Who was the main player behind the Garage 56 2023 Camaro ZL1 NASCAR Cup entry for the 24 Hours of Le Mans? This is a collection of very different groups with broad experiences that overlap in some areas and differ in others.
At the top of the list is NASCAR CEO Jim France, whose idea for a return trip to the Circuit de la Sarthe — 47 years after the stock car organization participated with two Cup cars in 1976 — fueled the project. France tapped IMSA Weather SportsCar Championship president John Doonan, who came to IMSA after leading Mazda’s motor racing department for many years, to capitalize on his big project skills and lead the entire effort.
Extensive knowledge of Next Gen Cup cars has been secured with John Probst, NASCAR’s VP of racing innovation and development, and Brandon Thomas, managing director of NASCAR’s vehicle systems, attached to the Garage 56 project.
“A lot of what I do is lead the collaboration between the NASCAR Technical Center and IMSA and our relationship with [Le Mans organizers] ACO,” Doonan told RACER. “The technical midfield has proven to be not only solid, but growing, so we have that facility in Concord, North Carolina, and it’s really impressive to see the team there and all the resources they put into it. So when Garage 56 came along, it was a natural extension to be able to work more closely with John and Brandon, the people who actually led the development of the Next Gen Cup car.
“Brandon, by the day, has basically been a product manager with the new Cup car, working with all the different suppliers, and John is the head of all technical stuff at NASCAR. He has been involved since the very first discussions about this Garage 56 project, and Brandon is leading the way in terms of the relationship they developed with Dallara on Next Gen cars and all the single source suppliers they have that are part of the Next Gen package.”
On the field at Hendrick Motorsports, which will run the car in testing and at Le Mans, legendary Cup crew chief Chad Knaus has been installed to manage all aspects of developing the Camaro ZL1 for endurance racing and leading the team in competition.
Chevrolet was centrally involved not only with the Camaro ZL1, but also the development of the 5.8 liter V8 engine that needed to last at least 24 hours at Le Mans and learn to work with the 40hp electronic motor that would generate energy during braking and increase its electric horsepower in strategic areas of the circuit. 8.5 miles.
Together, Mark Stielow, GM’s director of motorsport competition engineering, Jim Danahy, GM’s VP of global hardware components and subsystems, and Russ O’Blenes, GM’s racing propulsion and performance team director, represent the best that Bowtie has to offer.
“The entire engine program is led by Chevrolet,” said Doonan. “It was completely locked and loaded. Russ runs the engine program on Team Chevy. Mark is a racing project leader for GM, so he’s been heavily involved with NASCAR and IMSA, and Jim was a perfect fit on their side with the development of the car and the integration of their Le Mans powerplant into the Camaro.”
With the need to develop a rubber that would withstand the rigors of endurance racing with a Cup car, Stu Grant, GM of Goodyear’s global racing tire and Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s racing director, worked closely with the team to create a road racing and rain tire specifically. for the ZL1 at Le Mans.
“The goal of the Garage 56 project was to demonstrate the potential of the Camaro Cup hybrid car, finish races, and operate in the solid performance window among GT cars, and to do just that, thanks to their five-plus decades of tires. development on the NASCAR side, and tire development and their participation at Le Mans, Goodyear is developing a bespoke tire for this car,” said Doonan.
“So they’ve looked at the tire dimensions, the tire compound, the tire construction and how we can go a little wider, use a compound that will be different from what it would be used in NASCAR competition. So that’s what Stu and Greg are working on, providing simulation data, so we can log as many lap times as possible. We’re going there to finish, but also have a respectable lap time.”
On the chassis side, Dallara chief designers Luca Pignacca and Alex Timmermans, multi-faceted chassis and design talent whose skills are found at IndyCar and NASCAR on behalf of the constructors, round out the main group of support staff for the Camaro ZL1 Garage 56.
“Dallara played a key role in the engineering of the Next Gen Cup car, so having them in to help develop this car into an endurance racing package was a must,” said Doonan. “So between Luca and Alex, they’ve worked closely with us to find ways to bring the DNA of resilience to cars in terms of driver comfort, packaging, and even help with hybrid system integration.
“They also played an important role in my discussions with the ACO and the FIA, regarding car safety and how it relates to the requirements of the FIA and ACO. This is a huge team of companies and organizations involved in this project and we couldn’t have done it without each of our partners.”