This past weekend, race teams competed in the 82nd running of the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race, one of the oldest – and toughest –events in motorsports.
For future iterations of Le Mans, and other endurance events, Aston Martin's factory team is investigating a green way to keep its drivers cool under pressure – literally.
Aston Martin Racing is partnering with Chinese solar-panel maker Hanergy to create a solar-powered air-conditioning system for its race cars.
The carmaker campaigns race-tuned versions of its Vantage sports car in the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC). The rules of that series require all cars to have air conditioning, which can have a significant impact on a car's performance.
While necessary to keep drivers from overheating, air conditioning takes power from the engine – just as it does in a typical, road-going car – meaning the engine must work harder, decreasing fuel efficiency.
That's where Hanergy's solar panels come in.
The company says it can manufacture solar cells that are thin and flexible enough to be applied to different external surfaces – like the roof or the rear window – and that can provide enough power to run an electric air-conditioning compressor (or other electrical accessories).
Aston Martin sees the project not only as a way to keep drivers cool and comfortable, but also as another step in burnishing a green image the company tries to cultivate, with projects like a hydrogen-powered Rapide S race car.
Aston Martin Racing will continue to develop the solar-powered air-conditioning system throughout the 2014 WEC season.
Meanwhile, Prodrive – which runs the team on behalf of Aston Martin – is also mulling the use of Hanergy solar panels at its new facility in Banbury, in the United Kingdom.