Fire Puts Hydrogen-Powered Corolla Racer Out of Action

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

Toyota’s hydrogen-powered GR Corolla caught fire while testing at Fuji International Speedway last week, putting the vehicle out of action for the foreseeable future. The #32 ORC Rookie GR Corolla H2 Concept was designed as a proof of concept that fuel-cell vehicles can make excellent racers, that Toyota’s pursuit of hydrogen power hasn’t been in vain, and that net-zero emissions are achievable.

It was also supposed to compete in the first round of the ENEOS Super Taikyu Series 2023 sponsored by Hankook this weekend. However, Toyota has elected to run with the gasoline-powered ORC Rookie GR Yaris while the hydrogen model remains out of action.


With numerous automakers once again praising hydrogen as an alternative energy option, the fire has stripped Toyota’s ability to brag that it was correct all along. Then again, race cars catch fire more often than you might imagine and this may not be indicative of any shortcomings with the technology. The manufacturer seems to be making this case, too. Based on this week’s press release, the alleged culprit was nothing more than a pipe fitting rattling loose after sustained testing.


From Toyota Gazoo Racing:


During a private test run at Fuji International Speedway on March 8, a vehicle fire occurred due to a hydrogen leak from a gaseous hydrogen pipe in the engine compartment. Consequently, we could not recover the vehicle in time and were forced to abandon the race. Instead, we plan to participate with the ORC ROOKIE GR Yaris (gasoline engine).
We apologize for the concern this may cause the many people looking forward to seeing the hydrogen-powered Corolla on the track.
The hydrogen-powered Corolla in the March 8 test run used liquid hydrogen. However, the vehicle fire was not directly caused by the fuel change from gaseous hydrogen to liquid hydrogen. The cause is seen to be the loosening of a piping joint from vehicle vibration, resulting in a hydrogen leak. As the piping joint is located near the engine, the leaked hydrogen ignited when heated.
It was found that the hydrogen leak sensor fail-safe functioned properly so that the hydrogen supply was shut off, avoiding a significant spread of the fire. As a result, the cabin was protected, and the safety measures for the occupants were confirmed.

The rest of the car wasn’t so lucky and sounds like it’s going to be out of commission for a while. Toyota’s racing team has said it would like to review the piping design that caused the hydrogen leak so that it can continue building safer vehicles.


While your author is ready to be skeptical about the future of hydrogen vehicles over questions pertaining to its lackluster fueling infrastructure and the fact that production uses methane gas while emitting a significant amount of carbon dioxide, it’s harder to chide Toyota for chasing down novel technologies. Even if green hydrogen (based around electrolysis using renewable energy sources) turns out to be impossible, it doesn’t seem fair to lambast someone for trying something new.


But this remains an embarrassing moment for one of the companies that haven’t given up on hydrogen-powered vehicles, as the general public won’t be looking at the efficiency breakdowns of hydrogen production. They’ll just look at the headline, note that a hydrogen-powered Toyota caught fire, and get on with their day a little more skeptical of the technology than they were before.

[Image: Toyota]

Become a TTAC insider. Get the latest news, features, TTAC takes, and everything else that gets to the truth about cars first by  subscribing to our newsletter.

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

More by Matt Posky

Comments
Join the conversation
4 of 7 comments
  • Inside Looking Out Inside Looking Out on Mar 16, 2023

    Which is better: burning Li-ion battery or exploding H2 tank?

    • SCE to AUX SCE to AUX on Mar 17, 2023

      That's easy. You have time to escape from a burning battery, not an explosion.

      Little mention is ever made about the fact that hydrogen is stored at 10,000 psi in a fuel cell vehicle. The explosive mechanical forces alone could be deadly, even without a fire.

  • Fred Fred on Mar 17, 2023

    The battle of hydrogen vs electric cars reminds me of the beta vs VHS battle.

  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X As much problems as I had with my '96 Chevy Impala SS.....I would love to try one again. I've seen a Dark Cherry Metallic one today and it looked great.
  • Susan O’Neil There is a good reason to keep the Chevrolet Malibu and other 4 door family sedans! You can transport your parents and other somewhat handicapped people comfortably and safety! If someone can stand and pivot you can put them in your car. An armrest in the back seat is appreciated and a handle above the door! Oh…and leather seats so your passenger can slide across the seat! 😊Plus, you can place a full sized wheelchair or walker in the trunk! The car sits a little lower…so it’s doable! I currently have a Ford Fusion and we have a Honda Accord. Our previous cars were Mercury Sables-excellent for transporting handicapped people and equipment! As the population ages-sedans are a very practical choice! POV from a retired handicapped advocate and daughter! 😊
  • Freddie Remember those ads that say "Call your doctor if you still have...after four hours"?You don't need to call your doctor, just get behind the wheel of a CUV. In fact, just look at one.I'm a car guy with finite resources; I can't afford a practical car during the week plus a fun car on the weekend. My solution is my Honda Civic Si 4 door sedan. Maybe yours is a Dodge Charger (a lot of new Chargers are still on dealer lots).
  • Daniel J Interesting in that we have several weeks where the temperature stays below 45 but all weather tires can't be found in a shop anywhere. I guess all seasons are "good enough".
  • Steve Biro For all the talk about sedans vs CUVs and SUVs, I simply can’t bring myself to buy any modern vehicle. And I know it’s only going to get worse.
Next