Days of thunder return to Le Mans in 2023
A surprise announcement at the 1000 Miles of Sebring has launched Chevrolet's latest stock car towards a Garage 56 entry at the 24 Hours of Le Mans
NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports have jointly announced that the sight and sound of American stock cars will return to the Circuit de la Sarthe in 2023, using the experimental Garage 56 entry in the 100th anniversary edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours. As ever since the founding of the FIA World Endurance Championship, the race will form the centrepiece of the WEC season.
The entry will be a modified version of the Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 race car, which debuted in the NASCAR Cup earlier this season. The Next Gen cars are much closer to contemporary GT racers than previous generations of stock cars, featuring composite bodies, sequential transmissions and 18-inch alloy wheels with a single racing retaining nut and low profile tyres.
Garage 56 was introduced in 2012 as a special single-entry class reserved for innovative cars. It allows for the testing of new technologies and fostering of creativity and innovation without taking away the spot of a car from the traditional starting grid.
“Garage 56 is a special opportunity at Le Mans since this race has been a leader in technological process for the auto industry over its nearly century long existence,” said Pierre Fillon, president of l'Automobile Club de l'Ouest (ACO).
“When the ACO receives an application for a Garage 56 program, we begin by talking with designers, team partners and suppliers in order to set performance parameters such that the program can be successful for everyone involved. We will continue to work with NASCAR and all their partners as they work toward their proposed 2023 Garage 56 project.”
The story of NASCAR and Le Mans began 60 years ago this year when Daytona 500 winner ‘Fireball’ Roberts travelled to France to take part in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in a Ferrari, finishing sixth overall.
The first outright victory for a NASCAR regular followed in 1967 when AJ Foyt shared the winning Ford Mk.IV with Dan Gurney, which like the 1966 winning Ford Mk.II, was powered by the same 7-litre V8 engine as the blue oval’s NASCAR contenders.
In 1976 two NASCAR teams travelled across the Atlantic to start the 44th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans: the Dodge Charger of Hershel McGriff/Doug McGriff and the Ford Torino of Dick Brooks/Dick Hutcherson/Marcel Mignot. Neither car finished, but their thunderous engines left a huge impression on all who were present.
Most recently, in 2011, the 2001 Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip entered the 24 Hours of Le Mans with AF Corse in a Ferrari F430 GT, finishing sixth in the LMGTE Am class.
Hendrick Motorsports is the all-time leader in NASCAR Cup Series championships, points-paying victories and laps led. The team is coming off its second consecutive title and has won two of the four races in 2022. Seven-time champion crew chief Chad Knaus will serve as its Garage 56 program manager at Le Mans.
“From the early days of NASCAR, it was important to my father that we played a visible role in international motorsports, and there is no bigger stage than the 24 Hours of Le Mans,” said Jim France, NASCAR Chairman and CEO. “In partnering with Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, we have the winningest team, manufacturer and tire in NASCAR history. We look forward to showcasing the technology in the Next Gen car and putting forward a competitive entry in the historic race.”