsports events: the Monaco Grand Prix and the Gurston Down Speed Hill Climb.
On Sunday May 29, Prince Albert II officially opened the 2016 Monaco Grand Prix, the premier event in the Formula One season, by driving the Toyota Mirai for a lap around the famed course. The lap was intended to underscore the prince’s commitment to sustainable mobility for Monaco. The Mirai produces no tailpipe emissions other than water vapor from its fuel-cell system.
While the Mirai’s presence at Monaco was symbolic, Toyota’s hydrogen fuel-cell sedan was a real competitor at Gurston Down in Wiltshire, UK. The hill climb speed trial is one of motorsport’s oldest and most traditional events—a 1,000-yard sprint rising 140 feet along narrow windy roads. Journalist David Finlay drove a Mirai, wrapped in mirror chrome, up the course in 44.44 seconds at an average speed of 62.5mph.
It was not the first time that Toyota put a fuel-cell car on a race course. On Nov. 1, 2014—more than a year before the market introduction of the Mirai— Akio Toyoda, Toyota’s president and chief, drove an FCV prototype at the Japanese Rally Championship. The FCV was the pre-production prototype of the Mirai.
The example driven by Toyoda was specially equipped with a roll cage, bucket racing seats and a suspension slightly adjusted for rough terrain. The event represented the first time the prototype was taken on public roads. “I don’t want you to think of this car just as an eco-car, Toyoda said. “It’s a car that’s also fun to drive.”
For more than a decade, the participation of environmentally friendly cars at major motorsports events has demonstrated that low- and zero-emissions vehicles can appeal for sportiness as well as fuel parsimony. Technologies once thought anathema to motorsports—such as hybrids and vehicles using kinetic energy recovery systems (KERS)—have become dominant in endurance racing. The all-electric Formula E series is in its second year, even though battery technology creates limitation to driving times. Fuel-cell vehicles, unlike EVs, are able to drive for hundreds of miles and refuel in about five minutes. As a result, a long-range fuel-cell performance competition is a possibility for the future.
The chrome Mirai that raced at Gurston Down will make another appearance later this month at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, which runs from June 23 to 26.