The NASCAR Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 race car that is slated to compete in next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans could feature a hybrid powertrain, with ACO President Pierre Fillon confirming it as a prerequisite for the Garage 56 entry.
Announced on Thursday, Hendrick Motorsports revealed plans to enter a NASCAR Next Gen car in the French endurance classic as part of a collaboration between NASCAR, Hendrick, Chevrolet, IMSA and Goodyear.
While technical details of the “modified” car were not disclosed, Fillon indicated that it would be a hybrid during the press conference.
He later reconfirmed to Sportscar365 that a hybrid powertrain would be a prerequisite for such an entry in the innovative class that has previously featured new technologies.
“Garage 56 is a car dedicated to innovation,” Fillon said. “This is only [one] car [that cannot] score points or [be] in the championship. We need something innovative.
“When Jim [France] told me there would be a new generation of cars in NASCAR using a hybrid system, he had this crazy idea to enter this car as a Garage 56 in 2023, I was immediately enthusiastic.
“I think this new generation of NASCAR cars with the hybrid system is innovative and this is the future of NASCAR.”
When asked about the hybrid component, IMSA President John Doonan would not confirm technical details.
NASCAR is known to be working on outfitting its Next Gen cars with a spec hybrid unit, similar to what will be seen in LMDh, in time for the 2024 season.
A potential trial run at Le Mans — for a 24-hour race — could serve as a testbed for its development.
“At the moment, we’re going to have an opportunity to talk about the exact specs of the car down the road here,” Doonan said.
“What Steve Phelps, Steve O’Donnell, John Probst and everybody has done with the Next Gen car, it provides tremendous versatility, not only for the manufacturers with all of the branding, specifically the team at Chevy and their design team has done.
“We’ll talk about specs and engines and all of the dimensions in the coming weeks and months. There’s a lot of work to be done.
“Le Mans and events like the Rolex 24 at Daytona and what’s going to happen here tomorrow with the World Endurance Championship race and Saturday with the Twelve Hour race [at Sebring], these events are absolutely a place to test man, woman and machine.
“The technology, whether it’s powertrain, new fuels, tires or potential hybrids and things like that…
“There’s no question that these events are laboratories for the auto industry. Over the course of time there’s been innovations that have been tested on the race track that end up in road cars.
“Jim [Campbell] and his team at Chevrolet have been a shining example with that over the years, specifically with the Corvette and others too. That Corvette has been an absolute laboratory for road car [development].”
NASCAR Drivers in the Mix for Lineup
Drivers for the program have yet to be confirmed although team owner Rick Hendrick said he would like to have a “mix” including at least one active NASCAR Cup Series driver.
“We’ve talked about it a lot. If the calendar works out, we’ll just wait and see what’s available,” Hendrick said.
“From the IMSA drivers, we have a lot of drivers that have Le Mans experience. Especially with Chevrolet’s involvement, we’ll be covered with drivers. But we’d like to see a Cup driver in the system if we could.”
When asked if Jimmie Johnson could be a possibility, Hendrick indicated it could be a possibility, as well as Jeff Gordon.
“We’re going to put [Jeff] Gordon on a diet and get Jimmie back!” Hendrick joked. “I haven’t talked to Jimmie yet but I’m sure he’ll do it if he didn’t have a conflict.”
NASCAR President Steve Phelps said they would “have to look at it” from a scheduling standpoint, indicating that the sanctioning body may be open to making adjustments to its 2023 calendar to accommodate for active Cup Series drivers to be part of the lineup at Le Mans.
This year’s race will clash with the NASCAR event at Sonoma Raceway although there is an off-weekend the following week.
The only other hurdle could be the ACO’s long-standing requirement of having rookie drivers complete laps in the Le Mans Test Day, which now falls the weekend before the race.
“We would have to look at it from a scheduling standpoint,” Phelps said of the 2023 Cup Series calendar. “The good thing is that we’re not here to talk about announcing drivers and that will be Rick and his team to figure out.”