Next Gen Camaro sim testing for Le Mans under way with NASCAR, sports car drivers

NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports 24 Hours of Le Mans Announcement
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Though still more than six months from final approval, testing has started on the NASCAR Next Gen Camaro slated to race in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans.

IMSA president John Doonan told NBC Sports that multiple drivers have been testing Chevrolet’s DIL (Driver in the Loop) simulator in the Charlotte, North Carolina, area.

“That includes current NASCAR drivers, current sports car drivers with lots of Le Mans experience,” Doonan said. “It includes former NASCAR drivers that are retired. So I think there is a great anticipation on my part and everyone’s part on who’s going to drive it. There’s a lot of interest from all those categories I just mentioned, which is really exciting. Everyone is pumped.

“Rick Hendrick told me a few weeks ago, ‘I’ve got a lot of new friends. Everyone is calling me to try to drive this car.’ Which is awesome.”

LE MANS ANSWERS, ANALYSISMore on NASCAR’s Hendrick entry for the 2023 race

In announcing the joint effort between NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports for the expected Garage 56 entry, Hendrick hinted in March that he would like to have past Cup Series champions Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson in the driving lineup, along with an active driver.

Johnson wants to race Le Mans and has talked to Hendrick about next year. Gordon also is interested but said recently he wanted to “play around on the simulator” before committing.

Doonan said though all of the official paperwork has been submitted, the Garage 56 invite from the l’Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) (which organizes the 24 Hours of Le Mans) won’t arrive until the entry list for the 2023 race is released in January. It’s expected to be merely a formality that the NASCAR/Hendrick entry receives approval.

“We feel good about it, especially given our partnership with the ACO,” Doonan said. “But we need to go through the normal process, and that’s obviously fair.”

Much of the development work on the car, though, will have to completed well before then. Doonan said there are multiple meetings weekly on the project.

Real-world testing will begin in a couple of months at “tracks in the IMSA family that simulate Le Mans” such as Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, Sebring International Raceway, Daytona International Speedway and “potentially some smaller circuits to run system checks. The goal is to simulate Le Mans with long straightaways and high-speed and low-speed corners.”

Doonan said Action Express is building a test car that will be the foundation for the final version built by Hendrick Motorsports. Action Express, whose No. 31 Cadillac won the 2021 DPi championship in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, is run by team manager Gary Nelson, a former NASCAR Cup Series director and championship crew chief.

Nelson told NBC Sports after the Garage 56 announcement in March that Action Express would be at Hendrick’s disposal for the Le Mans project, which Doonan described as a “Herculean effort” of collaboration.

“It is a monumental task to do what we’re doing with Garage 56 in a relatively short timeframe,” he said. “There’s been a massive effort put in by Dallara, Xtrac, Bosch, Hendrick, Goodyear, Chevrolet, all of us at IMSA, all my NASCAR teammates on the technical side like John Probst and Brandon Thomas.

“It’s obviously awesome to be a part of, but it is a Herculean effort. You’d say you’re just taking a Cup car over there. You’ve got to integrate all the elements of an endurance racing car into it. We want to have a respectable performance. The goal is to finish, but we also want to get around there at a respectable lap time. We’ve been meeting with the ACO and FIA and the overall safety standards, just so we have alignment. It’s going extremely well, but overall it’s a massive task.”

The Garage 56 Camaro will mark the first appearance by NASCAR stock cars at Le Mans since there were two stock cars in the 1976 race (including a Dodge Charger owned and raced by future Hall of Fame inductee Hershel McGriff).

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.

Though Garage 56 is a single-slot class that has been reserved for innovative automobiles since its 2012 introduction, the goal is at least to finish the race.

“It’s a perfect opportunity to put NASCAR and NASCAR’s product on a stage with a bunch of really passionate sports car fans,” Doonan said. “And simultaneously we could really allow a very loyal NASCAR audience to understand sports car racing. There are more road courses on the schedule now than ever. I think it’s a really good fit.”

Though the car is being built and raced by Chevrolet and Hendrick, Doonan confirmed that the other two Cup manufacturers have been granted full access to testing data and development. Toyota Racing Development and Ford Performance executives were disappointed to have no advance warning of the announcement.

“The car is going to be so highly modified,” Doonan said. “It’s not going to be a car that can enter a Cup race. It’s going to have headlights and taillights. It’s going to be set up for endurance racing. We have, however, invited Ford and Toyota to be part of any testing such that we maintain some transparency and that type of thing. It’s the right thing to do.

“The intent is to go there and put everybody in the best light possible. We’re grateful that Chevrolet was willing to put a Camaro into the program as the winningest manufacturer in NASCAR history and to do it with Hendrick as the winningest team. That was the intent to try to bring all the winningest together.”

