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The project was revealed in a joint announcement between NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet, the Automobile Club de l’Ouest and IMSA at the Sebring 12 Hours on Thursday afternoon.
They plan to take a modified Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 to the famed French sportscar classic as an homage to NASCAR founder Bill France Sr taking stock cars to the race almost half a century ago.
Further details, including technical elements of the car and the team’s driver lineup, will be announced at a later date.
“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. “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 Motorsports is the all-time leader in NASCAR Cup Series championships, points-paying victories and laps led. Its seven-time 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.”
Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Photo by: NASCAR Media
Bill France first brought stock cars to Le Mans on June 12, 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 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,” said 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.”
Chevrolet Performance and Motorsports VP Jim Campbell added: “NASCAR is going back to Le Mans! Chevrolet is looking forward to being a key partner with NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports and Goodyear in this historic Garage 56 effort.
“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. At Chevrolet, we love to compete and we can’t wait to get started on this program.”
#81 Stratagraph Chevrolet Camaro: Billy Hagan, Gene Felton, Tom Williams
Photo by: Jean-Philippe Legrand
The Camaro name is no stranger to Le Mans: Billy Hagan’s Stratagraph team scored a 17th-place finish overall in 1982 with Billy Hagan, Gene Felton and Tom Williams driving a 5.4-litre V8-powered car running the IMSA GTO class (above). The team’s second car, driven by NASCAR veterans Dick Brooks and Hershel McGriff, wasn’t classified.
Garage 56 is the entry that the ACO sets aside for the “technology of tomorrow and beyond” of innovative machinery.
The first Garage 56 car was the Nissan DeltaWing in 2012, which ultimately led to the Nissan ZEOD RC that completed one lap of the Circuit de la Sarthe on electrical power only.
The most recent entry was the SRT 41 car that allowed quadruple amputee Frederic Sausset to contest the 2016 race and then return last year, with Sausset overseeing the operation this time, with two drivers who were paralyzed from the waist down.