British sports car manufacturer Aston Martin will soon be keeping race car drivers cool with solar-powered air-conditioning systems.
The company announced a partnership with Hanergy Global Solar Power and Applications Group to equip cars with ultra-thin solar panels that can power auxiliary features, such as air conditioning, without sucking power from the engine.
The FIA, the governing body for world motor sport, requires World Endurance Championship cars to maintain a cockpit temperature below 32 degrees Celsius (90 degress Fahrenheit) to prevent drivers from overheating. Normally, air conditioning is powered by a car's internal combustion engine, draining its power and decreasing fuel efficiency.
"It's a bit of a balancing game at the moment," Dan Sayers, chief engineer at Aston Martin Racing said in a release. "The air-conditioning system uses engine power, however, keeping the drivers cool and more comfortable is essential. If we can find a solution that keeps the driver cool without the negative effects on performance, then it could have a really positive impact on GT racing."
Aston Martin announced its plans at the 24 Hours of Le Mans sports car race in France on Saturday, and said it expects to have the first solar-equipped car ready for the next endurance race. With upcoming events in locations ranging from Texas to Bahrain, the cooling technology could make a considerable difference.
“In racing terms, when you’re talking about fractions of a second per lap, and it’s a question of winning and losing,” Ben Sayer, an Aston Martin spokesperson.
Aston Martin said the adaptation is not currently for environmental purposes, but rather for driver comfort.
"We aren't looking at solar-power technology for our race cars because it is a green option," John Gaw, Aston Martin Racing's team principal, said in a statement. "We are looking at how we can use the power of the sun to improve the comfort of our race cars for our drivers, and therefore increase our performance on track. However, we are looking at how we can improve our green credentials as a business now that we are moving to new premises."
The solar technology is currently designed as an alternative power source for V8 Vantage GTE cars. If trials with this model are successful, Aston Martin said it plans to have the solar system installed in the V12 Vantage GT3 and V8 Vantage GT4 models.
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