Awhile back, Le Mans prototype racers leading the field were newly, suspiciously quiet because of their diesel and hybrid engines. At the other aural end, the naturally aspirated V8s in the Corvette and Panoz race cars were wonderfully, monumentally loud. Panoz is gone from the World Endurance Championship and Corvette's gone flat-plane crank, leaving no factory team to fill Le Mans with the sound of ... America. That could change in a few months thanks to this, the Garage 56 project for Le Mans, a Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 based on NASCAR's current Next Gen Cup car. Assuming all gets approved by the chieftains at French organizer ACO, the South is about to holler at La Sarthe on June 10-11.
Garage 56 is the Le Mans name for innovative, experimental entries invited to run the race and occupy pit #56, which only happens occasionally. The La Filiere Frederic Sausset by SRT41 team invited in 2021 was the first Garage 56 outfit in five years. The last one we wrote about regularly was the Nissan Deltawing that campaigned at Le Mans in 2012.
The idea for parking a revised Cup car in Garage 56 apparently came from NASCAR CEO Jim France, who suggested a Chevy with a hybrid powertrain to ACO President Pierre Fillon. It would make quite the collaboration for two series celebrating big birthdays this year, Le Mans turning 100 years old, NASCAR turning 75. There's no hybrid to be found on the car, though, so we don't know how that might affect entry. Being this close to Le Mans with the introduction, we'd imaging France and Fillon have sorted out the details.
Hendrick Motorsports is running the show and has spent the past year working with NASCAR, Chevrolet, and Goodyear on development. All the backers showed off the Camaro's livery at the weekend's Daytona 500, the blue and sliver paint job getting gold accents and an American flag emerging from the central hood duct. Underneath the paint is a much lighter version of a Cup car with endurance racing tweaks. The Camaro's the same width and height as the Next Gen car but two inches longer. Dive planes are new, as are a Le Mans-specific front splitter, undertray, and diffuser. The rear spoiler stands six inches tall, two more than the unit on the Cup car. The fuel cell holds 32 gallons as opposed to NASCAR's 20-gallon cell. That cell will be filled with the WEC spec fuel, TotalEnergies’ Excellium Racing 100, a bioethanol made with waste from French vineyards. Special Goodyear Racing Eagle tires wrap BBS 18-inch aluminum wheels. And because the French don't light Le Mans like Talladaga, there are working headlights and taillights.
Lightweight mods from bodywork to componentry to the composite disc brakes cut 525 pounds, the Garage 56 runner coming in at 2,960 pounds dry. Hendrick Motorsports VP of competition Chad Knaus said naturally aspirated 5.8-liter cast iron Chevrolet small-block V8 will produce horsepower in the "high seven hundreds." Output gets sent through a five-speed sequential transmission, the noise gets sent to a set of side pipes.
The driver trio is like a Race of Champions roster. Two-time Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller shares duties with seven-time Cup champion Jimmy Johnson and Formula 1 World Champion Jenson Button. They've help put the prototype through more than 3,600 miles of testing since last August at Road Atlanta, Virginia International Raceway, Goodyear Proving Grounds, Carolina Motorsports Park, Sebring International Raceway, and Daytona. The next test returns to Sebring on President's Day, the team making its first attempt at running a full 24 hours.
Jim France said, "From the beginning of this project, it was important to us that the car we bring to Le Mans is a true NASCAR stock car.” Knaus said, "I think the folks in Europe are really going to be impressed what the NASCAR community’s capable of putting on the race track. It’s a really clean race car."
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