The program is being overseen by Hendrick vice president of competition Chad Knaus, who has been calling strategy since last year in IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship races for the No. 48 Cadillac that includes Johnson, Hendrick’s seven-time Cup champion.

Xtreme Outlaw Midget Series triples to 34 races in 2023

Xtreme Outlaw Midget 2023
Xtreme Outlaw Series

After hosting 10 rounds in 2022, the Xtreme Outlaw Midget Series 2023 schedule will more than triple to 34 races. The 2022 season featured seven different winners in the first seven races, a female racer in Jade Avedisian as the only repeat winner and Zach Daum as the champion.

“Dirt Midget racing is a growing entity in American motorsports, and the Xtreme Outlaw Midget Series presented by Toyota is proud to drive further into the growth of the division with both a diverse and lucrative schedule for 2023,” newly appointed Series Director Tyler Bachman said in a press release. “From the kickoff at our first indoor event, to each of the new tracks we’re set to visit next year, it’s a lineup we know both our teams and fans will enjoy.”

The championship purse fund has also more than double with an increase of $42,000 to $80,000 in 2023. The champion will win $25,000. Last year, Daum pocketed $10,000.

In addition, the series will offer tow money to the top 12 in points. Six drivers attempted to qualify for all 10 races in 2022 with 89 drivers attending.

The series will begin on March 10 at Southern Illinois Center in Du Quoin, Ill. and end the same place it did in 2022 at I-44 Riverside Speedway in Oklahoma City on October 15.

During the season, they will visit 21 tracks in 10 states.

Some highlights of the season include the Xtreme Outlaw Midget Series pairing up with the World of Outlaws Sprint Cars in 2023 at Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 in Pevely, Mo. in April for the Outlaw Showdown and again in August for the Ironman 55 weekend, as well as the creation of a five-day Midget Speedweek.

The Midget Speedweek will immediately follow the Ironman 55 with a swing through Pennsylvania and New York.

Xtreme Outlaw Midget 2023 Schedule

Friday, March 10 | Southern Illinois Center | Du Quoin, Ill.
Saturday, March 11 | Southern Illinois Center | Du Quoin, Ill.
Friday, March 31 | Farmer City Raceway | Farmer City, Ill.

Saturday, April 1 | Farmer City Raceway | Farmer City, Ill.
Friday, April 14 | Federated AP Raceway at I-55 | Pevely, Mo.
Saturday, April 15 | Federated AP Raceway at I-55 | Pevely, Mo.

Friday, May 5 | Humboldt Speedway | Humboldt, Kan.
Saturday, May 6 | 81 Speedway | Park City, Kan.
Tuesday, May 23 | Millbridge Speedway | Salisbury, N.C.
Wednesday, May 24 | Millbridge Speedway | Salisbury, N.C.

Thursday, June 1 | Tri-City Speedway | Pontoon Beach, Ill.
Friday, June 2 | Wayne County Speedway | Wayne City, Ill.
Saturday, June 3 | Wayne County Speedway | Wayne City, Ill.

Friday, July 21 | TBA
Saturday, July 22 | Southern Illinois Raceway | Marion, Ill.
Friday, July 28 | TBA
Saturday, July 29 | Atomic Speedway | Chillicothe, Ohio
Sunday, July 30 | Brushcreek Motorsports Complex | Peebles, Ohio

Friday, August 4 | Federated AP Raceway at I-55 | Pevely, Mo.
Sat, August 5 | Federated AP Raceway at I-55 | Pevely, Mo.
Tuesday, August 8 | Clyde Martin Memorial Speedway | Newmanstown, Pa.
Wednesday, August 9 | Action Track USA | Kutztown, Pa.
Thursday, August 10 | Linda’s Speedway | Jonestown, Pa.
Friday, August 11 | TBA
Saturday, August 12 | Bridgeport Motorsports Park | Swedesboro, N.J.
Friday, August 25 | Davenport Speedway | Davenport, Iowa
Saturday, August 26 | Davenport Speedway | Davenport, Iowa

Friday, September 1 | Paragon Speedway | Paragon, Ind.
Saturday, September 2 | Paragon Speedway | Paragon, Ind.
Friday, September 15 | Jacksonville Speedway | Jacksonville, Ill.
Saturday, September 16 | Red Hill Raceway | Sumner, Ill.

Friday, October 13 | Port City Raceway | Tulsa, Okla.
Saturday, October 14 | I-44 Riverside Speedway | Oklahoma City, Okla.
Sunday, October 15 | I-44 Riverside Speedway | Oklahoma City, Okla.

* Co-sanctioned with POWRi