Hydrogen class introduction at Le Mans set for delay, 2027 «more realistic»

Pierre Fillon, president of Le Mans organiser and WEC promoter the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, has stated that he believes that the new target of 2026 outlined in the week of this year’s edition of the French enduro in June is looking increasingly impractical.

“It is not realistic [for 2026],” said Fillon. “We have to spend some time on the safety, and it is longer than we expected.

“I think ’27 is more realistic.”

Hydrogen fuel cell prototypes were originally slated to be allowed at Le Mans from 2024 with a one-make chassis co-developed by Red Bull Advanced Technologies and ORECA, though this was subsequently pushed back to 2025.

The ACO and the FIA, which jointly run the WEC, updated their plans for the alternative fuel at this year’s running of the French enduro.

It was announced that internal combustion engined-prototypes powered by hydrogen would be allowed to race against fuel cell machinery, with the confirmation of a new start date in 2026.

The idea is that hydrogen-fuelled cars will be able to compete for overall victory in the Hypercar class alongside Le Mans Hypercar and LMDh machinery.

June’s news coincided with the announcement of Toyota’s intent to compete at the pinnacle of endurance racing with a combustion-engined hydrogen prototype and the unveiling of a mock-up of a development car known as the GR H2 on the Friday of race week.

GR H2 Racing Concept

Photo by: Toyota Racing

GR H2 Racing Concept

This car builds on Toyota’s experience of racing in Japan with the Corolla H2 since 2021 powered by the engine from the Yaris WRC rally car.

The announcement effectively meant that ideas for a one-make chassis have been abandoned, though this has yet to be formally confirmed by the ACO.

Toyota Gazoo Racing Europe technical director Pascal Vasselon stated at Le Mans that he believes it would be feasible for a manufacturer to compete for outright honours with a hydrogen car as early as 2026, using either combustion or fuel cell technology.

“Everything is possible with a technological push,” he said.

“There is no road block if the technological level is allowed — it should be feasible.”

The ACO started talking about hydrogen as a potential fuel for Le Mans as long ago as 2018 and entered into a joint-venture with the Franco-Swiss GreenGT organisation to pioneer fuel cell technology in racing under the MissionH24 banner

Plans for a third-generation MissionH24 prototype were unveiled last month.

The car, which is as yet remains unnamed, is being developed around a chassis built by German constructor ADESS and is set to begin racing in 2025.

MissionH24 prototype

Photo by: ACO

MissionH24 prototype

It has been designed, like its predecessor known simply as the H24, to compete in the Michelin-sponsored Le Mans Cup on the European Le Mans bill.

Fillon explained that it could also race in the ELMS, but that there are no plans for it to fill the Garage 56 grid spot at Le Mans reserved for an experimental car.

“The H24 is for racing in the Le Mans Cup or maybe in ELMS, not Le Mans,” he said.

“The target of for the H24 is to have the same performance as GT3 — we are not a manufacturer.

“This car is just a laboratory to know better what we have to do in terms of safety and refuelling; we will learn a lot with this car.”

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