2016 Toyota Mirai Is First Fuel-Cell Car To Pace A NASCAR Race Tonight


Even if you're not a fan of NASCAR, you may want to tune into the race tonight at Richmond International Raceway.

Specifically, you'll want to pay attention to the pace car.

That's because said pace car will be a 2016 Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel-cell sedan.

DON'T MISS: 2016 Toyota Mirai: First Drive Of Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Sedan (Dec 2014)

The Mirai will lead the 43-car field on a parade lap before the green flag at the Toyota Owners 400, part of NASCAR's main Sprint Cup series.

Toyota says the car had to be approved for pacing duty by NASCAR, undergoing a test session at Richmond to see if it met the organization's requirements.

Whatever those requirements are, they apparently aren't that extensive; the Mirai was tested and approved only yesterday.

Toyota Mirai serves as official pace car for 2015 Toyota Owners 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race

Toyota Mirai serves as official pace car for 2015 Toyota Owners 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race

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As its title sponsorship of this race indicates, Toyota is an active participant in NASCAR.

Camry-badged sedans and Tundra-badged trucks have raced in various NASCAR series for years.

They overcame some initial grumbling about a Japanese manufacturer participating in this most American form of motorsport.

MORE: 2016 Toyota Mirai Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Car: A Few Things We Noticed

Back in 2009, a Camry Hybrid also became the first hybrid car to pace a NASCAR race.

Toyota says the Mirai is the first hydrogen-fueled vehicle to pace a NASCAR race. While we don't doubt that claim, we do wonder about its significance.

It goes without saying that the quiet-running, hydrogen-powered Mirai has virtually nothing in common with the gasoline-chugging V-8 racecars it will lead onto the track.

Toyota Mirai serves as official pace car for 2015 Toyota Owners 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race

Toyota Mirai serves as official pace car for 2015 Toyota Owners 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race

Enlarge Photo
The connection between racing and road cars is marketing gold for manufacturers, but changes in technology have made it quite tenuous.

Today, strict rules for both racecars and road cars put the two on very different development paths--even in race series that use cars based on production models.

ALSO SEE: Low-Volume Assembly Line For Toyota Mirai Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Car

Racing's no-compromise emphasis on performance is also often at odds with green cars' focus on efficiency and low emissions.

Even the hybrid powertrains used in Formula One and at the 24 Hours of Le Mans have little in common with anything available in showrooms.

It's easy to overestimate the technical significance of manufacturers' involvement in racing, then, but hard to underestimate its marketing significance.

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