Hindman, Cassels return to site of surprise first CTSC win at Sebring

Hindman and Cassels won here last year. Photo courtesy of IMSA

SEBRING, Fla. – The new-look GS class in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge that premiered last year took a step forward into the future at Sebring International Raceway.

The new Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport premiered with several different teams and rather than CJ Wilson Racing or Muehlner Motorsports America, it was Bodymotion Racing that scored the car’s first win in the series with Trent Hindman and Cameron Cassels driving the No. 12 Porsche.

A year later, Bodymotion enters having won the season opener in January at Daytona, continuing the team’s form after winning three-in-a-row last year, a run that began following Hindman’s standout drive here 12 months ago when he beat the highly rated Jeroen Bleekemolen in the same car.

As impressive as Hindman’s adaptation to his second sports car team, the 2014 GS class champion having shifted from the Fall-Line Motorsports BMW team to Bodymotion at the start of last season, seeing his Canadian co-driver Cassels come to form has been just as cool to witness.

Cassels, out of Coldsteam, British Columbia, didn’t enter the series with much racing experience at all, only a bit of stock car racing in his home country. Watching Cassels’ growth has been rewarding to Hindman, who wouldn’t have been in winning position had his co-driver not turned over the car to him in contention and in one piece.

“We laughed at the track walk, can you believe it’s been 12 months to the day since we started racing in the Conti series?” Cassels told NBC Sports. “For me, it was almost the start of my racing, period, other than some stock car stuff! Trent’s great at setting the car up so it’s easier for me to drive.”

Hindman said of his co-driver, “I think it’s something where I’ve been lucky to work with someone like Cameron, who is so driven. But he’s doing this himself though. I can teach him different techniques. I can’t teach the motivation to want to improve, drive, and get more consistent as a driver. That’s something that makes my life a lot more enjoyable.”

Hindman and Cassels won last year at Sebring. Photo courtesy of IMSA

The win at Sebring spring-boarded Bodymotion into the three-race win streak, having also edged the Wilson team at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in May and Watkins Glen. So for a period of four months, Bodymotion was top of class in GS despite missing the first race at Daytona.

“It was absolutely incredible,” Cassels explained. “Coming in we had very low expectations, and Sebring was a very busy weekend; I had all my family – wife and four children all here. Balancing that and race car stuff, we knew as we got closer to race day we had something for them.

“A lot of the paddock underestimated us. That made it all the more interesting. As the race developed, we had more of a shot at it. My job was easy, just keep the car on the lead lap and have the weapon to fight with at the end. It was a speed ship for him to drive.”

For Bodymotion as well as the rest of the Continental Tire Challenge field, the challenge this week is adapting to the series’ first two-hour race. The series ran two-hour, 30-minute races last year and a four-hour mini-endurance race at Daytona, but drops to two hours this weekend. That changes the game from a strategic standpoint.

“I prefer the longer format to be honest. But for me as a driver, I like the fact we split the time,” Cassels said.

Hindman added, “It changes our strategy a lot. It goes from a solid, two-stop race to potentially one stop. It might be two for us with our fuel consumption/capacity. At end of the day, there’s less time to make up for errors.”

The field is different now, a largely single-car class now up to 17 cars with a mix from Porsche, Ford, McLaren and Aston Martin all going for the victory.

How well the likable pairing gets on today will determine whether their Daytona win was a one-off, or if they have the sustained potential to contend for this year’s GS championship. And, a win today would give them their first repeat as a pairing.

With throaty roar, NASCAR Next Gen Camaro is taking Le Mans by storm on global stage

Le Mans 24 Hour Race - Car Parade
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

LE MANS, France — The V8 engine of the NASCAR Chevrolet Camaro has a distinct growl that cannot go unnoticed even among the most elite sports cars in the world at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

When the Hendrick Motorsports crew fired up the car inside Garage 56, NASCAR chairman Jim France broke into a huge grin and gave a thumbs up.

“The only guy who didn’t cover his ears,” laughed seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

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France has been waiting since 1962 – the year his father, NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., brought him to his first 24 Hours of Le Mans – to hear the roar of a stock car at the most prestigious endurance race in the world.

A path finally opened when NASCAR developed its Next Gen car, which debuted last year. France worked out a deal to enter a car in a specialized “Innovative Car” class designed to showcase technology and development. The effort would be part of NASCAR’s 75th celebration and it comes as Le Mans marks its 100th.

