By Seth Eggert, Associate Editor
NASCAR’s return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans is already turning heads after just two test sessions for the twice around the clock classic.
Almost 50 years after NASCAR had two entries at Circuit de la Sarthe, the Hendrick Motorsports-fielded Garage 56 entry showed speed during the test day.
Though the No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 is officially in a class of its’ own, the Innovative Class, its’ speed in the first test session would have put it fourth fastest in the LMGTE AM field and 44th overall. It was 0.257 seconds off of the fastest LMGTE AM, the No. 66 JMW Motorsport Ferarri 488 GTE Evo.
“The atmosphere is insane,’’ Johnson said to NASCAR’s Wire Service of his first full-day at track. “I was chatting with someone yesterday, a fan, that said Americans have always been loved at Le Mans. He said our reputation is very accommodating, hospitable, very kind to the fans.”
During Safety Car (caution) periods, the NASCAR stockcar will be classified with the LMGTE field for scoring purposes. The speed of the American racecar in the second test session might put a wrinkle in the plans of the LMGTE entries.
In the second test session the NASCAR entry driven by Mike Rockenfeller, Jenson Button, and Jimmie Johnson ran a 3 minute, 53.761 second lap around the 8.469-mile course. By comparison, the fastest LMGTE AM car, the JMW Motorsport Ferarri ran a 3 minute, 56.088 second lap.
With Rockenfeller behind the wheel, the Chevrolet cleared the LMGTE AM field by 2.327 seconds. Should its’ speed hold throughout the week and into race day and the inevitable Safety Car periods, the NASCAR Garage 56 car could spell chaos for the LMGTE AM running order.
“I think first of all it was so nice to finally be on track in Le Mans in this car after all the work we did,’’ Rockenfeller said following Sunday’s final session. “The whole team can be proud of today. I know it’s only a test day but I’m happy we were driving without any problems. We were fast and that’s where we want to be. The car looks amazing on track and sounds great.
“We were just doing our work, learning the track, track evolution and making the car faster, trying stuff out. It’s still a long week ahead of us, but I think today we just take that and make the right conclusions. I feel pretty happy with everything.’’
In the first Le Mans test session, the No. 50 Ferrari AF Corse 499P Hypercar was the fastest overall. Its’ sister car, the No. 51 was fastest overall in the second test session.
The first free practice session for the 100th Anniversary edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the 24 Hours Centenary, is scheduled for Wednesday, June 7.
The 24 Hours of Le Mans is scheduled for Saturday, June 10 at 9:00 a.m. ET on MotorTrend TV. The race will also be streamed on MotorTrend +.