When option a NASCAR Cup Series The car competing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race was first rumored two years ago, with some surprise.
“I talked to a few people, traditional sports car people and traditional racing people, and when I told them about the project, they were scratching their heads like, ‘What are you going to do?'” John Doonan, president of the International Motor Sports Association, said in an interview .
Doonan is also project manager for NASCAR’s return to Le Mans 47 years old after the series was last involved when the Dodge Charger and Ford Torino failed to finish the race
Chevrolet, two-time winner in the GTE Pro class, supplies the car, as The Camaro ZL1 is run by Hendrick Motorsports from North Carolina, that is Garage 56 entrance for Le Mans, which celebrates its centenary this year.
Since 2012, Automobile Club de l’Ouestthe organizer of the race, has reserved Garage 56 for concept cars and projects that are not part of the official competition and do not have to meet the technical regulations.
The ZL1 still packs the 5.8-liter small-block V8, but it’s nearly 500 pounds lighter and has a larger 32-gallon fuel cell and carbon brakes, along with aerodynamic features important to negotiating the Circuit de la Sarthe. Unique to the Cup car are the front and rear lights and wider tires supplied by Goodyear.
“That car is so annoying,” Jenson Button 2009 Formula 1 Champion and one of the car’s three drivers for Le Mans, he said in an interview. “It’s so loud, so big, so aggressive and it’s not so Le Mans, but it fits perfectly because it’s so different from anything else.”
“I think the fans will like it and I think other drivers will like to see the car.
“NASCAR largely wanted the vehicle to retain its Cup car DNA,” Johnson said in an interview. “So from an air efficiency standpoint, we know and acknowledge that.”
Some NASCAR traditions will be maintained. At pit stops for tire changes, the car will be raised using a manual jack, rather than the built-in pneumatic jacks used by other cars, and drivers will enter and exit through a window rather than a door when changing.
In preparation for Le Mans, the car underwent a 24-hour test at Sebring International Raceway in Florida and tested on six other occasions, including Daytona International Speedway in Florida and the Circuit of the Americas in Texas.
The car lapped the Texas track 10 seconds faster than the Cup Series car.
“It’s fast, but you don’t think it’s going to be that fast because there’s so much work, you’re always fighting it,” Button said. “It’s also quite forgiving in the way you can drift the car.
“But it’s not like a single-seater, like an F1 car, which is basically glued to the road. In places, you try to capture oversteer and large understeer. It’s an exercise. It really is. And I think that’s why we enjoy it. We always come away laughing, ‘What the hell? That thing is crazy.” And it is.”
Doonan said the car and team were ready, although he had no competition as the only concept entry.
“The ACO has set a target for our performance to be right at the top of the GT field in terms of lap times,” he said. “So even if we don’t win the class or win over everybody, getting to the bottom is No. 1.
“Eventually, you’re going to see the performance of this car, at least based on what we’ve learned in the simulator and what we’ve learned in testing, that this thing is a proper race car, and I’m excited about that. to see it in action, against the GT cars, to show what’s really possible.”
Doonan said millions of dollars have been invested in the project, which would realize the goals of introducing NASCAR to a wider audience and showcasing the car that made its Cup Series debut last year to the auto industry.
“There’s definitely a promotional element to it to show the fans what this car looks like and sounds like,” he said.
NASCAR, celebrating its 75th anniversary this year it unveiled its next-generation car last year, on which its Le Mans version is based. With the changes made to the Le Mans car, Johnson said he hoped it was “not one and done” but that it was the start of a new era for NASCAR.
“I would imagine there are ideas that can be pulled from this vehicle and potentially applied to NASCAR vehicles as they develop,” he said. “Maybe we could start another series and run these because it’s a really cool and fun car.”
The car caught the imagination of Pierre Fillon, president of the ACO. He said he was “instantly excited” when Jim France, NASCAR’s chairman and chief executive, approached him about the “crazy idea.”
“We need something innovative,” Fillon said. “This generation of NASCAR is innovative and the future of NASCAR and will bring great memories to fans.”
Despite the showcase opportunity for NASCAR, there is a clear goal.
“A Cup car is not built for 24 hours, so getting to the finish line is a big challenge for everyone at Le Mans,” Button said. “So that’s the main goal for the whole team.