Once he had the approval, France persuaded Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear – NASCAR’s winningest team, manufacturer and tire supplier – to build a car capable of running the twice-around-the-clock race.

The race doesn’t start until Saturday, but NASCAR’s arrival has already been wildly embraced and France could not be more thrilled.

“Dad’s vision, to be able to follow it, it took awhile to follow it up, and my goal was to outdo what he accomplished,” France told The Associated Press. “I just hope we don’t fall on our ass.”

The car is in a class of its own and not racing anyone else in the 62-car field. But the lineup of 2010 Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller, 2009 Formula One champion Jenson Button and Johnson has been fast enough; Rockenfeller put down a qualifying lap that was faster than every car in the GTE AM class by a full three seconds.

The Hendrick Motorsports crew won its class in the pit stop competition and finished fifth overall as the only team using a manual jack against teams exclusively using air jacks. Rick Hendrick said he could not be prouder of the showing his organization has made even before race day.

“When we said we’re gonna do it, I said, ‘Look, we can’t do this half-assed. I want to be as sharp as anybody out there,” Hendrick told AP. “I don’t want to be any less than any other team here. And just to see the reaction from the crowd, people are so excited about this car. My granddaughter has been sending me all these TikTok things that fans are making about NASCAR being at Le Mans.”

This isn’t NASCAR’s first attempt to run Le Mans. The late France Sr. brokered a deal in 1976, as America celebrated its bicentennial, to bring two cars to compete in the Grand International class and NASCAR selected the teams. Herschel McGriff and his son, Doug, drove a Wedge-powered, Olympia Beer-sponsored Dodge Charger, and Junie Donlavey piloted a Ford Torino shared by Richard Brooks and Dick Hutcherson.

Neither car came close to finishing the race. McGriff, now 95 and inducted into NASCAR’s Hall of Fame in January, is in Le Mans as France’s guest, clad head-to-toe in the noticeable Garage 56 uniforms.

“I threw a lot of hints that I would like to come. And I’ve been treated as royalty,” McGriff said. “This is unbelievable to me. I recognize nothing but I’m anxious to see everything. I’ve been watching and seeing pictures and I can certainly see the fans love their NASCAR.”

The goal is to finish the full race Sunday and, just maybe, beat cars from other classes. Should they pull off the feat, the driver trio wants its own podium celebration.

“I think people will talk about this car for a long, long time,” said Rockenfeller, who along with sports car driver Jordan Taylor did much of the development alongside crew chief Chad Knaus and Greg Ives, a former crew chief who stepped into a projects role at Hendrick this year.

“When we started with the Cup car, we felt already there was so much potential,” Rockenfeller said. “And then we tweaked it. And we go faster, and faster, at Le Mans on the SIM. But you never know until you hit the real track, and to be actually faster than the SIM. Everybody in the paddock, all the drivers, they come up and they are, ‘Wow, this is so cool,’ and they were impressed by the pit stops. We’ve overachieved, almost, and now of course the goal is to run for 24 hours.”

The car completed a full 24-hour test at Sebring, Florida, earlier this year, Knaus said, and is capable of finishing the race. Button believes NASCAR will leave a lasting impression no matter what happens.

“If you haven’t seen this car live yet, it’s an absolute beast,” Button said. “When you see and hear it go by, it just puts a massive smile on your face.”

For Hendrick, the effort is the first in his newfound embrace of racing outside NASCAR, the stock car series founded long ago in the American South. Aside from the Le Mans project, he will own the Indy car that Kyle Larson drives for Arrow McLaren in next year’s Indianapolis 500 and it will be sponsored by his automotive company.

“If you’d have told me I’d be racing at Le Mans and Indianapolis within the same year, I’d never have believed you,” Hendrick told AP. “But we’re doing both and we’re going to do it right.”

Le Mans 24 Hour Race - Car Parade
Fans gather around the NASCAR Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 that is the Garage 56 entry for the 100th 24 Hours of Le Mans at the Circuit de la Sarthe (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).

General Motors is celebrating the achievement with a 2024 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Garage 56 Edition and only 56 will be available to collectors later this year.

“Even though Chevrolet has been racing since its inception in 1911, we’ve never done anything quite like Garage 56,” said GM President Mark Reuss. “A NASCAR stock car running at Le Mans is something fans doubted they would see again.”

The race hasn’t even started yet, but Hendrick has enjoyed it so much that he doesn’t want the project to end.

“It’s like a shame to go through all this and do all this, and then Sunday it’s done,” Hendrick said. “It’s just really special to be here.”