BMW will enter the Formula E championship next season, but that’s not the only electrified race program on the German automaker’s radar.
According to Motorsport, BMW is also interested in building a hydrogen-electric prototype racecar that would contest the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The idea of an electric prototype racer for Le Mans in nothing new, but with a major manufacturer like BMW backing it, the highly ambitious idea seems more feasible now than it ever has. Other proposals, such as the electric Panoz-Green4U LMP, would rely on energy dense battery packs and battery swaps to race for 24 hours, whereas a hydrogen LMP would be able to refuel like a regular race car without burning fossil fuels.
“It would be a technology to consider for a race application in endurance racing and it is something we could look at in the future from a prototype point of view,” BMW Motorsport boss Jens Marquardt told Motorsport.
Marquardt also said BMW had been in discussion with the sanctioning bodies for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the FIA and ACO, trying to lay the groundwork for a hydrogen-electric entry sometime in the near future. Such an entry would likely claim the ‘Garage 56’ entry in the race – a slot that is reserved for experimental or highly innovative racecars.
“We talked to (the FIA and ACO) about fuel cells,” he said. “This will continue; we are not closed.”
BMW has actually shown itself to be quietly interested in fuel cells. It has developed numerous hydrogen-powered passenger car prototypes and in 2015 showed off the rather weird looking i8 Hydrogen Fuel Cell. The hydrogen-electric i8 made 232 hp and could accelerate from 0-60 mph in six seconds before topping out at 124 mph. That’s certainly not race car performance, but the concept is just one example of how serious BMW is about hydrogen.
We’re cautiously confident that BMW will introduce a hydrogen-powered LMP sooner or later, seeing as the company has the ACO on its side. In a statement to Motorsport, Pierre Fillon, president of the sanctioning body, said he wants it to be possible to race at Le Mans for 24 hours without burning any fossil fuels in under 10 years. If he wants to achieve that, he’ll need the support of OEMs like BMW.
“We have a clear goal: from 2024 it should be possible to drive completely CO2-neutral at Le Mans — and that is only possible with certain technologies,” Fillon said, referencing hydrogen.
BMW has said it only wants to race using hydrogen if it haves a related product to sell soon after the race program launches. That means the German company is keen on introducing a hydrogen-electric road car, which we imagine would fall under its ‘i’ sub-brand for earth-friendly vehicles. But first, let’s see if the racing program sees the light of day.
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