NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports are about to take on a prestigious endurance race. The sanctioning body and the championship organization have announced their intention to compete in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans.
NASCAR announced the news on March 17 during a special event. President Steve Phelps confirmed that Hendrick Motorsports will build a modified version of the Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro, which will be the Garage 56 entry. This designation applies to the single-entry class reserved for innovative cars. Founded in 2012, Garage 56 provides organizations with the opportunity to test new technology without taking away a spot from a car on the starting grid.
It must be noted that the parties have only announced their intentions. They do not have a guaranteed spot in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. They must receive an invitation from Automobile Club de l’Ouest (organizer of the 24 Hours of Le Mans) to take the Garage 56 spot.
“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 a press release. “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.”
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The 24 Hours of Le Mans, which has taken place every year since 1923, is the oldest endurance race in the world. It is part of the Triple Crown of Motorsport, joining the Indianapolis 500 and the Monaco Grand Prix, making it one of the most prestigious events. Fittingly, the 24 Hours of Le Mans has the title of the Grand Prix of Endurance and Efficiency.
NASCAR Will Reveal Drivers at a Later Date
The Garage 56 entry will field some championship-winning talent as it showcases the specially-built Gen 7 Camaro. Chad Knaus, who won seven titles with Jimmie Johnson, will serve as the manager of the program.
There will also be multiple talented drivers that take part in the prestigious endurance race. However, NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports will not reveal their identities until a later date. For now, the organization will focus on building the car that will compete at Circuit de la Sarthe, Le Mans (France).
There are obvious scheduling conflicts for potential drivers considering that the 24 Hours of Le Mans takes place during June, which is deep in the NASCAR Cup Series season. There is a scenario where members of Hendrick Motorsports head over to France for the prestigious race, but the 2023 schedule will play a significant role in determining driver availability.
Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick noted that he would like to have a Cup Series driver in the mix for the lineup. He acknowledged that Johnson would be a possible driver if his IndyCar schedule does not pose problems due to his experience at the Rolex 24. Hendrick also jokingly brought up another option during the press conference when he said that he would make Jeff Gordon go on a diet so he could participate.
“Participating in one of the truly iconic events in auto racing and representing NASCAR and Chevrolet on the world stage is a privilege,” Hendrick said in a statement. “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.”
NASCAR Has History in the 24 Hours of Le Mans
The 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans will not mark the first time that NASCAR has gotten involved in the prestigious endurance race. Back in 1976, Bill France brought stock cars to Le Mans after he reached a deal with the event’s organizers.
There were two NASCAR race cars that competed in the 1976 event. Hershel McGriff drove a Dodge Charger that he owned while Richard Brooks and Dick Hutcherson drove a Junie Donlavey owned Ford Torino in the newly-created Grand International class.
While NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports will not compete against any other teams while racing in the single-car class, they will have important goals to pursue. Specifically, they want to complete every single lap and finish the race while running well. Simply motoring around the track will not be acceptable.
“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,” said Jim Campbell, Vice President, 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. At Chevrolet, we love to compete and we can’t wait to get started on this program.”