INSIGHT: The one year countdown to Camaro Cup Garage 56 begins

The one-year countdown clock has begun on a collaboration between NASCAR, IMSA and the 24 Hours of Le Mans to field a modified Camaro ZL1 Cup car as a Garage 56 entry in 2023.

Days away from the 99th run of the world’s greatest endurance race, it’s the retro-inspired return of NASCAR in an official capacity at Circuit de la Sarthe for the hundredth run of the 24 Hours of Le Mans which has Daytona Beach-based organization and IMSA WeatherTech arm. SportsCar Championship works at high speed.

Following the project’s announcement in March, Hendrick Motorsports, Action Express Racing, Chevy Racing, Goodyear, Dallara and more key partners have stepped up the pace in developing a V8-powered Next Gen Cup car into something that can run well and reliably between GTs. pure car and prototype next June.

“In motorsports we know one thing for sure: The green flag will drop at the right time and we have to be ready,” IMSA president and project leader John Doonan told RACER. “For all of us working on the Garage 56 ‘NASCAR to Le Mans’ project, this fact has finally become a reality as the 365 day countdown clock has officially been activated at Hendrick Motorsports headquarters.”

Spurred on by a blue-collar approach taken back in 1976 when NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. and the Automobile Club de l’Ouest formed a special ‘Grand International’ category to host two Cup entries, the son of French sports car lover Jim has brought France and its bodies together. America’s sanctions agencies are together again for a return visit that will add some impressive layers of polish to the adventure.

Herschel McGriff and his son, Doug, took this Dodge Charger to the Circuit de la Sarthe for the Le Mans 24 Hours in 1976. A broken piston killed him after just two laps. ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images

More than 40 years ago, the journey spearheaded by France Sr. took place to celebrate America’s bicentennial, but with the NASCAR race going head-to-head on the same weekend as Le Mans, all of the Cup’s major teams extended invitations to represent the US to compete on the road course. California at Riverside. The NASCAR-to-Le Mans mission was then left to a pair of small teams, with Hershel and Doug McGriff representing the stock car organization in a 5.5-liter V8-powered Dodge Charger and a 7.0-liter Ford Torino set up for Richard Brooks, Dick Hutcherson and Marcel Mignon. by Junie Donlavey.

Together, the ‘two monsters’ are everything you’d expect—a missile in a straight line—and nothing more on their debut. Dodge held out for two laps before its engine broke down and the Ford made it to Sunday morning but stalled when the transmission gave up.

Spinning from humble resources applied to two centuries, the new program overseen in store and finally on track by seven-time Cup-winning crew chief Chad Knaus is a different beast. The full power of General Motors and all of the partners mentioned above is being applied to the Camaro ZL1 which will use the new IMSA specification energy recovery system for 2023.

This is where the standard Chevrolet Cup car, converted into a hybrid, with all the required endurance racing gear, makes ACO ready to accept the vehicle as a Garage 56 entry for innovative or unique projects.

Fans of Le Mans 24 Hours often cite the original 2012 Garage 56 entry with a Nissan Highcroft Racing-powered DeltaWing as a prototype model for a class where one car was nominated to run as an unclassified entrant in the two-day race. But like the Camaro ZL1, there is another wrinkle in its class that speaks to an open philosophy on ACO options that is not always a requirement for cutting-edge sports car design or new automotive technology.

Junie Donleavy’s NASCAR-style Ford Torino lasted a little longer than the Charger at Le Mans in 1976, but still failed to make it to the finish. ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images

France’s Frederic Sausset exemplified a different approach for the Garage 56 in 2016 when a quadruple amputated and his SRT41 By Oak Racing entry selected; with special controls installed on its LMP2 prototype, a small crane system was designed to lift Sausset in and out of the car during pit stops, and when a capable teammate was driving, the familiar entry and exit methods and standard vehicle controls were used. In the same vein, all the tech embodied in the Camaro ZL1 won’t be new at Le Mans, but as one package, the car and team will be something hundreds of thousands of fans have never seen at the event.

“While this is a very daunting task and you always like more time to get things ready, there is a very talented and dedicated group of partners who crouch down, bringing all the pieces together,” says Doonan.

“From the winning team in NASCAR history with Rick Hendrick to the winning manufacturer in NASCAR history with Chevrolet, from a NASCAR tire partner since 1954 with Goodyear to one of NASCAR’s engineering partners on Next Gen chassis with Dallara, everyone has worked hard to prepare for our first opportunity. for on-line testing. We’ve started testing the Driver-In-The-Loop simulator, and everyone is really excited to start the car and move on. It’s just a bunch of motorsports stars that made all of this happen. ”

RACER will take stock of all that’s to come in the next year for the project as it moves from virtual testing to real world runs on various road courses and then onto its debut at Le Mans. France, Doonan and Knaus will conduct reconnaissance at the event this week as they prepare for the program to intensify over the next 52 weeks.

“We have also met regularly with the leadership and technical staff of the ACO and FIA as we seek our official invitation for 2023,” said Doonan. “Everyone has been so helpful and supportive in the early stages of this challenge and we can’t wait to represent NASCAR on this global stage as Le Mans celebrates its centenary.”


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