Over the past year or so, you may have heard people talking about “a NASCAR running Le Mans”.
That would be correct. It’s a project called Garage 56.
The Garage 56 project is a partnership between NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet, and Goodyear – the winningest team, manufacturer, and tire in NASCAR’s 75-year history.
Hendrick Motorsports, 14-time NASCAR Cup Series champions, announced NASCAR's Garage 56 project in March 2022.
This project aims to enter a modified version of the Cup Series' new NextGen stock car into the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans, the 100th-anniversary edition of the iconic race.
Garage 56 is the entry that the Automobile Club de l'Ouest sets aside for the “technology of tomorrow and beyond” of innovative machinery.
Sights and sounds of #NextGen56 testing at @VIRNow.
— NASCARG56 (@nascarg56)
Nov 15, 2022
At this past weekend’s Rolex 24 in Daytona, the driver lineup was finally announced.
7x NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson
Class and overall Le Mans champion Mike Rockenfeller
Formula 1 champion Jenson Button
One step closer 💪
@JimmieJohnson, @mikerockenfell3, and @JensonButton will be behind the wheel of the #NextGenG56 when we take on the challenge of @24hoursoflemans in June 👏
An all-star cast for a truly special event.
— NASCARG56 (@nascarg56)
Jan 28, 2023
“It’s really special to be here," said Button. "I've always thought of myself as a racing driver and I looked for new challenges since my F1 career. To go to Le Mans, I’m very excited to work with an all-star team.
“[The deal came about] through Jimmie a long time ago, I was asking him what he was up to in 2023 because this guy can’t sit still. He was running through a few things he's hoping to do, and he said, I'm hoping to bring NASCAR to Le Mans. I was like, sorry, what?
“Then Rocky invited me to a test at Sebring, and it all started from there. I watched and listened to all the information, and all the steps forward they were making. Looking forward to driving the car on Tuesday.”
Johnson added: “When Rick [Hendrick] called I couldn’t resist the opportunity. It’s been a big dream of mine to experience Le Mans with this great group of drivers and this team, it’s really special.
“The design and intent is to take NASCAR to Le Mans, everyone in France is going to enjoy hearing this car roaring down the straightaways.
“It’s a huge honour to represent NASCAR and I have a huge history with the people involved. The car is different from the typically NASCAR vehicle, so it’s somewhere between a hybrid of a NASCAR and a prototype."
Rockenfeller said: "It's an incredible group of partners on this project. To be involved from day one is just a great honor, a lot of fun, and I can't wait now to share the car with these two especially-young teammates."
Dennis Hirtz, 39, has already taken some initial steps to get his 3F Racing team into the top class of NASCAR: purchasing his NASCAR license as an owner and securing the No. 30 entry, incorporating 3F Racing as a company and registering it in the United States. Hirtz told Motorsport.com, "Where will be a big surprise in American racing from spring 2023, because from then on German will be spoken there for the first time. The wording is very important to me, because we want to build a U.S. team with roots in Germany."
A German will lead the racing team, and some employees will also be from Europe, including Germany. Despite this, Hirtz knows Charlotte, N.C., like the back of his hand thanks to his family's medical technology company in North Carolina.
Hirtz wants to compete immediately in the highest division, skipping the Xfinity Truck series. To do this, he must immediately tackle a multi-million dollar program without being able to bring in much equity. He said, "3F Racing is dependent on sponsorship money, which is why we work hard to find good, reliable and loyal partners to whom we can add value, of course." Hirtz has a good relationship with General Motors, which is why he got the nod for support for the team from Chevrolet. He also has a commitment from Richard Childress Racing, one of the most renowned teams in the NASCAR series, for an alliance.
Hirtz is not yet able to answer the exciting question of which drivers he is planning for the debut season. He is planning five to ten entries, and until 2025 he is pursuing the strategy of starting as a full-time team - then with just one driver. Before that, he will race part-time with several drivers. Christopher Tate and Ryan Vargas are two young up-and-coming drivers who have a close relationship with Hirtz and will be an option for 3F Racing in the future. However, in the beginning, Hirtz wants to rely on experienced drivers to establish himself in the Cup Series.
3F Racing has already debuted in U.S. racing on a smaller stage. On Nov. 19 at Florence (S.C.) Motor Speedway, the racing team fielded a Late Model for U.S. Marine Christopher Tate, who finished 16th on the short track. 3F Racing did not field its car in the event but allied with an established Late Model team: Orion Motorsports. The car and mechanics came from Orion, while 3F Racing took care of the marketing, the driver, and, Vargas, the driving instructor.
Hirtz is targeting the team’s debut at the fifth round of the season at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
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