Garage 56 lineup for Le Mans: A sports car star and two past NASCAR Cup champions?

NASCAR Garage 56 lineup
James Gilbert/Getty Images
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MONTEREY, California – With an active Cup Series driver ruled out for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the NASCAR Garage 56 Camaro lineup is expected to include one sports car ace.

Speaking with reporters ahead of the NTT IndyCar Series finale last weekend at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, Chevrolet vice president of Performance and Motorsports Jim Campbell said “we’re going to have one (driver) that’s a road racing and sports car expert that will complement a couple of other drivers” in the Garage 56 entry that is being prepared by Hendrick Motorsports in a joint effort with Chevrolet, Goodyear and NASCAR.

NASCAR released its national series schedules Wednesday, and the June 9-11 weekend at Sonoma Raceway for Xfinity and Cup will conflict with the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans at Circuit de la Sarthe.

Campbell said there was no expectation for NASCAR to change its schedule to allow for an active Cup driver in the Next Gen entry at Le Mans. But he was expecting to have a Le Mans veteran from outside NASCAR to help lead from behind the wheel.

“A hard-core sports car driver that brings that experience who’s run Le Mans before that can share that with other drivers that have not,” Campbell said.

The sports car veteran is expected to be Mike Rockenfeller, who won the Rolex 24 and 24 Hours of Le Mans overall titles in 2010. The German driver recently tested the specially modified Camaro at Michelin Road Atlanta. He also made his Cup Series debut last month, finishing 30th at Watkins Glen International in the No. 77 Chevy for Spire Motorsports.

Rockenfeller, who has been teamed with Jimmie Johnson on the IMSA endurance race lineup in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac since last year, likely will be paired with the two most successful drivers in Hendrick’s storied history.

Team owner Rick Hendrick has hinted since the March unveiling of the project that he would like seven-time Cup champion Johnson and four-time champion Jeff Gordon in the car.

In revealing his racing plans for next season, Johnson reiterated last weekend that Le Mans is a priority. Gordon recently raced a Porsche on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, knocking the rust off while getting the Hendrick Motorsports’ vice chairman reacclimated to sports cars.

Being in race shape for Le Mans will be critical because the Garage 56 lineup likely will be limited to a trio of drivers, though Campbell has lobbied for more.

“I was interested to see if the FIA and ACO would allow us to bring more than the normal number of drivers,” he said. “I was interested in five or six so we could bring a lot of drivers that are well-known in NASCAR starpower and then let them do a stint or two, but it looks like we’re going to be held to the normal number, which would be three. I’m still going to advocate for it but right now looks like three.”

Gordon was part of the winning entry in the 2017 Rolex 24 at Daytona. Johnson has been logging laps regularly in IndyCar and IMSA the past two years.

The Garage 56 entry is being spearheaded by Hendrick vice president of competition Chad Knaus, who led Johnson to seven titles as a crew chief and has called strategy for Action Express’ No. 48 Cadillac.

Next year will mark the return of NASCAR to the 24 Hours of Le Mans for the first time in nearly 50 years. The modified version of the Chevrolet Next Gen Camaro ZL1 will serve as the prestigious race’s “Garage 56” entry, a single-slot class that has been reserved for innovative automobiles since its 2012 introduction.

Starting lineup grid for IMSA Petit Le Mans: Tom Blomqvist puts MSR on pole position

Petit Le Mans lineup
IMSA
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IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship contender Tom Blomqvist put the Meyer Shank Racing Acura at the front of the starting lineup for the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta.

Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 8.55-second lap on the 2.54-mile circuit Friday to capture his third pole position for MSR this season. Earl Bamber qualified second in the No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which enters Saturday’s season finale with a 19-point lead over the No. 60 of Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves) for the 10-hour race.

PETIT LE MANS STARTING GRID: Click here for the starting lineup l Lineup by car number

PETIT LE MANS: Info on how to watch

With the pole, MSR sliced the deficit to 14 points behind WTR, which will field the trio of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley in Saturday’s race.

“We really needed to put the car in this kind of position,” Blomqvist said. “It makes our life a little less stressful tomorrow. It would have given the No. 10 a bit more breathing space. It’s going to be a proper dogfight tomorrow. The guys gave me such a great car. It’s been fantastic this week so far, and it really came alive. I’m hugely thankful to the boys and girls at MSR for giving me the wagon today to execute my job.

“That was a big effort from me. I knew how important it was. It’s just awesome for the guys to give them some sort of reward as well. It’s always nice to be quick. If you do the pole, you know you’ve got a quick car.”

Though WTR has a series-leading four victories with the No. 10, MSR won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has five runner-up finishes along with its three poles.

The strong performances of the ARX-05s ensure that an Acura will win the final championship in IMSA’s premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) division, which is being rebranded as Grand Touring Prototype in the move to LMDh cars next season.

Taylor qualified third despite sliding into the Turn 5 gravel during the closing minutes of qualifying while pushing to gain points.

“Qualifying was important for points,” Taylor said. “Going into it, if we outqualified the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura, they had a lot to lose in terms of championship points. So, we were trying to increase the gap over 20 points which would’ve made a big difference for tomorrow. We would have loved to get the pole and qualify ahead of the No. 60, but in the scheme of the points, it didn’t change a whole lot. I’m feeling good since it’s such a long race, and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura team does such a good job strategizing and putting us in a good position.

“I’m very confident in our lineup and our team compared to them over the course of 10 hours. I’d put my two teammates up against those guys any day. I think we are all feeling optimistic and strong for tomorrow.”

In other divisions, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (LMP2), Riley Motorsports (LMP3), VasserSullivan (GTD Pro) and Paul Miller Racing (GTD) captured pole positions.

The broadcast of the 10-hour race will begin Saturday at 12:10 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 3 p.m. to USA Network.


QUALIFYING

Results

Results by class

Fastest lap by driver

Fastest lap by driver after qualifying

Fastest lap by driver and class after qualifying

Fastest lap sequence in qualifying

Best sector times in qualifying

Time cards in qualifying

PRACTICE RESULTS: Session I l Session II l Session III