After complaining to NASCAR, Toyota granted full access to Next Gen testing for Le Mans

Toyota Next Gen Le Mans

After Toyota expressed major displeasure about how the project was unveiled, NASCAR will give the manufacturer (and Ford) full access to the development of the Next Gen car for the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans.

The expected “Garage 56” entry for the world’s most prestigious endurance race was announced March 17 at Sebring International Raceway by executives from NASCAR, IMSA, Chevrolet and Hendrick Motorsports, which would field the purpose-built Camaro in the race.

Toyota Racing Development president David Wilson said he and his colleagues at Ford Performance were disappointed to have “zero notice” of the news.

“Within minutes” of the announcement, Wilson “expressed our concerns and displeasure” to NASCAR president Steve Phelps, chief operating officer Steve O’Donnell and chairman Jim France.

“One of the first things that Jim France made clear of, and probably the biggest thing in my eyes, was while we’re disappointed that on the front end, we weren’t looped in just from a partnership standpoint, from here on out, what’s most important is that they’re transparent, and that we have visibility to every test,” Wilson said during a videoconference media availability Tuesday.

“Every time that (car) is on the road, that’s shared with us. And we will have that visibility and that transparency because that’s what we’ve been promised. And we will be a party to participate in every test. We will be invited to every test.”

That would be an extraordinary amount of access, considering that Wilson expects the Le Mans Next Gen will need “arguably hundreds if not thousands of hours of testing.”

A NASCAR spokesperson confirmed to NBC Sports that the sanctioning body has worked with OEM partners and teams outside Chevy and Hendrick since the announcement to ensure the Garage 56 project is competitively balanced and also reflects a collaborative effort to raise the profile of NASCAR and its manufacturers.

Designed for testing new technology and showcasing creativity without impacting the integrity of the starting grid, Garage 56 is a single-slot class that has been reserved for innovative automobiles since its 2012 introduction.

The Next Gen entry, which would mark the most notable NASCAR presence at Le Mans since the June 12, 1976 race, still needs approval for 2023 from the l’Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) that organizes the 24 Hours of Le Mans. But it’s expected to be a mere formality that the NASCAR/Hendrick entry will receive the Garage 56 invite from the ACO after Jim France brokered the deal.

France said at the announcement that he hand-picked Hendrick Motorsports 18 months ago to represent NASCAR in Le Mans because it’s the winningest stock-car team in history with a record 14 championships 282 victories and more than 75,000 laps led.

Since last year, Hendrick has partnered with France’s Action Express to field a No. 48 Ally Cadillac in IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship endurance races such as the Rolex 24 at Daytona and Twelve Hours of Sebring. Hendrick vice president of competition Chad Knaus has called strategy for the car in a reunion with Jimmie Johnson, who has been part of the driver lineup.

Wilson and Toyota Cup team owners Denny Hamlin (who has been outspoken about the issue in interviews and on Twitter) and Joe Gibbs raised misgivings with NASCAR about the potential for Chevrolet and Hendrick to gain information from the Le Mans project that will help their already vaunted road course programs in NASCAR’s premier series.

Hamlin said immediately after the announcement that “finding out in a press conference is not OK. NASCAR has too many executives for that to have slipped through the cracks .. This is kind of them doing their thing and what they want to do, and I understand their reasoning to want to do it. I just thought (from) a team owner standpoint, I’m concerned about how is it not an advantage? You cannot convince me right now that it won’t be.”

With special provisions for weight and the braking needed to survive a 24-hour race, the car is expected to be very unlike its Cup counterparts. It also is likely to feature a hybrid powertrain.

But despite the differences, Wilson said “it’s hard not to say (Hendrick) is going to figure out something” that will improve their Cup car.

“I would have much preferred that Jim France take Gary Nelson and his (Action Express) sports car team (which won the 2021 DPi title in IMSA) to Le Mans and run a Chevy, but of course, you need the sex appeal of a Hendrick Motorsports,” Wilson said. “I get it. Unfortunately, they are an active competitor in the sport, and they are going to be taking some form of a derivative of the car that we race every Sunday to Le Mans.”

Wilson said Toyota and Ford had provided NASCAR with “a laundry list” of “shared thoughts as to if they’re going to do this, how it could be done in a manner that’s reasonably fair.”

Though the driver lineup has yet to be confirmed, it also seems likely that Hendrick will employ one of its active Cup drivers (particularly if Le Mans coincides with a NASCAR off weekend as expected), which theoretically could provide another edge. Rick Hendrick also has mentioned Johnson and Jeff Gordon as prime candidates to share the car, whose construction is being overseen by Chad Knaus.

Wilson again concedes the starpower will benefit NASCAR.

