NASCAR wants to run one of its cars at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The sport will partner with Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet, IMSA, and Goodyear to field a Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro in the iconic endurance race in 2023.
“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.
“We look forward to showcasing the technology in the Next Gen car and putting forward a competitive entry in the historic race,” France added. “In partnering with Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, we have the winningest team, manufacturer and tire in NASCAR history.”
Chad Knaus, formerly crew chief for seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson and Vice President of Competition at Hendrick has been tapped to lead the program.
The group hopes to run the car as a Garage 56 entry, which doesn’t compete for points, running on a purely experimental basis.
Still, Rick Hendrick said: “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.”
“Participating in one of the truly iconic events in auto racing and representing NASCAR and Chevrolet on the world stage is a privilege,” Hendrick added. “It’s a humbling opportunity – one that will present an exciting challenge over the next 15 months – but our team is ready.”
The group includes partners intimately familiar with endurance racing as well, who will help to make key modifications to the Next Gen car to prepare it for Le Mans. Chevrolet itself runs a powerhouse endurance racing team.
“Chevrolet is looking forward to being a key partner with NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports and Goodyear in this historic Garage 56 effort,” said Jim Campbell, Vice President of Chevrolet Performance and Motorsports. “While many know us as the winningest manufacturer in NASCAR, we also have had great success with our Corvette Racing program at Le Mans, with eight class wins in 21 starts since 2000.”
L’Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO), which organizes the race, says the Garage 56 entry represents “the spirit of Le Mans.” This year’s race will be the first in five years to feature such an entry, with SRT41 fielding a hand-controlled car driven by paralyzed and amputee drivers.
“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 the ACO.
Ultimately, this is still in the proposal stage. NASCAR’s entry has not been confirmed to run in the race. And it’s not the only team to have expressed interest: a French company called VISION is reportedly interested in fielding a bio-methane powered supercar in the garage. The ACO will review any applications that come before it.
Fillon clarified: “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.”
This will actually be NASCAR’s second time at Le Mans.
The sport’s founder Bill France entered stock cars at Le Mans in 1976 after reaching a deal with the event’s organizers. Two NASCAR 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 Grand International class which NASCAR and the ACO had negotiated. The race got underway on June 12, 1976, but sadly NASCAR’s time at Le Mans ended early as both cars never finished; the Dodge lost an engine on the second lap, and the Torino’s transmission broke in the 11th hour.