Toyota's Hydrogen-Combustion GR Corolla Race Car Catches Fire

Motorsport / 3 Comments

It had to withdraw from its race debut, but it will be back soon.

The hydrogen-powered GR Corolla that Toyota has been racing these past couple of years endured a serious setback on March 8 when, while testing at Fuji International Speedway, a hydrogen leak ignited causing damage to the vehicle.

According to the press release put out by Toyota, the cause of the leak was not a malfunction of the system that changes the gaseous hydrogen to liquid but instead was caused by the loosening of a pipe fitting near the engine.

Due to the incident, the GR team will not be racing the car during the first round of the ENEOS Super Taikyu Series 2023 Powered by Hankook in Suzuka on March 18 and 19, instead opting to run the gasoline-powered ORC Rookie GR Yaris.

Toyota Times
N-Rak Photo Agency

The incident was deemed to be the result of the pipe fitting coming loose due to the vibrations of driving. Toyota understands the danger that a highly flammable gas like hydrogen can cause, and so has many fail-safes and safety precautions in case of an accident. The company says that the hydrogen leak sensor was fully functional at the time, and thanks to it was able to shut off the supply of hydrogen immediately.

This meant the fire did not spread to the cabin, although the safety measures put in place for the occupants were also in proper order. Unfortunately, the fire was able to cause enough damage to keep the car out of racing for the time being as it's repaired and a better solution for the fitting is designed and implemented.

Toyota Europe

Although it's unfortunate something like this had to happen to such a cool car, it's extremely fortunate all involved were unharmed. In reality, if your car does, unfortunately, catch on fire, a racetrack is probably the best place for it to happen due to the open space and the plethora of fire safety measures being employed.

Despite all this, it's a good lesson for consumers that with any new technology, there are going to be setbacks and unforeseen issues. Hydrogen, like gasoline, is a highly flammable substance. This isn't to say that it's unsafe, but more that it will need time to progress through all the safety and engineering stages before it is fully rolled out to the public.

This is the entire reason Toyota took the car racing in the first place. The car, in the past two seasons of racing, has already improved substantially, increasing output by 24% and cruising by 30% since it first hit the track in 2021. Putting it through these extreme conditions has pushed the technology further, faster than expected.

Toyota still endeavors to become "the world's first to race with liquid hydrogen fuel" (last season's entrant ran on gaseous H2).

Toyota Times

On top of this, the company is working with British entities to produce a hydrogen Hilux to prove the usefulness of the technology in commercial products in addition to creating things like the Corolla Cross hydrogen concept to continue improving its viability in consumer products.

The company is invested in hydrogen technology, almost to its detriment, so it understands it needs to get it right before a real car is ever released. This is good news for average consumers, but bad news for hydrogen enthusiasts who are greatly looking forward to the day there will be hydrogen cars and filling stations everywhere.

As the old adage goes: it's better to be safe than sorry, especially when lives are at stake. We can say we're fine with waiting a little longer if the reward is a safer, better car for all involved.

Toyota Times

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