Insight Richard Craill June 3, 2023 (Comments off) (169)

LeMans diary #2 – right car, right time

THE FERRARI 499P, the Scuderia’s return to top-flight Sports Car racing and outright competition at La Sarthe, has an underfloor that looks like it’s lifted directly from their Formula One car.

The Porsche’s are stunningly detailed: the multi-coloured livery with nods to their most famous schemes of old adding a brightness to the already perfectly presented trio of 963s as is suitable for an outfit run by both Le Captain, Roger Penske, and Stuttgart itself.

DAY 1 DIARY – Road to Le Mans

The madhouse Peugeot 9X8, with it’s rear wing MIA and enormously sculpted and tuned underbody looks like it’s from the future – one where the French brand hopes their low drag approach will finally pay off after a challenging 12 months of development for their Le Mans project.

The Toyota just looks like the kind of machine that has dominated for years, as do the well-drilled GR crew as they rattle through one competent practice stop to another in crisp Friday morning Le Mans air.

And then there’s the Garage 56 NASCAR.

It’s presence amidst this field of sports car racing excellence is like landing a Harrier Jump Jet at the battle of Agincourt (Thanks, Jeremy Clarkson).

And yet, it completely fits and at this early stage could be my favourite car on the grid.

I love the Hypercars, I really do, and even the somewhat neutered LMP2 cars remain fearsomely quick relative to anything else. But if they are the expensive, top-shelf Camembert, then the NASCAR is the supermarket Chedder and If I’m honest that’s probably more my taste.

It’s a bonkers thing, the ‘Maro and don’t think that it’s anything other than a 100 per cent a Next-Gen NASCAR, from the bar work inside to the carbon body, the wheels and the width and profile of the Goodyear rubber itself.

There are no air jacks – the ACO told NASCAR they would prefer the car to run in the spirit of the US Series’ own regulations – which means the very same jacks used in Cup Series pit lanes across the United States have winged their way across the Atlantic for use this weekend.

Delve deeper though and the car adds another layer of polish that help it settle into this field of high-achievement, bespoke Sports Racing Prototypes.

There’s the massive front splitter and dual dive planes on the front. The fact the car has headlights – real ones – and spotlights to help them survive the night.

In the middle there’s more electronics than your usual Cup Car fare, not to mention the MPI Steering Wheel that could have come from one of the Hypercars. The seat, too, is much upgraded: more open wheel pod than upright NASCAR position.

The drivers, though, still need to clamber in throughout the window – there’s no opening doors here.

At the back there’s more dive plains and an enormous rear spoiler; extended beyond the NASCAR original with clear Perspex. The spoiler is oversized, most likely as a way to pull the car’s straight-line speed from ‘insane’ to merely ‘enough’.

The talent surrounding the car is immense, too. At the front Cup-winning crew chief Chad Knaus marshals the pit road crew – selected from Hendrick Motorsport’s Cup Car teams and their own reserve squad – as they work their way through their first pit stop practice session.

The car uses the same guns as a standard NASCAR stop, but adapting to the overhead boom, the fuel hose – no Churns here – and the requirement to earth the car when refueling are all new to the team.

John Doonan – president of IMSA and the man tapped to head up this collaborative NASCAR / IMSA / ACO project – wanders around shaking hands; a powerful reinforcement of how close the collaboration between the two series’ has become.

Jenson (Button) and Rocky (Mike Rockenfeller) wander round like one of the lads while quietly in the background Jimmie Johnson – Legacy Motor Club hat and all – ads an air of gravitas that even a Formula One World Champion can’t quite match. ‘Ol 7-time’s presence is significant.

Oh, and it’s going to be loud. Bloody loud. One driver, who will remain nameless, was confident that should the big #24 car make it into the darkness next Saturday evening, few of his rivals would be able to sleep while it ran. And he didn’t say it with a frown, either.

Some people have said the project is out of place at Le Mans but before it turns a lap I couldn’t disagree more. The pedigree in the garage, the level of innovation within the box they were allowed to fill and the entirely all-in approach that GM, Hendrick and the team has taken means it fits perfectly among the many other stories of the same ilk in Le Mans great history.


ELSEWHERE, the pit lane was abuzz as teams completed their setup ahead of Sunday’s test.

One by one, the cars were pushed to awaiting flat-bed trucks at the pit entry for their journey into town for the famous Le Pesage – the scrutineering session in the middle Le Mans’ historic city centre. The cars go though the process one by one across the two days, first through the technical checks and then the presentation to the fans.

Drivers have their gear checked, are interviewed on stage and then meet the media in the pen.

While Hindhaugh chats to drivers, I naturally find the only other Australian in the place almost immediately – TRT’s expert Le Mans snapper Andrew Hall floating about in his natural element.

Skippy, as he is known by his international friends, is on his 20th Le Mans tour, 14 of them, he says, have been ‘farewell tours’ but as I suspect I am starting to find out saying goodbye to this place is hard.

The early arriving media are in town, too: Sportscar365s John Dagys and Daily Sports Car’s Graham Goodwin are all Bathurst 12 Hour regulars, and it’s great to chew the fat with them on their own stomping ground, rather than mine.

Le Pesage continues well into Sunday, when most of the Hypercar teams are scheduled to go through their checks, meaning Sunday’s crowd in town is likely to be even larger than Saturday’s.

On our way back to Le Mans’ excellent transit system – a tram runs direct from the centre of town to the Stadium within the boundaries of the circuit itself for E$1.50, which seems extremely reasonable – I consider buying a model of the ‘Hippie’ Porsche 917K, the wildly-liveried green and blue car entered by Gerard Larrousse in 1970.

The 1/43 scale model is beautiful, but it’s also E$85, which is a lot.

Still, much like the remarkable Hendrick Motorsport NASCAR, this out-of-place yet wildly appropriate-for-place car will probably turn out to be excellent value for money once the race is complete this year.

I will probably go and buy it tomorrow.

You might also like!