An Electric Car Heads to Le Mans Next Year

By · November 27, 2012

The Green GT H2 race car that will race in Le Mans in 2013

The Green GT H2 race car that will race in Le Mans in 2013

Many people in Europe think the 24 Hours of Le Mans is the world's greatest automotive race. Nobody can argue that it's one of the most fascinating. The race's record is 3,360 miles. That was Mike Rockenfeller, Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas driving an Audi diesel. They stopped about 30 times to refill and change tires, but they spent most of those 24 hours driving as hard as they can, achieving an average speed over 140 mph. That's amazing. Yet there will something even more incredible next year—something never seen before: an attempt to complete the race in an all-electric car.

It simply sounds impossible. Electric cars don't have a high top speed or a long range, but a small French-Swiss team lead by Jean-François Weber and Christophe Schwartz decided they were up to the challenge. Their company, Green GT, is not new to electric car racing. Those guys built the race version of the Citroen Survolt concept car two years ago. But racing in Le Mans will be much more difficult.

The car will need much more power, and much more energy aboard. So the first thing is muscle, and that's where they started, by designing powerful electric motors. The engineer chose to use two of them, each making 200 kW. So that's 400 kW total, with a monstrous 2,950 lb-ft of torque at the rear wheels. The car will not be very fast though. Top speed should be only around 185 miles per hour, whereas the fastest cars in Le Mans can do more than 220 mph.

The Citroen Survolt race car was built by Green GT

The Citroen Survolt race car was built by Green GT

A far more complicated issue is energy storage. Internal combustion cars refill in less than one minute, and recharging batteries was totally out of the question in such a short time. Every minute spent at the pit is lost time. Swappable batteries were more of a solution, but there was still an issue with energy density and weight. Each lap at Le Mans is done at more than 145 mph, with some time at top speed in the Hunaudières straight. Driving at that kind of speed requires a huge lot of energy, and it would not be smart to carry on board a huge battery when most cars at Le Mans weigh less than one ton. Nobody wants the electric car to be left behind all the gas cars, so Green GT ditched the battery idea and went for a fuel cell instead. The small company designed its own 400-kW fuel cells system. With hydrogen being so light, the quantity of energy stored aboard is equivalent to 264 kWh. A battery this size with the best lithium-ion cells would weigh more than two tons.

The Green GT H2 race car that will race in Le Mans in 2013

The Green GT H2 race car that will race in Le Mans in 2013

The complete car now weighs about 2,700 pounds, and Green GT expects to reduce it to about 2,200 pounds by race time. Hydrogen consumption should be about 28 pounds an hour, so the car should refill 36 times during the race. That's if everything goes according to plan, but many things and specifications might change in the next six months. Green GT has been working on the project for more than 18 months, and besides the technical work, we should also congratulate the Automobile Club de l'Ouest, which organizes the race, for allowing an electric car running on hydrogen to take part. Not long ago, nobody thought it would be possible to have an EV at Le Mans. But in 2013, it will be real.


· Jesse Gurr (not verified) · 5 years ago

I don't see anything about regenerative braking. Too bad, they could have used that to further improve efficiency by using energy captured in braking to offset the energy from the fuel cell. I understand they didn't want to put any batteries in there but they could have used some kind of supercapacitors, or a flywheel like Porsche used.

At least hydrogen is useful for this even if it isn't really viable for everybody else.

· Fred Schechter (not verified) · 5 years ago

I ran a solar car years ago, and now race.
We recently launched our new telemetry system
It'd be great to run at Le Mans!!
264 kWh is staggering!!!
The launch must be incredible!

· EVlvr (not verified) · 5 years ago

Too bad they couldn't run the power through a two speed axle to enable a straightaway speed competitive with other race cars. And boost the fuel capacity a bit to cut down the 36 stops to 25.

· · 5 years ago

Either a 2-speed axle or, given the way EVs tend to be better, they should have put in more than the (relatively) tiny dual 200 HP electric motors. These are each smaller than the Tesla Roadster's motor and, combined, smaller than the Model S's motor.
I'd suggest that, as a minimum, an EV racing car should have about 1000 electric ponies (hp) in it.
Fortunately, it is early in electric motor sports. Pretty soon, we'll have someone get into this business that realizes there is no reason to restrict the motor rated power to that of the power source in order to get better overall system performance at minimal extra cost and weight. They could probably even put in a super capacitor KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) to store a few seconds of thrust to fully harness those extra HP while decelerating into or accelerating out of a curve.

· · 5 years ago

The car has 2 200-kW motors, so it's 544-hp total. Adding more power would have been easy, the real issue is the power source. On a long and fast track like Le Mans, extra power that only lasts a few seconds is not very useful.

· · 5 years ago

Is that 200-kW the 'rated' output or the 'nominal' output. I suspect the former. Unlike with an ICE, the rated output means the motor is running very inefficiently at that point. 400 kW / 544 hp rated sounds a bit weak to me for racing.
I suggested super-capacitors to provide surges but the overall sustained power, of course, does depend on what the battery can put out.

· · 4 years ago

The car didnt make the cut. :(

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