Ahead of the arrival of a Next Gen NASCAR at Le Mans in 2023, Hendrick Motorsports sent VP of competition, Chad Knaus, on a reconnaissance mission to the 2022 race.
“This was much more of a scouting trip to talk to vendors and get an idea of the environment from a racer’s standpoint and how to conduct the events throughout the course of the two weeks that you are over there,” Knaus explained. “It was a lot to consume, for sure, but we learned an awful lot. I would definitely hate to go over to that place and try to compete without having some type of experience like we just did.
“I think it’s going to be very valuable to understand how they do scrutineering [pre-event technical checks], how the race cadence goes and what happens throughout unloading, garage setup and environment teardown post-race. All of that was definitely valuable.”
Knaus was also keen to understand some of the logistics challenges and how the team would approach setting up and operating for the race week and the test weekend. “Things are completely different over there from how we conduct business and what would be considered a normal race (in NASCAR),” Knaus said. “Even the 24 Hours of Daytona, albeit unique, is still not as different as what it is over there. You create an environment (at Le Mans) that is your own that you live in for basically two weeks to build your cars, practice your cars, test your cars, qualify your cars and then race them.”
Talking to PMW at the Le Mans race, Knaus noted that changes will need to be made to the Next Gen car to make it suitable for endurance racing, with the extent of these changes something of a moving target. There are also various operational considerations to be addressed, such as whether trackside equipment at Le Mans will be able to move a stock car, which is considerably heavier than GT and Hypercar machines.
The next item on Hendrick’s agenda is getting a mule car on track in the late summer or early autumn. Sportscar team Action Express Racing is helping to prepare the mule, which will be used to assess the suitability of various systems and components. Once the mule car is on track, Knaus said “continuous development” will be the order of the day.
“We will try to make sure that the things we’ve changed that are different from the Next Gen stock car are functional and correct and work the way they are supposed to,” Knaus concluded. “If there are performance things we need to change or durability things we need to change, we start to get those implemented so that when we do build the real car – probably around November – it starts coming together that there are parts that are more tried and true as opposed to concept.”