This year's hotly anticipated 24 Hours of Le Mans will be remembered for two things. At the front, four new factory entries debuting in the same season mean that the hundredth anniversary race promises its most competitive field ever. Just behind them, though, is the other thing that makes this year's race special: the Automobile Club l'Ouest let NASCAR team Hendrick Motorsports bring a modified version of one of their Camaro stock cars to run the whole race.
This entry, the latest in the Garage56 program that has previously given this race a Deltawing and a Nissan that is for legal purposes explicitly not to be called a Deltawing, is exactly what you are thinking. That is a stock car, built to the Next Gen specs raced on a weekly basis in NASCAR since last year, with modifications necessary for it to run competitive laps and survive 24 hours at the Circuit de la Sarthe. It is no surprise that the resulting car looks and sounds ferocious, but you may be surprised to learn just how fast it actually is.
After months of installing and testing major upgrades, the Garage56 Camaro is more than just quick enough to keep up with the GT2-spec cars running in GTE-Am. Through one day of testing, the car's quickest time of 3:53.761 is more than two seconds faster than any time set by a car built to the race's standard GT regulations.
Although testing times are not necessarily representative of final race pace, that specific number is so far ahead of the GTE-Am field that it actually lands on something significant. In a lap with traffic not run for the fastest possible number, the Camaro put down a time quick enough for fourth in GTE-Am during last year's practice-qualifying sessions. Project a typical increase in pace over a race weekend onto the team and, suddenly, the Camaro should be fighting to outqualify every GT car in the race.
As the car is unclassified, beating all of the GT cars will not represent an actual victory of any sort. It is a very impressive bragging right, though, and one GM, NASCAR, and Hendrick Motorsports are surely squarely aiming to achieve.
No matter how fast the car actually is, though, the most memorable thing about the Garage56 stock car is how it looks on track next to the rest of the 24 Hours of Le Mans grid. Next to a GT car, it is brutish and simple. Next to a top-level prototype like the Ferrari 499 P, it appears to be from a different world entirely. On Saturday, we get to see how a NASCAR team's full effort to field the best possible car at Le Mans squares up against both in 24 hours at the Circuit de la Sarthe.
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