“Stepping away from it at 30,000 feet, I’m absolutely a fan of what they’re doing,” he said. “This has an upside of putting our sport on the map and putting it in front of an international audience, but I would have preferred it be done in a little bit different way.”

Even though Toyota won’t be racing at Le Mans, Wilson might be present – as a guest of NASCAR, which has invited the other manufacturers to attend the race.

“Jim France and his team are working on how best to leverage this and not wrap this around one team or one manufacturer,” Wilson said. “But make sure it’s wrapped around NASCAR. And he would like to have representation from all of his manufacturers there to underscore that message.”

2023 SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Motocross season opener: Jett Lawrence rockets to the top

SuperMotocross Rankings season opener
Align Media

As the SuperMotocross season heads outdoors, the NBC Power Rankings change significantly with results from the Motocross opener at Fox Raceway in Pala, California. The Power Rankings assign a numeric value to each individual moto (90 points maximum) as well as the overall standings (100 points) and averages that number over the past 45 days. Included in the Power Rankings are results from the final five Supercross rounds, which fit into that 45-day timeframe.

Dylan Ferrandis finished on the podium in his first race back after experience a concussion in Supercross Round 4 at Houston. – Align Media

It didn’t take long for Jett Lawrence to rocket to the top of the SuperMotocross rankings – only about 74 minutes in fact. Lawrence dominated his first moto and beat his teammate Chase Sexton, the 2023 Monster Energy Supercross champion, to the line by 10 seconds. He had to fight a little harder for the second moto win as Sexton stalked him throughout the race and ended up less than a second behind.

Beginning this week, we have added the SuperMotocross points’ ranking beside the rider’s name and in one fell swoop, Lawrence went from being unranked in the 450 class to 26th. To qualify for the inaugural SuperMotocross’ guaranteed 20 positions that automatically make the gate for the three-race championship series, Lawrence needs to be inside the top 20 in combined Supercross and Motocross points. The bubble is currently held by Justin Starling and Lawrence needs to make up 44 points to overtake him.

Sexton’s second-place finish in the overall standings at Fox Raceway marked his ninth consecutive top-five finish. After the race, Sexton compared the battle he had with Lawrence to the one he experienced with Eli Tomac in last year’s Pro Motocross championship. These two riders had a significant advantage over the field in Pala, but there is still a lot of racing to be completed.

MORE: Jett Lawrence wastes no time, wins first 450 race

After missing 13 rounds to a concussion, Dylan Ferrandis told NBC Sports that he was not going to do anything risky in the season opener at Fox Raceway. If he dialed back his effort at all, one would be hard-pressed to notice. He finished third in both motos and was third in the overall standings. Ferrandis began the weekend just outside the top 20 in combined SuperMotocross points and climbed to 19th. In the next few weeks, he will get a little more breathing room over the cutline and then challenge for wins.

Adam Cianciarulo’s three-race streak of top-five finishes ended with a sixth-place overall at Fox Raceway, but that was enough to advance him one position in the NBC SuperMotocross Power Rankings and land him eighth in the combined points standings. His individual motos were moderate, but Cianciarulo is still battling the effects of injury and a nagging loss of strength in his wrist.

Aaron Plessinger returned from injury in the Supercross season finale to finish second at Salt Lake City. He added another top-five to his season total and now has six of those in the 13 rounds he’s made. With Ken Roczen and Eli Tomac not currently racing in Motocross, Plessinger has an opportunity to rise to the third seeding in short order.

450 Rankings

Driver (SMX rank) Power
1. Jett Lawrence (26) 93.33 NA
2. Chase Sexton (1) 92.36 1 -1
3. Dylan Ferrandis (19) 89.00 NA
4. Adam Cianciarulo (8) 82.89 5 1
5. Aaron Plessinger (5) 81.20 9 4
6. Justin Hill (9)
Not racing MX
79.75 8 2
7. Ken Roczen (4)
injured | Not racing MX
79.13 3 -4
8. Jose Butron (30) 75.67 NA
9. Lorenzo Locurcio (29) 75.00 NA
10. Eli Tomac (2)
74.50 2 -8
11. Dean Wilson (10)
Not racing MX
72.88 7 -4
12. Cooper Webb (3) 71.17 6 -6
13. Jerry Robin (32) 70.33 NA
14. Justin Barcia (6)
70.00 4 -10
15. Kyle Chisholm (15) 65.36 11 -4
16. Dante Oliveira (36) 65.00 NA
17. Shane McElrath (11)
Not racing MX
63.63 12 -5
18. Ryan Surratt (38) 63.33 NA
19. Josh Hill (13)
Not racing MX
62.38 13 -6
20. Justin Starling (20)
Not racing MX
62.13 19 -1

Motocross 450 Points

A bad start to Moto 1 at Fox Raceway was not enough to deter Hunter Lawrence. Neither was the fact that he was riding with sore ribs after experiencing a practice crash earlier in the week. He was a distant 10th to start the first race and for most of the 30 minutes, it seemed he would finish off the podium. Lawrence did not win the 250 East Supercross championship by giving in to hopelessness or pain, however.

