May 25, 2024

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Here’s what happens when you send a stock NASCAR car to Le Mans – Ars Technica

Here’s what happens when you send a stock NASCAR car to Le Mans – Ars Technica
Zoom in / NASCAR/Hendrick Motorsports drives a Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Ferrari 499P and a variety of race cars on a test day at Circuit de la Sarthe in Le Mans, France.

Chris Graythen / Getty Images

When Le Mans revamped its facilities in 2012, it built 55 pit garages for regular entrants in its annual 24-hour race and one more for entrants who want to show off something new (there are actually 62 entrants in total this year, but the private one is still called The Garage). 56).

These included the downsized Nissan Deltawing in 2012 and the closely related electric Nissan ZEOD RC in 2014. In 2016 quad-amputee Frédéric Sausset did something neither of these Nissans could manage, finishing the race in a modified prototype Specifically using the SRT Team 41, which repeated the feat with a pair of paraplegic drivers in 2021. And there have been attempts to run a hydrogen-powered racer out of the garage 56. But this year’s entry is a little different—and a little more familiar to Americans. It’s a NASCAR stock car.

It was certainly an untimely sight as NASCAR stock cars took to the track this weekend with regular prototypes and GT cars in a test run before next weekend’s race at Le Mans. NASCAR cars aren’t exactly small, and they’re known for going fast in a straight line, not for their cornering prowess. There was even talk of roadside marshals waving a white flag – for a slow car ahead – to warn other competitors if they were to encounter the stock car on one of the track’s more curvy sections.

This position was not deserved. Not only did the Garage 56 entry not embarrass itself, but it went more than two seconds on a lap faster than any of the production-based GTs. Not bad for fish out of the water.

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This 2023-era NASCAR stock car has proven to be just as popular with fans as the 1976 versions did.
Zoom in / This 2023-era NASCAR stock car has proven to be just as popular with fans as the 1976 versions did.

Chris Graythen / Getty Images

This has happened before

One of the oldest motor races in the world, the 24 Hours of Le Mans is a grueling test of both people and machines. Over the years, Le Mans has attracted more than a few expats from the USA. Cadillac sent a very exotic-looking car called the Le Monster there in 1950. After being snubbed in its bid to buy Ferrari, Ford got the Italians on their game, winning four times between 1966 and 1969 with its GT40s.

And in recent years, the Dodge Vipers and Chevrolet Corvette have repeatedly claimed victory in the GT classes. But the strangest American entry was probably in 1976, when the people were behind NASCAR I got into a couple of cars. The big, cumbersome V8s proved to be a hit with the locals, but neither car lasted the distance – low-octane gas caused one car’s engine to fail on lap two, while the other’s engine failed at 11.

The links remained close between the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, which organizes the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and NASCAR. The latter owns the IMSA WeatherTech Sportscar Championship cars like the one they race at Le Mans, so a little cross-promotion is never bad. That explains why seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmy Johnson, 2009 Formula 1 champion Jenson Button, and German motorsport champion and Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller will be racing the Big Blue Monster among the regulars next weekend.

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While it will be racing on the same track at the same time as the 61 other cars in the race, the Garage 56 entry is in its own class, and is there to entertain the crowd and hopefully finish the race rather than fight for overall victory. drivers appear To have fun too.

A look inside the Garage 56's cockpit.
Zoom in / A look inside the Garage 56’s cockpit.

Chris Graythen / Getty Images

Not quite your average next-generation Trophy car

NASCAR introduced its next-generation car at the start of 2022, and it was a huge technological leap for the sport. Four-speed manual transmissions and solid rear axles are now a thing of the past. The new car uses a five-speed sequential gearbox, fully independent rear suspension, composite body panels, and there’s even a soft floor unlike the aerodynamic nightmare you’d see underneath previous Trophy cars.

While the next-generation car could now handle left and right turns with the same aplomb, it wasn’t quite ready for the challenge of Le Mans without a few tweaks. Perhaps the most significant was the weight loss—the Garage 56 lost about 525 pounds (238 kg) compared to the NASCAR trim.

Some of that doesn’t need to carry the mandatory ballast, but there are now carbon fiber brakes instead of steel rotors, and the Hendricks Motorsport organization (who built and operated the car) has reduced component mass wherever possible – unlike in the tightly controlled technical environment In NASCAR, there are no penalties in Garage 56 if you want to build an expensive but light titanium widget instead of the same standard part as everyone else.

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It's a little strange to see a car stored next to the iconic road sign at Le Mans.
Zoom in / It’s a little strange to see a car stored next to the iconic road sign at Le Mans.

Chris Graythen / Getty Images

Other modifications were made to help the stock Garage 56 car better adapt to Le Mans requirements. There are headlights—that’s a 24-hour race—as well as side mirrors and a rear-view camera system that alerts the driver if they’re about to pass a faster car. The fuel tank has grown by more than 50 percent and now holds 32 gallons (127 L). Chevrolet’s 5.8-liter V8 is about 100 hp (75 kW) more powerful than the standard Cup car, putting it in the region of around 770 hp (575 kW), but it’s actually not the fastest car on the long Le Mans tracks. Blame the added aerodynamic appendages, especially the rear spoiler (not the spoiler) which stands 6 inches (152 mm) from the rear deck.

Instead, it gets up to speed quickly thanks to plenty of torque, and is actually quite quick through the corners, which surprises some other drivers, According to Button. it’s not like that that Significantly larger or heavier than the GT class – those cars have a minimum curb weight of 2,745 lb (1,245 kg), and the BMW M8 GTE A million memes were born It was long and wider than the average car, though less tall.

Button’s teammate Rockenfeller was responsible for the car’s fastest time in the test – a 3:53.761 lap. By comparison, the fastest GT was one of the Ferrari 488 GTE’s, which covered a distance of 8.4 miles (13.6 km) in 3:56.088. So instead of being a rolling barrier, the noisy car seems more than capable of holding it. For context, the hypercar’s fastest lap was set by one of the two Ferrari 499Ps, which bested one of the Porsche 963s and a Toyota GR010 to be the fastest hybrid, with a time of 3:29.504.