DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Having an entry in the 24 Hours of Le Mans was something Hendrick Motorsports team owner Rick Hendrick never thought he have the opportunity to do.
That changed, though, when NASCAR Chairman and CEO Jim France approached him with the idea of a partnership between his team, NASCAR, Chevrolet and Goodyear to field the Garage 56 entry in the endurance race in France taking place on June 10-11, 2023.
"I would have never come up with this idea if Jim France hadn’t tapped me on the shoulder," Hendrick said on Friday at Daytona International Speedway. "Once you get involved in something like that, it gets very exciting. To me, I want to showcase our very best. I want people to look at this car and say, 'wow, they did something remarkable here.'"
The team owner as well as Hendrick Motorsports executives Jeff Gordon (vice chairman), Jeff Andrews (team president and general manager) and Chad Knaus (vice president of competition) were on hand for the unveiling of the Garage 56 car and livery that will be on the track in France. The Garage 56 entry is anticipated to be approved for entry by l’Automobile Club de l’Quest (ACO) in the coming weeks.
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The Garage 56 entry will be a modified version of the Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 race car. The program was introduced in 2012 as a special single-entry class for innovative vehicles. It allows for creativity without taking away a spot in the traditional starting grid in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
"It is amazing to see when you start with an idea and then all the work that goes into building something like this," Hendrick said. "To see all that has been done to this car and how it has performed so far, we are really proud of it. I know it’s special to NASCAR and it’s special to me."
Since the announcement of the project last March, lots of simulation and on-track tests have taken place to work on different aspects of the vehicle and its performance. Another test is on tap for Sebring International Raceway starting Monday.
Perhaps, the biggest news came just three weeks ago when the driver lineup was revealed. Jimmie Johnson, Mike Rockenfeller and Jenson Button will be the three drivers with Jordan Taylor as the backup driver and coach of a roster that Hendrick said he "didn’t dream we would have." That foursome brings a wealth of racing experience and championships to the table. Knaus, Johnson’s former crew chief for seven NASCAR Cup Series championships, is heading up the project and Greg Ives is serving essentially as the crew chief.
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"It is an honor for us to be involved in it and build the car," Hendrick said. "We’ve put our A-Team on it with Chad and Greg. This has been a monumental effort from our part and everybody’s part. There’s a place in my heart when I ran the GTP car and we stopped. I thought I love road racing, but I want to focus on NASCAR. This gives me a shot to go to Le Mans, which I never dreamed I would do. It will be a lot of fun to be there and see the fans."
This is just the latest in a storied career in racing for Hendrick. In addition to 14 Cup Series championships and the most wins in the sport's top series, he was also inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2017 and will be a co-owner for Kyle Larson's car in the 2024 Indianapolis 500.
"When I look at my history in motor sports, I’ve done just about everything," Hendrick said. "This is kind of the pinnacle. To go over there and do something that’s only been tried one time is pretty special."
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