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24 Hours of LeMans

Everything you need to know about NASCAR's Garage 56 Le Mans attack

Here is the guide to everything you need to know about the NASCAR Garage 56 entry at the 2023 Le Mans 24 Hours.

NASCAR Garage 56
Article
To news overview © XPBimages

What do you get if you cross a Formula 1 World Champion, a sportscar ace and one of the most successful racing drivers of all-time?

That's not the set-up for a bad punchline, but instead the driver line-up for the NASCAR Garage 56 attack on the Le Mans 24 Hours, which takes place this weekend as the event celebrates 100 years since the first – although the 100th running is a few years off yet.

The World Endurance Championship is currently undergoing a boom in popularity as the likes of Ferrari, Porsche and Peugeot have returned to the top class – now known as Hypercar rather than LMP1 – to challenge Toyota, who have won every year since 2018.

But most of the intrigue is around the NASCAR assault on the 24-hour race at the Circuit de la Sarthe.

RacingNews365.com has the guide to everything you need to know about the NASCAR Garage 56 entry at Le Mans.

What is Garage 56?

Garage 56 is a slot first introduced in 2012 to give developmental and innovative machinery and entries to one of the most famous races in motorsport.

The cars can take all forms, from the 2012 Nissan DeltaWing to 2016 when quadruple amputee Frederic Sausset raced a modified LMP2 machine.

The latest entry is a NASCAR-backed project, working in association with Cup Series powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports.

Hendrick is the most successful team in the history of the NASCAR Cup Series, with 296 race wins (and counting) and 14 Drivers' championships.

The outfit also has a healthy tally of wins for good measure in both the Xfinity (think Formula 2 to Cup's F1) and the Truck Series.

Some of stock car racing's biggest names have driven for the team, including the likes of Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon [seven and four-time champions, respectively], Dale Earnhardt Jr and current stars Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson – who is to tackle the 2024 Indy 500 with McLaren.

The car itself is a heavily-modified Chevrolet Camaro, the type used in the Cup Series, with this leading to some consternation from Hendrick's rivals about them gaining an unfair advantage in an increasingly spec-series.

However, both NASCAR and Hendrick have worked to assure the other Cup teams that no such unfair advantage is being gained.

Carrying Gordon's iconic #24, the car weighs 525 pounds less than the Camaros which will be racing at California's Sonoma road course on Sunday despite a larger fuel tank being installed for the lengthy Le Mans stints.

			© XPBimages
	© XPBimages

Who are the drivers?

When the project was initially announced, there was some talk about whether the likes of Earnhardt Jr or Gordon [now effectively Rick Hendrick's number two in command] could be tempted.

The time taken to prepare for Le Mans ruled out a current Cup driver, even if Larson could probably have participated given that he races – and wins – in pretty much anything he sits in.

So that narrowed the field down, with a driver having Le Mans experience an absolute must. Hendrick found that in former DTM champion Mike Rockenfeller, who won the race overall in 2010 with Audi.

Joining him are Johnson and 2009 F1 champion Jenson Button.

Since leaving Cup full-time in 2020, Johnson has been on something of an 'I'm going to do what the hell I want' tour, taking in IndyCar in '21 and '22, including an assault on last year's Indy 500, fulfilling a childhood dream.

He's now a team owner in the Cup Series with Legacy Motor Club, partnering up with fellow seven-time champion Richard Petty and taking part in select races, including the Daytona 500.

Button himself has been taking in some NASCAR, as he made his Cup debut at the Circuit of the Americas.

He is also set to race in a number of further races this year, including the first NASCAR street race in Chicago on 3 July.

How has testing and preparation gone?

The chef de mission of the project is Johnson's former crew chief Chad Knaus, who earned himself a promotion to Vice President of competition at Hendrick.

Knaus is the most successful crew chief in Cup series history, guiding Johnson [together, below] to almost all of his 83 wins and all seven titles, including the record-breaking five straight between 2006 and 2010.

A 24-hour test was conducted at Sebring in February with further outings at Daytona and the Circuit of the Americas to get the car, drivers and team up to speed before everything was shipped off to France.

Upon hitting the 8.4-mile blast around France, the car has pumped in some encouraging times, with Button posting a 3:49.475 effort for the team's best in first practice.

It was about 22 seconds slower than the then-fastest Toyota Gazoo Racing Hypercar.

			© XPBimages
	© XPBimages

Can Garage 56 win Le Mans?

While certainly possible, it is extremely unlikely that the NASCAR Garage 56 entry will win the Le Mans 24 Hours.

It is not competing with the Hypercar entries that will, nor even the LMP2 machinery, although it is comfortably ahead of the LMGTE AM runners.

The hope is that the car will see the finish and take the chequered flag on Sunday afternoon having not suffered any major problems.

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