Le Mans 2023 was chock-a-block with headlines, yet not all of them emanated from the blows traded in the halo Hypercar class. A modified NASCAR turned up in the experimental Garage 56 slot – previously home to the DeltaWing – and stole many spectators’ hearts. How does a brutish Chevrolet Camaro justify a place in the ACO’s ‘innovation’ category? By proving the Next Gen Cup Series NASCAR is a properly sophisticated thing and not the simplistic lump of metal and noise some Europeans might have unfairly assumed.
“The Next Gen vehicle allows a platform of innovation relative to the previous Cup Series car,” says Justin Fantozzi, Goodyear’s lead on the project. “We started with that Cup car as the baseline but then fitted it to the template of a GT-class racecar.”
Among his own team’s innovations were in-tyre sensors for the tyre pressure monitoring system (rather than in-wheel) which proved of real worth picking up a slow puncture during the race. But it’s just the cherry on top a wealth of the Camaro‘s other upgrades, with wider rear bodywork, aluminium parts swapped for carbon (check out the gorgeous latticework on its grille) and a massively reworked aero profile. The decision whether to have a rear wing made its way right up to the highest suits – and forgoing one called upon some sophisticated solutions elsewhere on the car.
“It’s definitely not just a Cup car with lights,” Justin adds. “It’s six or seven seconds a lap faster than a regular Next Gen car at COTA. It’s a proper racecar.”
Indeed, the Camaro’s astonishing pace meant that usual Garage 56 rules – starting Le Mans unclassified at the back of the grid – had to be waived. It qualified over four seconds ahead of the GTE cars, forcing the organisers to shove it up behind the LMP2 pack. “We had lot of discussion about straight-line speed versus Porsche Curves speed, and balancing the two,” says Justin. “Our pace relative to the GT cars is something to really stand on and be proud of.”
While the Camaro quickly earned cult hero status with its V8 blood ‘n’ thunder, its sheer speed promoted it far above a novelty sideshow, despite some regulator help to make sure it brought a true taste of NASCAR to La Sarthe. “The ACO wanted a door, but we didn’t want a door for proper NASCAR entry during pit stops. They said ‘don’t worry about it’…” Then there’s the gearbox change allowed right at the death to ensure it made the chequered flag. But the team still faced a stack of challenges making a Stateside star work in Europe – not least adapting its powertrain to different fuel and overhauling their toolkit to work with a different continent’s mains sockets
A lot of effort for one 24-hour appearance, we put to Justin. So what chance a European tour, perhaps with a star appearance against the clock at the Nürburgring? “Sure,” he ventures. “I know it’s going to be at Goodwood. As soon as you open it up to other stuff, you clearly have an opportunity.”
The Garage56 certainly grabbed people's attention at Goodwood thanks to Jenson Button's tyre-shredding run (above), so we're keeping our fingers crossed for further action in Europe.