Fire Puts Hydrogen-Powered Corolla Racer Out of Action

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

fire puts hydrogen powered corolla racer out of action

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.

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.

  • SPPPP It seems like a really nice car that's just still trying to find its customer.
  • MRF 95 T-Bird I owned an 87 Thunderbird aka the second generation aero bird. It was a fine driving comfortable and very reliable car. Quite underrated compared to the GM G-body mid sized coupes since unlike them they had rack and pinion steering and struts on all four wheels plus fuel injection which GM was a bit late to the game on their mid and full sized cars. When I sold it I considered a Mark VII LSC which like many had its trouble prone air suspension deleted and replaced with coils and struts. Instead I went for a MN-12 Thunderbird.
  • SCE to AUX Somebody got the bill of material mixed up and never caught it.Maybe the stud was for a different version (like the 4xe) which might use a different fuel tank.
  • Inside Looking Out Scandinavian design costs only $600? I mean the furniture.
  • Akear Lets be honest, Lucid will not be around in five years. It does not matter that it is probably the world's best EV sedan. Lucid's manufacturing and marketing is a complete mess. The truth is most EV companies are going under within the decade.