CONCORD, N.C. – Thursday marked the final practice sessions for the Garage 56 program ahead of this weekend’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 didn’t run much in the day’s first practice, electing to get on track for the final half hour of the three-hour practice. The team ran in the final hour-long practice session under the lights at the 8.5-mile Circuit de la Sarthe with a best lap of 3 minutes, 51.903 seconds. That mark was over one second better than the top car in the GTE Am class.
Thursday’s track time capped off a stretch of 10 hours of on-track activity over the past two days. There is no practice scheduled for Friday with the historic 100th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans beginning on Saturday at 10 a.m. ET and concluding on Sunday at 10 a.m. ET.
Race day will start with a 15-minute warm-up session to carry out final preparations from 6-6:15 a.m. ET. Opening ceremonies take place at 9 a.m. ET.
Two-time Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller is grateful for the chance to be part of this group.
"What an opportunity this is," Rockenfeller said during a media availability on Thursday. "This is once-in-a-lifetime. People will talk about this car going around Le Mans for a long time. To be one of the drivers is just an honor.
"To be here now, faster than we expected from the sim, but pretty close. I think everybody can be so proud. Everybody in the paddock, all the drivers they come up and they are like ‘wow, this car is so cool.'
"Now, it’s the big race ahead of us. The goal is to finish and to do a good job there. Twenty-four hours no matter where it is, is tough."
Rockenfeller, Formula One champion Jenson Button and seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson and backup driver/coach Jordan Taylor (a four-time IMSA champion) make up the roster. Hendrick Motorsports vice president of competition and seven-time championship-winning crew chief Chad Knaus is overseeing the project with former Cup Series crew chief Greg Ives managing the race.
Button has been impressed by the first-class operation run by the Hendrick Motorsports personnel and crew.
"It is a phenomenal effort by the whole team," Button said. "Everything has been spot on. All the homework that has been done by this team has been phenomenal. I would put it up there with one of the best teams I’ve raced with in the world."
RELATED: Recap Wednesday's on-track activity at Le Mans
Johnson dreamed about taking part in the 24 Hours of Le Mans as a kid. He is thrilled to be a part of the program with the organization that he reached historic heights with in the NASCAR Cup Series.
"It has just been a very impressive program from start to finish," Johnson said. "We have felt the responsibility to come over and show the level of professionalism of NASCAR that exists in the U.S. I think we’ve done a really nice job of that."
The Garage 56 entry in the endurance race is a unique case because it is a single-entry class of competition for innovative cars – there is no other car in the class. Garage 56 was introduced in 2012 and allows for creativity without taking away a spot in the traditional starting grid. Hendrick Motorsports, in collaboration with NASCAR, Chevrolet, IMSA and Goodyear, is fielding the No. 24 entry.
Tuesday afternoon saw the pit crew from Hendrick Motorsports take part in the Pit Stop Challenge and emerge victorious in the GTE class (which is where the team was classified for this competition only). They performed a NASCAR-style pit stop in 10.364 seconds and were the only team to use a manual jack. In the overall competition, the team placed fifth, just 0.3 seconds behind the top team.
RELATED: Pit Stop Challenge victory brings lasting memories for Le Mans crew
The Hendrick Motorsports Garage 56 pit crew is made up of Dawson Backus (front-tire changer), Cody French (front-tire carrier), Jarius Morehead (rear-tire carrier), Mike Moss (rear-tire changer) and Donovan Williams (jackman).
The car, a modified version of the Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 race car, was formally unveiled at Daytona International Speedway in February. The systems and components of the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 are mostly unchanged from the car that runs in the Cup Series. However, this car has headlights and taillights for nighttime racing, a larger fuel cell, carbon brake discs and Goodyear Eagle race tires that have been specially designed.
RELATED: Camaro motorsports heritage grows with ZL1 Garage 56 Edition
"Hard to believe it was only 18 months ago when we had our first meeting," Knaus said on Thursday. "Here we sit with a car that we feel very comfortable with and the drivers have been complimentary of. A pit crew that is capable of pitting the car at a very fast pace and we’ve been welcomed with open arms."
Fans can watch the 100th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans at 10 a.m. ET on Saturday, June 10, on MotorTrend TV/MotorTrend+. Coverage of the warm-up sessions will begin at 5:45 a.m. ET and pre-race coverage will begin at 9 a.m. ET, both on MotorTrend+.