2023 sees two major motorsport institutions celebrate some huge milestones. NASCAR has just kicked off its 75th season, while later this year, the Le Mans 24 Hours will mark its centenary – that’s right, 100 years of the world's greatest motor race.
So perhaps, it’s only fitting that this season, Le Mans and NASCAR will embrace each other in a way we’ve not seen for quite some time. 1976 was the last time a stock car competed at Le Mans, but this year the clock will be reset, as a near Cup Series specification NASCAR racer will take part in the 24-hour race. This is our first proper look at it.
A joint effort between NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, this Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 stock car is all but certain to be lining up on the starting grid at Le Mans in June, subject to almost certain approval from race organisers.
It will occupy the experimental Garage 56 entry, which has seen a number of unconventional Le Mans efforts – some more successful than others – since the extra grid slot’s introduction in 2012. Think Nissan’s DeltaWing, and the Japanese firm’s ZOED RC hybrid range extender effort.
Hendrick Motorsports says that the systems and components on the Camaro ZL1 are ‘largely unchanged’ from what you’ll find in the same car on Cup Series weekends. Obvious modifications include real headlights and taillights (kind of important when the sun goes down), a larger fuel tank, uprated brakes – carbon ceramic items, no less – as well as new tyres developed by Goodyear.
It’s around 240kg lighter than the Cup car, too, while additional aero (we can see new dive planes on the front wheel arches and on the trailing edge of the rear three-quarter panels), should ensure the Le Mans NASCAR racer is a bit more stable through la Sarthe’s trickier sections.
Powering the modified Camaro ZL1 is an unchanged 5.8-litre naturally aspirated V8 Chevy’s cast iron small block unit, driving the rear wheels through a five-speed sequential gearbox. It’s also our first look at the livery penned for the Garage 56 Chevy, featuring plenty of Chevrolet and NASCAR branding.
And driving the Camaro? A dream team of veterans. 2010 Le Mans winner with Audi, Mike Rockenfeller, lines up alongside NASCAR legend and seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson. Oh, and there’s the small matter of 2009 Formula 1 World Champion Jenson Button returning for his second go at endurance racing’s top prize. Excited yet?