CONCORD, N.C. – Last week marked the final tune-up session for the Garage 56 project at Sebring International Raceway ahead of the 24 Hours of Le Mans on June 10-11.
The two-day session saw the Hendrick Motorsports crew get some runs in wet conditions before the sun broke through to create a hot, slick surface for the remainder of the testing time.
"I thought the test went well," Greg Ives, who is the crew chief for the project, said. "To be able to run in the rain, run in the hot sun and also at night was really good for us to cycle through some rain and dry tires. We had enough dry running that we are able get some good changes in and solidify the tire we wanted to run. We were able to get a balance between that.
"It’s always hard to get four drivers in equally and give them enough time to be able to give them a feel for the car. They were happy with the laps they were given and the balance of the car. We still have a lot of work to do when we get back, though."
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The Sebring sessions marked the fourth time that the driver lineup of Jenson Button, Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller as well as backup driver/coach Jordan Taylor were testing together. Previous tests took place at Daytona International Speedway in January, Sebring in February and Circuit of The Americas in March. The four drivers swapped in and out of the car, working on various adjustments, including aero and chassis developments as the team gets ready for the endurance race.
"To see that confidence grow in the team and the car and starting to realize when we get over there we might actually have something that is going to perform really well. That’s really been fun to see," Hendrick Motorsports vice president of competition Chad Knaus, who is overseeing the project, said. "Coming here to Sebring - as everyone has gotten in the car and coming out, they’ve all been kind of nodding their heads in a yes manner thinking we might be gaining on this. That’s a lot fun."
The backup car was the one that was mostly used at this test to reduce the risk on the primary car. All told, the cars combined to run 216 laps and logged 758 miles over the two days. The program’s cars in total have logged 6,834 miles in preparation for Le Mans with the bulk of that occurring by the backup car.
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Hendrick Motorsports team owner Rick Hendrick was on site to check out the primary and backup cars. Next month, both cars will be moderately torn down before being loaded up and shipped overseas for the 100th running of the annual Le Mans event in France.
The car - a modified version of the Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 race car – was formally unveiled at Daytona in February. The systems and components of the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 are mostly unchanged from the car that runs in the NASCAR Cup Series. However, this car will have headlights and taillights for nighttime racing, a larger fuel cell, carbon brake discs and Goodyear Eagle race tires that have been specially designed.
"I’m just blown away I get this chance-of-a-lifetime opportunity with family from Chevy, Hendrick Motorsports, Goodyear, back working with Chad and Greg Ives," Johnson said. "There’s so many layers that are so cool. It is really special and I am very thankful for this."
Over a year ago at Sebring, Hendrick Motorsports announced, in collaboration with NASCAR, Chevrolet, IMSA and Goodyear, its intention to compete in the 2023 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans as the Garage 56 entry. The team received its official invite for the event in February and will sport the No. 24 – a nod to a storied car number in the history of both Hendrick Motorsports and NASCAR. Garage 56 was introduced 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.
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Now, 13 months from when that announcement took place, the car is less than two months away from taking to the historical venue.
"That’s my most exciting thing is to see the Hendrick Motorsports banner rolling around the racetrack at Le Mans," Knaus said. "As a track as difficult and challenging as that is for eight-and-a-quarter miles, to run that for 24 hours and see Hendrick Motorsports all over that race car and our Hendrick Motorsports teammates over there representing NASCAR, that means the world to me."