Garage 56 offers showcase slot for Le Mans innovation


SEBRING, Fla. — Once all approvals go forward, NASCAR’s Next Gen car will be in a class by itself in a literal sense in next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports and other collaborative partners announced Thursday that they intend to enter a modified version of the Cup Series racer in the endurance classic, which will celebrate its 100th year in 2023. The Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 is intended to race as the Garage 56 entry, a designated spot in the field that showcases innovation.

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The Garage 56 entry is scored and recorded in the official results but is not eligible to compete for the podium or the overall victory. That berth is considered a “class of one” outside of the traditional classifications and an extra entry outside of the 55-car cap.

Since its creation in 2012, Garage 56 has been a proving ground for experimental and creative technology, starting with the radical Nissan DeltaWing in the program’s inaugural year. A hybrid coupe version of the DeltaWing called the ZEOD RC (Zero Emission On Demand Racing Car) marked a historic first two years later, lapping the 8.469-mile course in racing conditions solely using electric power.

“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.”

Other prospective entries in the Garage 56 category included concepts that ran on alternative fuels. The program returned in 2021 for the first time in five years, with the La Filiere Frederic Sausset by SRT41 team fielding a specially adapted Oreca 07 car with hand controls for co-drivers Nigel Bailly and Takuma Aoki, who are both paralyzed from the waist down.

The full technical aspects of the NASCAR-Hendrick project were not disclosed at Thursday’s presentation, with those details and a driver lineup to be announced at a later date. But the nature of the Garage 56 class creates an avenue for innovation and experimentation — both strong suits of Chad Knaus, Hendrick Motorsports’ vice president of competition and the Le Mans project manager.