SEBRING, Fla. — Even with the 24 Hours of Le Mans less than two months away, the Garage 56 team is still finding out new things about its Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 entry. Jordan Taylor, the group’s Le Mans alternate driver and de facto coach, lifted up the car’s hinged roof flap before a morning test run and found just a body panel underneath.
“We should keep some snacks in there,” Taylor said to teammate Mike Rockenfeller, perhaps thinking about the sustenance needed for the endurance race that awaits.
“Is that where they smuggle the moonshine?” Rockenfeller cracked back with a grin. “They still do that?”
There was no rum-running Monday at Sebring International Raceway during the first of two days of Garage 56 testing, no illicit transport of white lightning through the center of the Sunshine State in a nod to NASCAR’s bootlegging roots. Instead, the historic 3.74-mile circuit was the proving ground for final tuning before the car heads to France for the 100th-anniversary classic June 10-11.
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The two cars on hand at Sebring both looked the part of being race-ready, with the No. 24 number plate newly affixed along with other certification stickers for the FIA and ACO governing bodies. The cars also bore a sticker identifying the Next Gen-based racer’s Le Mans classification — “IC” for “Innovative Car.”
As for the rest of the final preparations, Monday was a step toward making those complete.
“From a purely durability point of view, I think everyone’s pretty confident,” said Taylor, noting the strides the team made in endurance testing here in February. “A couple of small things that we’re still running through at this test to see how everything shakes out, but yeah, working on little handling and tuning tweaks to make the car quicker and more competitive and fitting into what the ACO (Automobile Club de l’Ouest) wants to see. So a lot of little details, but I think it’s nice to be here practicing more, our pit stops, driver changes, and the Le Mans-specific rules that we’re going to need to do over there. So it’s good to have everyone here to get into that routine again, going into those basics.”
The team made laps under clouds and drizzle in the morning hours Monday before partial sunshine took over for most of the afternoon. The two cars that shared a giant tent in the Sebring paddock were 001 — the test car that has made the majority of the laps in the project’s development stage — and 002, the primary race car for Le Mans. The team is opting to limit the track time for the 002 Camaro during the two-day stretch, hoping to save some wear and tear before reaching the grand stage.
The Hendrick Motorsports crew worked to keep things moving, even after rain that lingered longer into Monday morning changed up some of the schedule. “It’s good to get some wet running,” Taylor said. “I think the car only did one real test in the wet, and at Le Mans, it can rain at any point. So working with Goodyear on some new wet options was high on our list.”
The final dress rehearsal comes exactly one year and one month after the Garage 56 project was launched here to much fanfare during the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring weekend in 2022. A rendering of the prototype car had flashed onto the screens during that presentation, a blink-and-you’ll-miss moment that approximated what the car might look like.
Monday, two Le Mans-ready Camaros roamed the same Sebring paddock as once-imagined race cars come to life.
“Just having watched this group grow together and mature together, it’s really a fully functioning race team that wasn’t even in existence some 13 months ago,” said Jeff Andrews, Hendrick Motorsports’ president and general manager. “So, it’s been spectacular. It certainly is a privilege for Hendrick Motorsports to be involved and very honored that we were chosen to get these race cars prepared and be here on behalf of Mr. France and Chevrolet and really everybody that is going to make this happen. So it’s a combination of a lot of hard work with a lot of different companies involved and suppliers, and some really, really good race cars on the track, and obviously some amazing talent who are going to be driving these race cars in Le Mans. It’s been great to watch.”