The Le Mans NASCAR Chevy Camaro Already Laps Way Quicker Than a Cup Car
It’s got more than a few modifications to help it tackle the legendary road course including paddle shifters and better aero.
Next June, NASCAR will return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the first time since 1976 with a modified Chevrolet Camaro stock car. After only the second track test, the car's test driver indicates the Chevy is already much faster around the track than the machine it's based on—yet still far from its final form.
The Le Mans-bound stock car hit the track earlier this week for two days of trials at Virginia International Raceway. Built by Hendrick Motorsports, it's based on a NASCAR Cup Series-spec Next Gen Chevy Camaro ZL1 but has been heavily modified to specialize in the high-speed road course that is Circuit de la Sarthe. It's still a brutishly simple car though, one that a Stewart-Haas Racing R&D engineer likened to "a tube frame prototype with a spoiler and inefficient aero."
Of course, the Chevy doesn't really need to be any more than that, as it will compete under the banner of Garage 56—a sort of one-car exhibition class reserved for unique one-off entries. It's not really a competitive entry, but everyone involved in the program is taking NASCAR's first cameo at Le Mans in 47 years with the utmost seriousness.
Chad Knaus, Hendrick's vice president of competition and program manager for the Garage 56 entry, told Motorsport that this car is already "significantly different" from the one initially tested in August, which he described as a "concept car."
"This is a little bit more like what the actual car is going to be," Knaus told the outlet. "From the chassis standpoint, it's different. The engine is different. The suspension components are quite a bit different."
Indeed, while the Garage 56 Camaro is still a stock car at heart, it's becoming much more sophisticated as it prepares to race in Europe. A NASCAR news blog outlines the car as gaining high-tech powertrain controls, with traction control and paddle shifters. The big Chevy also gets some race car basics that Cup cars normally do without, like side mirrors (important for seeing faster cars bearing down on you) and more refined aero. That encompasses a heavy-duty splitter and diffuser, big dive planes, and as observed by motorsport mechanic Bozi Tatarevic on Twitter, sizable air deflectors ahead of the wheels. It's significantly lighter, too, which cumulates with the above to make it almost an entirely new animal.
"We have less weight, we have a bit more downforce," said test driver Mike Rockenfeller, who won Le Mans overall in 2010. "Power is a bit different, so we increased a little bit there as well in that area. Now we have paddle-shift, we have traction control in, we have a new dash. I mean, everything is different, basically. So we are pretty close to what we think will be the race car in Le Mans."
"Between the current Cup car, and this test car, again, it's pretty similar, I would say, its weight, its power, its tire grip—it's just a lot faster. I mean, to give you a figure, around here, I think we are around 10 seconds faster than what I did in a Cup car, so it's quite a lot faster."
Rockenfeller emphasized, however, that the Chevy still has "a very long way to go" before it's ready to race Le Mans. Its much-needed headlights are still in development, for example, and more weight reduction and aero refinement are on the to-do list. What's clear is that while this Chevy won't be going for any trophies, it'll still do stock car racing proud—if not drum up interest in stock car racing outside the States. There's plenty of grassroots oval racing outside the U.S., and the scene may just need a catalyst like this to catch fire.
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