The most unusual thing about the race car Aston Martin is bringing to this year’s 24 Hours of Nurburgring isn’t that it’s a four-door V-12 coupe. It’s that the car will be powered by hydrogen.
Aston announced Friday that it would field a Rapide S that’s powered by a prototype twin-turbocharged, 6.0-liter engine that can run on gasoline, gaseous hydrogen or a mixture of both.
Exact horsepower figures have yet to be determined, but Aston Martin spokesman Matt Clarke said the company expects it to at least be in the neighborhood of the stock Rapide S’s 550-horsepower output.
The Gaydon, England-based automaker said it’s the first time in international racing that a hydrogen-powered car has competed. It’s also the first car to compete in the grueling 24-hour race in central Germany that is capable of emitting no carbon dioxide.
Aston developed the prototype fuel system in conjunction with Alset Global, a company with plenty of prior experience in hydrogen engines. Two of the four hydrogen tanks are positioned next to the driver and two are stored in the Rapide’s trunk. The tanks themselves are made of ultra-high-strength carbon fiber, according to Aston.
Though the company has no immediate plans for a hydrogen-powered production car, Clarke said the race car is an engineering exercise aimed at exploring the possibilities of hydrogen propulsion.
"We think this technology has some great potential," Clarke said. "If people don’t start to do this sort of thing, the debate will never happen."
Not only will the car be driven in the race by various engineers from Aston Martin, Clarke said, but Aston Martin’s chief executive, Dr. Ulrich Bez, will himself log plenty of seat time during the race, which begins May 19. Bez has driven other Astons in previous iterations of this race.
Keeping Bez safe will be a host of mandatory safety systems for all cars competing in the race. This includes a full roll cage, fire suppression system and race seats with harness.