Who are the key players behind the Garage 56 entry based on the 2023 Camaro ZL1 NASCAR Cup for the 24 Hours of Le Mans? It is an assembly of surprisingly disparate groups with vast experience that overlap in some areas and diverge in others.
At the top of the list is NASCAR CEO Jim France, whose idea of a return trip to the Circuit de la Sarthe – 47 years after the stock car organization entered the fray with two Cup cars in 1976 – launched the project. France brought in IMSA Weather SportsCar Championship President John Doonan, who came to IMSA after leading Mazda’s motor racing department for many years, to bring his skills in big projects and lead the overall effort.
Immense knowledge of the Next Gen Cup car has been gained with John Probst, NASCAR’s Vice President of Innovation and Racing Development, and Brandon Thomas, NASCAR’s General Manager of Vehicle Systems, being attached to the Garage 56 project. .
“A lot of what I do is lead the collaboration between the NASCAR Technical Center and IMSA and our relationship with [Le Mans organizers] the ACO,” Doonan told RACER. “The Tech Center has proven to be not only strong, but growing, so we have this facility in Concord, North Carolina, and it’s really impressive to see the team there and all the resources that So when Garage 56 came into being, it was a natural extension of being able to work much more closely with John and Brandon, the guys who really led the development of the Next Gen Cup car.
“Brandon, on a day-to-day basis, has basically been the product manager for the new Cup cars, working with all the different suppliers, and John is responsible for all things technical at NASCAR. He’s been involved from the earliest discussions on this project. Garage 56, and Brandon led the relationship they developed with Dallara on the Next Gen car and all of the unique vendors they have that are part of the Next Gen package.”
On the ground at Hendrick Motorsports, who will race the car in testing and at Le Mans, legendary Cup crew chief Chad Knaus has been installed to handle all aspects of the Camaro ZL1’s development for racing. endurance and leading the team in competition.
Chevrolet is at the heart of not only the Camaro ZL1, but also the development of the 5.8-litre V8 engine which will have to last at least 24 hours at Le Mans and learn to operate with a 40 hp electronic motor which will harvest energy under braking. and add its electric power in strategic areas of the 8.5-mile circuit.
Together, Mark Stielow, director of GM motorsport competition engineering, Jim Danahy, vice president of GM global hardware components and subsystems, and Russ O’Blenes, director of the performance and GM racing propulsion, represents the best the Bowtie has to offer.
“The entire engine program is led by Chevrolet,” Doonan said. “It’s absolutely locked and loaded. Russ runs the engine program for the Chevy team. Mark is the head of racing projects for GM, so he’s already heavily involved in NASCAR and IMSA, and Jim fits in perfectly. alongside them with the development of the car and the integration of their Le Mans engine into the Camaro.
With the need to develop rubber that will survive the rigors of endurance racing in a Cup car, Stu Grant, Goodyear’s General Manager of Global Racing Tires and Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s Racing Director, are working with the team to specifically create road racing and rain tires. for the ZL1 at Le Mans.
“The goal of the Garage 56 project is to demonstrate the potential of the Camaro Cup hybrid car, to finish the race and operate at a solid performance window among GT cars, and to do so through their more than five decades tire development on the NASCAR side, and their tire development and Le Mans participation, Goodyear is developing a bespoke tire for that car,” Doonan said.
“So they looked at tire sizes, tire compounds, tire construction, and how we can maybe go a little wider, go with a compound that would be different from what would be used in NASCAR competition. So that’s what Stu and Greg have been working on, providing the simulation data, so that we can save as much lap time as possible.
On the chassis side, Dallara’s chief designer Luca Pignacca and Alex Timmermans, a multi-faceted chassis and design talent whose skills span IndyCar and NASCAR on behalf of the manufacturer, round out the core group of the Camaro ZL1 Garage 56 support staff.
“Dallara played such a key role in the engineering of the Next Gen Cup car, so having them included to help develop this car into an endurance racing package was a must,” Doonan said. “So between Luca and Alex, they worked with us to find ways to bring the endurance DNA to the car in terms of driver comfort, packaging and even helping with system integration. hybrid.
“They were also instrumental in my discussions with the ACO and the FIA, regarding the safety of the car and how it relates to the requirements of the FIA and ACO. It’s a great corporate team and of organizations involved in this project and we could not do it without each of our partners.