“I realised we are crazy to continue to develop chemical (benzine) engines. Electric engines are lightweight, with a lot of power.”
Weber decided against powering his prototype with a battery because of the extra weight and low power density ratio. He sought ideas from the aerospace industry, which has inspired many innovations in racing cars such as aluminium frames and aerodynamic designs. He learnt about fuel cells’ long history of powering space missions, through the Apollo missions, and decided they could make them perfect for his purposes.
“If you’re able to send something into space, they should be good for endurance race cars,” he says.
Crucially the team has developed a way to adjust the reaction in the fuel cell quickly enough for it can be used for speed control. Turbines compress air so that more can be forced into the cell, working in the same way as a turbo charger on a normal car. A butterfly throttle allows the driver to accurately control how much air enters the cell. This set up means capacitors are not needed to act as an electric buffer.
The vehicle is designed to refuel in under three minutes and requires refuelling every 40-50 minutes – similar to other Le Mans competitors.
Weber said there was no single problem that led to the difficult decision to pull out, rather that they had run out of time to complete the rigorous fine tuning and testing required to give the vehicle a chance of surviving the endurance race.
"Of course it's a big disappointment, but we know the car works, we have already tested it on the track,” he says. “Over the next few days we will reach full speed, but it's still definitely too late for Le Mans. We need to take more time to be totally sure we are ready."
He added the team planned to compete in the World Endurance Championship starting in Sao Paolo, in September, in which races last six hours. As for the 24-hour test, he said the hope is that the car will be racing around the Le Mans track in a couple of years.