Lawrence picked off one rider and then another until he found the battle for the top five in front of him at the halfway point. Once the field started to lap riders, Lawrence used the opportunity to continue forward through the grid. He passed third-place Jo Shimoda with two laps remaining and challenged Maximus Vohland for second on the final trip around Fox Raceway, but had to settle for the final spot on the podium. Lawrence dominated Moto 2 and claimed the overall victory in Pala.

Justin Cooper made his first start of the season at Fox Raceway and earned enough NBC Power Average points to climb to second. Partly this was due to consistently strong runs in both motos and a 5-4 that gave him the fifth position overall, but he is also not weighed down with moderate Supercross results. It will take a week or two to see where his strength lands him on the grid.

Motocross 250 Points

In only his third Pro Motocross National, Haiden Deegan scored a second-place finish in the overall standings. – Align Media

RJ Hampshire may feel he has something to prove after finishing second to Jett Lawrence in the 250 SX West division. He certainly rode like that was the case in Moto 1 and easily outpaced the field on his way to victory lane. In Moto 2, he crashed twice on Lap 1 and dropped back to 39th. It took half of the race to get inside the top 20 and salvage points. By the end of the race, he was 11th and while that was enough to get him on the overall podium, it cost him points in the NBC SuperMotocross Power Rankings.

Haiden Deegan surprised the field in Houston in his 250 Supercross debut by finishing fifth. At the time, he said his strong result was because there were no expectations. He echoed that statement after the Motocross season opener. His second-place finish in the overall standings was enough to project him five positions up the SuperMotocross Rankings. In 11 rounds in the combined series, Deegan has earned seven top-fives and a worst finish of eighth.

Jo Shimoda did not make his first Supercross race of 2023 until late in the season. He finished fourth on the hybrid track of Atlanta, which had some similar elements to Fox Raceway. His fourth-place finish in Moto 1 of the Motocross opener made it seem likely he would score an overall podium, but a sixth in the second race cost him points in the NBC Power Rankings in a field that promises to be extremely tight.

250 Rankings

Driver (SMX rank) Power
1. Hunter Lawrence (1) 89.56 2 1
2. Justin Cooper (42) 84.67 NA
3. RJ Hampshire (3) 83.67 3 0
3. Haiden Deegan (4) 83.67 8 5
5. Jo Shimoda (16) 82.33 7 2
6. Guillem Farres (46) 79.33 NA
7. Levi Kitchen (6) 79.11 5 -2
8. Max Anstie (5) 77.83 12 4
9. Max Vohland (8) 77.50 14 5
10. Enzo Lopes (10) 76.00 11 1
11. Mitchell Oldenburg (13) 74.25 16 5
12. Carson Mumford (19) 71.22 17 5
13. Jordon Smith (7) 70.56 9 -4
14. Ryder DiFrancesco (48) 70.33 NA
15. Chris Blose (12) 67.00 13 -2
16. Chance Hymas (27) 66.00 19 3
17. Tom Vialle (9) 65.78 18 1
18. Jett Reynolds (55) 63.33 NA
19. Michael Mosiman (28) 62.33 20 1
20. Garrett Marchbanks (64) 59.00 NA

* The NBC Power Rankings assign 100 points to a Main event winner in Supercross and overall winner in Motocross. It awards 90 points for each Moto, Heat and Triple Crown win. The points decrement by a percentage equal to the number of riders in the field until the last place rider in each event receives five points. The Power Ranking is the average of these percentage points over the past 45 days.

POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 13 AT ATLANTA: Justin Barcia leapfrogs the Big 3
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 11 AT SEATTLE: Cooper Webb, Eli Tomac overtake Chase Sexton
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 10 AT DETROIT: Chase Sexton narrowly leads Webb
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 8 AT DAYTONA: Chase Sexton unseats Eli Tomac
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 7 AT ARLINGTON: Jason Anderson narrowly trails Eli Tomac
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 6 AT OAKLAND: Perfect night keeps Eli Tomac first
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 5 AT TAMPA: Chase Sexton, Cooper Webb close in
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 4 AT HOUSTON: Eli Tomac rebounds from A2 crash, retakes lead
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 3 AT ANAHEIM 2: Consistency makes Ken Roczen king
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 2 AT SAN DIEGO: Ken Roczen moves up, Chase Sexton falls
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 1 AT ANAHEIM 1: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence gain an early advantage