CONCORD, N.C. – With less than 12 months until the 2023 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, activity around the Garage 56 project for Hendrick Motorsports is picking up. Last month, the team sent a small contingent to France for the 2022 race in an effort to prepare for what’s in store next year.
Among the group was Hendrick Motorsports vice president of competition and Garage 56 program manager Chad Knaus, who also attended Le Mans in 2021.
"This was much more of a scouting trip to talk to vendors (and), get an idea of the environment from a racer’s standpoint and how to conduct the events throughout the course of the two weeks that you are over there," Knaus explained. "It was a lot to consume, for sure, but we learned an awful lot. I would definitely hate to go over to that place and try to compete without having some type of experience like we just did.
"I think it’s going to be very valuable to understand how they do scrutineering (pre-event technical checks), how the race cadence goes and what happens throughout unloading, garage setup and environment teardown post-race. All of that was definitely valuable."
Getting a feel for the surroundings before and during the June 11-12 event was extremely important to the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion crew chief. Just as critical was taking note of race procedures.
"Things are completely different over there than how we conduct business and what would be considered a normal race (in NASCAR)," Knaus said. "Even the 24 Hours of Daytona, albeit unique, is still not as different as what it is over there. You create an environment (at Le Mans) that is your own that you live in for basically two weeks to build your cars, practice your cars, test your cars, qualify your cars and then race it."
In March, Hendrick Motorsports announced, in collaboration with NASCAR, Chevrolet, IMSA and Goodyear, its intention to compete in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans as a special Garage 56 entry. A modified version of the Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 is the planned car for the event.
PHOTOS: Scenes from the Garage 56 announcement
Garage 56 was introduced by the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2012 as a special single-entry class for innovative cars. It allows for creativity without taking away a spot in the traditional starting grid. The 2023 running at Le Mans will see the event celebrate its 100th year.
The Garage 56 driver lineup has been the subject of much speculation, but Knaus preached patience. The availability of potential drivers will not be known until 2023 schedules for NASCAR and other racing series are officially announced.
"We are a long ways away from (naming drivers)," he said.
With the trip to the 2022 event in the rearview mirror, the next item on the agenda is getting the Garage 56 "mule car" – essentially a test vehicle – on track in the late summer or early fall. Action Express Racing is helping prepare it, and the initial on-track time will be key in starting to develop different systems and other items with the car.
Knaus already has a solid relationship with the Action Express team, having worked with them on the No. 48 Ally Cadillac DPi-V.R for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season.
Once the mule car is on track, Knaus said "continuous development" will be the order of the day.
"We will try to make sure that the implementation of the things we’ve changed that are different than the Next Gen stock car are functional and correct and work the way they are supposed to," he said. "If there are performance things we need to change or durability things we need to change, we start to get those implemented so that when we do build the real car – probably around November – it starts coming together that there are parts that are more tried and true as opposed to concept."