Next year’s Le Mans 24 Hours should see a sight not seen since 1976 – a NASCAR stock car on the grid.
The entry will be a modified version of the Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 race car and is a collaboration between NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet, IMSA, and Goodyear. With the Next Gen platform moving much closer to current GT car design, albeit in heavier form (a GTE car is 1,250kg, a stock car around 1,450kg), developing a car for the challenges of La Sarthe is now feasible.
“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, announcing the project at the Sebring round of the WEC. “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.”
Hendrick’s seven-time NASCAR champion crew chief Chad Knaus will serve as its Garage 56 program manager. “Participating in one of the truly iconic events in auto racing and representing NASCAR and Chevrolet on the world stage is a privilege,” said Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports. “Jim deserves tremendous credit for having the vision for the project, and we thank him for trusting our organization with the responsibility. Even though Garage 56 is a ‘class of one,’ we are competitors and have every intention of putting a bold product on the racetrack for the fans at Le Mans. It’s a humbling opportunity – one that will present an exciting challenge over the next 15 months – but our team is ready.”
Bill France Snr first brought stock cars to Le Mans in 1976, after reaching a deal with the event’s organizers. Two race cars — a Dodge Charger owned and driven by Hershel McGriff, and a Junie Donlavey-owned Ford Torino driven by Richard Brooks and Dick Hutcherson — competed in a newly created Grand International class.
“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,” added Pierre Fillon, president of l’Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO), the organizer of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
“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.”