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.

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