Bob McMurray: Testing the formula
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To journalists of the motor sport world, the end of the year means reviews.
Nothing is happening on the Northern Hemisphere tracks so we can look forward to endless appraisals and analysis of the season past, the drivers, teams, races and stories that have made the headlines.
Then there’s the Christmas break and reviews give way to previews.
In my own mental review of the year there were many highlights, a few lowlights, and a lot of mediocrity balanced with excitement.
By following everything that I could on track, even some off track, and being fascinated by the various battles for championships, be they V8 Supercars, MotoGP or Formula 1 plus a multitude of others, I concluded that I could never do justice to a general season review. Therefore, that particular bandwagon will roll on without me.
One thing that has stuck in my mind, however, was a track test at the Spa Francorchamps circuit in September. The car being tested was part of the Mission H24 campaign of the ACO (Automobile Club de l'Ouest), the organisation behind the Le Mans 24 hour race.
It is not unusual to see water on the ground at the Circuit de Spa Francorchamps. It rains a lot. What was unusual this time was that the water on the ground was from the tailpipe of a car. Not a car with a failed head gasket but a car with the catchy name of LM PH2G.
A concept hybrid Le Mans prototype car powered by “green” hydrogen, a carbon-free process, with the only emission from the exhaust being water vapour, H2O to be correct.
The Le Mans event has long been a proving ground and a development test bed for innovative systems that find their way on to ordinary road cars.
Hybrid technology, disc brakes, fuel injection systems, LED lights and fog lamps are just a few of the developments that were proven in this most gruelling event.
The event began, almost 100 years ago, with a heavy focus on showcasing technologies.
Many years have passed since Formula 1 was the place to introduce any major experimental technical originality. Strict rules and regulations have seen to that; but the ACO still has a clear vision to promote technological innovations and hybrid power, coupled with a clean energy source such as hydrogen, is clearly on its horizon.
The purpose of the Spa test was to prove the reliability, speed (in excess of 300km/h), pit stop refuelling systems and safety.
Using water electrolysis, electricity is generated that, when combined with a Kinetic Energy Recovery System (Kers), apparently produced around 650 bhp (485kW) to the vehicle’s four electric motors.
In the words of the ACO president Pierre Fillon: “We believe in hydrogen, just like we believed in hybrid technology and the introduction of a limited energy allocation. Today, hybrid cars are driven on public roads across the world.”
The ambitious aim of the ACO is to have hydrogen-fuelled cars competing at the Le Mans 24 hour race by 2024.
There are challenges to be overcome before hydrogen is in general use with the storage and delivery of the chemical element paramount among those.
However, once those challenges are surmounted, perhaps purely battery-driven electric cars, with all the associated problems, will be a thing of the past as hydrogen hybrid becomes mainstream.
Many thousands of hydrogen-powered vehicles are on the world’s roads at the moment; however virtually all fall into the experimental classification. The ACO and its iconic annual event will help in pushing this hydrogen-powered technology, that has been on the brink of a breakthrough for decades, into mainstream use.
Who knows, Formula H could replace Formula E in the future.