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Toyota’s Hydrogen-Burning Corolla Catches Fire in Test, Pulled From Race Debut

Toyota's plans to build internal-combustion engines that burn liquid hydrogen have hit a small snag.

Just days away from making its debut in the Super Taikyu series at Suzuka, a liquid hydrogen-powered Toyota Corolla race car erupted into flames during testing and was ultimately pulled ahead of the competition. The race car, owned and operated by Toyota itself, had enough damage to its components that it had to be replaced by a gasoline-powered GR Yaris for this weekend’s race.

Seen for the first time at the series’ official test at Fuji Speedway, the Corolla showed promising pace ahead of its maiden race in the popular Japanese series. While Toyota has fielded a race car with a gaseous hydrogen setup for two seasons already, this was the first time it would run one with an engine burning liquid hydrogen.

According to Toyota, a fire developed in the engine bay of the Corolla during a private test held after the one at Fuji. Toyota claims that a pipe was rattled loose due to vibrations and began leaking hydrogen, which ultimately ignited due to the heat of the engine. The automaker claims the incident is not directly related to the switch from a gaseous hydrogen system to liquid, reinforcing that it was merely a mechanical failure.

The fire was detected by a sensor and immediately shut off the supply of hydrogen to the engine, keeping the fire from spreading from the engine bay into the cabin or other areas of the car. However, the damage was enough to force the Corolla to sit out the season-opening race and a few others while the pipe design is reviewed and corrected. Toyota claims it will attempt to have the car ready for the 24 Hours of Fuji in May, according to Motorsport.com.

Toyota has experimented with hydrogen-powered race cars for a while now, and likely will continue to invest in the technology in the future. The switch from gas to liquid nitrogen was designed to net the Corolla a longer cruising range while racing, and also to simplify handling and transporting fuel to each racing venue. Liquid hydrogen is much easier to refuel, although it must be stored at a precise temperature of -487 degrees.

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