CONCORD, N.C. - Hendrick Motorsports' Garage 56 journey has come to an end with the 100th running of the 24 Hours of Le Mans finishing up on Sunday morning.
The No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 finished the endurance race in the 39th position out of 62 cars entered in the event. The team's goal was to be finish the race and they were able to do just that. In the process, the team fixed a drive line issue that cost the squad about an hour of track time. Prior to that, the entry was ahead of all the cars in the GTE class.
RELATED: Garage 56 entry completes 24 Hours of Le Mans
All told, the No. 24 Chevy ran 285 laps, which equals out to approximately 2,413.095 miles -- roughly four Coca-Cola 600s (NASCAR's longest race on the schedule).
"It makes me proud for our sport,” Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports and a NASCAR Hall of Famer, said in a NASCAR release. "The last thing I’d want to do is for us to come over here and fall on our nose. That’s what I was worried about. From the very beginning with Chad (Knaus) and Greg (Ives), I said we’ve got to do this right. We don’t spare any expense. Our NASCAR teams can do any kind of race they want to do. I mean, they got the talent, they've got the engineers, and they got a lot of smart people and they can do whatever."
Garage 56 was a collaboration between Hendrick Motorsports, NASCAR, Chevrolet, IMSA and Goodyear. The project was announced 15 months ago at Sebring International Raceway.
All week, the driver lineup of Jenson Button, Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller have been putting the No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 through its paces at the 8.467-mile Circuit de la Sarthe. The roster featured drivers with significant accomplishments across multiple racing disciplines: Rockenfeller is a two-time Le Mans winner, Johnson is a seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion (with Hendrick Motorsports), Button is a Formula One champion and backup driver/coach Jordan Taylor is a four-time IMSA champion.
"My heart is full," Johnson said. "For all the reasons we know – coming here with NASCAR, Hendrick, Chevrolet, Goodyear. Many of the people here working were on different teams that I won races and championships with. There were so many familiar faces, to have this experience was just off the charts. My bucket is full. I’m really happy."
Hendrick Motorsports vice president of competition and seven-time championship-winning crew chief Chad Knaus oversaw the project with former Cup Series crew chief Greg Ives managing the race.
"I feel like we had already captured the trophy right when they dropped the green flag," Knaus said. "The thing I’m most proud of is that this wasn’t really anybody but a few people’s full-time job. Everybody accepted this task as a passion project and something that they wanted to participate in. And when you get people like that put together, you can do anything."
Below are updates from France and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
RACE UPDATES OVER THE 24 HOURS:
Update No. 12 (10:15 a.m. ET/4:15 p.m. in France): The race has come to a close with the No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 finishing 39th out of the 62 cars. Remember, Garage 56 is a single-entry class, so the car wasn't competing against anyone specifically, but the GTE class had been mentioned several times as a measuring point. The top GTE car finished 26th overall.
Update No. 11 (8:24 a.m. ET/2:24 p.m. in France): Johnson has taken over for Rockenfeller and will drive the car for the rest of the race -- the final 96 minutes.
Update No. 10 (7:37 a.m. ET/1:37 p.m. in France): Repairs have been completed and Rockenfeller is back on track to shake the car down for a couple of laps.
Update No. 9 (6:33 a.m. ET/12:33 p.m. in France): On lap 254, Button brought the No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 to the garage after an issue developed.
"We have a drive line issue and the team is working to repair it now," Knaus said. "The goal remains to finish the race."
Update No. 8 (5:07 a.m. ET/11:07 a.m. in France): The No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 has crossed the 2,000 miles run mark in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. For context, the longest race in the Cup Series is 600 miles with the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The Chevrolet RO7 engine is perfoming as expected. The team made a brake change. Button is back behind the wheel, taking over from Rockenfeller.
"It's been a fun race for us," Button told MotorTrend TV after his stint. "It is new for most of the team doing an endurance race. We've been trying to play it as safe as we can. ... We're not competing (with the GTE Am class) but we kind of are."
Update No. 7 (3:18 a.m. ET/9:18 a.m. in France): Rockenfeller is back behind the wheel for the third time, taking over for Johnson after the seven-time Cup Series champion's latest stint. The car is currently running 30th on the leaderboard (out of 62 cars) and trails only one GTE car.
"At this point the drivers have all settled into a groove – they’ve seen pretty much every condition on track they could have possibly seen and seen all the traffic they need to see," Taylor said. "So now it’s more of traffic management and track conditions, which can change a lot here since it’s basically public roads the rest of the year. There’s a lot of dirty areas, a lot of buildup of rubber and marbles, so we’re reminding them that staying on your line in traffic is crucial at this point because if you get pushed wide, you’ll get junk on your tires and spend five laps trying to clean them up.
"When we saw that we were in the hunt to be leading the GT class is when we switched from a bit of ‘'let’s just cruise here' to 'alright we can actually race a lot of these guys.' It feels like even though we’re not fighting them for a position, it’s kind of nice to have that carrot to chase and a goal to beat them."
Update No. 6 (12:55 a.m. ET/6:55 a.m. in France): The sun is up in France and 15 hours have just about been completed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. To this point, the Hendrick Motorsports pit crew has performed 18 pit stops, changing all four tires on 17 occasions. The other pit stop was to make an aero adjustment. See the crew in action in the video below.
"We had the opportunity to do some testing before, so this isn’t their first rodeo doing this," Evan Kureczka, who is the pit crew development manager at Hendrick Motorsports said. "We did a roughly 30-hour test in Sebring, so we have some experience on our side. We’ve been working on making sure these guys are hydrated, eat well and actually get a little bit of sleep overnight so they would be sharp in the morning. I think catching a little bit of sleep and taking care of their bodies is going to put is in a pretty good position to finish the race strong."
Update No. 5 (10:40 p.m. ET/4:40 a.m. in France): Just passed the halfway mark of the race and near the end of Rockenfeller's second stint in the car, the crew noticed the air pressure going down on the right rear tire. How was this caught? Goodyear introduced special technology in the tires for the Garage 56 Chevy that monitor in real time both tire pressure and temperature. Rockenfeller came to pit road on lap 142 and was replaced by Button before the pit service took place.
"We were monitoring the tire pressure sensors and our engineers happened to see that the right rear tire was starting to lose some pressure," Hendrick Motorsports vice president of competition Chad Knaus said. "It was great timing. They did a great job catching it. The team was able to react and get it in here and get some new tires put on the car. It was awesome."
Update No. 4 (8 p.m. ET/2 a.m. in France): After Button's lengthy stint, Johnson got behind the wheel for nearly three hours with his time clocking in at two hours, 52 minutes and seven seconds. While racing at night, he battled showers for a brief period. During his time in the No. 24, he was on both rain tires as well as slicks.
"There was a pop-up shower at the start of the lap and it was just pouring," Johnson said. "I came around a corner on slicks and it was just a downpour. We brought the car around and put wets on it to really try to understand how the wets would perform. We probably ran two-to-three too many laps on the wets and it really fell apart once the track started to dry. We put the slicks back on and we were the fastest GT-style car on the track and were running the guys down.
"We had some unfortunate luck with the safety car that put us down a lap and we’re trying to get that lap back now. I really think we have a shot at the GT overall with this car. So just need to catch the safety car right to put us back on the lead lap and off we go.
"I tried (to prepare for these conditions) in the sim, but they can’t simulate rain like it really is. The night time (sim) driving was pretty useful and worked out well, but the sim is easy because you can’t get hurt. You just hit reset and you’re back on the track. Real life, real fear, real consequences make a big difference."
Update No. 3 (3:24 p.m. ET/9:24 p.m. in France): Button is in the midst of an extended shift behind the wheel. Heavy rain on parts of the course led to a lengthy stretch behind the safety car. During this stint, Button has pitted three times. The first was for intermediate tires when the rain began and then he came back down for slicks when the precipitation stopped. The team also made an aero adjustment on the No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.
"We were able to do a lot of testing with the vehicle before we got here and we recognized it was going to rain in June in France, but you never know where it’s going to rain or how much it’s going to rain," said Justin Fantozzi, who is the global race tires operation manager for Goodyear. "The intermediate tire is really good when it’s starting to dry out or when you only have a little bit of precipitation, and the wet tire is for when it is going to rain for awhile."
Update No. 2 (12:51 p.m. ET/6:51 p.m. in France): Johnson completes a 12-lap stint in the car of just under a hour (58:54 in total). Button takes over for a planned double stint in the car with Johnson scheduled to follow up with a double stint of his own.
"It was incredible," Johnson said of his first run. "I had slow zones that took place with two or three big crashes on track. It was a totally different experience to work through those areas and take back off. All in all, just an amazing experience. One of the slow zones, it was a very crowded area with the fans – they were waving at me so I was waving back. It was really, really fun. I want every lap I can get."
Update No. 1 (11:49 a.m. ET/5:49 p.m. in France): Rockenfeller starts out as the first driver for the team when the No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 rolls off the grid from the 39th position. The race got underway at 10 a.m. ET/4 p.m. in France. His stint in the car lasts 14 laps at just under an hour and 15 minutes (one hour, 13 minutes and 13 seconds to be exact). Johnson takes over for the next stint.
"It was a tricky stint with the first chicane down in Mulsanne completely wet," Rockenfeller said of the initial challenges. "I just tried to make no mistakes, stay trouble free. It’s a long race so you don’t want to waste it in the first lap. The car feels good. Balance-wise we have some issues because we thought it was going to rain more, so we adjusted the balance. We will react to that later in the race and adjust tire pressure. I think the track will grip up again and I think we can go a bit faster from now on."
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Take a look at the team's first pit stop of the day.
PIT CREW WINS CLASS IN PIT STOP CHALLENGE
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.
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).
PRACTICE DETAILS FROM: Sunday, June 4 | Wednesday, June 7 | Thursday, June 8
ADDITIONAL BACKGROUND ON GARAGE 56
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.
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.
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