Months of anticipation finally accumulated at the 2023 running of the 24 Le Mans when the Garage 56 Camaro ZL1 took NASCAR back to the endurance racing scene for the first time since 1976. Though the No. 24 Camaro was placed in the “Innovative Car Class” by itself and did not compete for points, that didn’t discourage the star-studded lineup of drivers from giving it everything they had through the endurance race, ultimately finishing 39th out of 62 total competitors.
NASCR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, Le Mans champion Mike Rockenfeller and Formula One champion Jensen Button shared driving duties, with IMSA’s Jordan Taylor on reserve as a backup driver. The Garage 56 Camaro completed a distance more than triple that of the longest Cup Series race, which is 600 miles, and even outperformed the entries in the GT class as the clock ticked down.
However, while the Garage 56 Camaro had an impressive showing, its 24-hour stint wasn’t without trials. Button had taken the wheel and guided the endurance stock car through Lap 254 when trouble struck. The race car needed new brakes and spent quite some time under the attention of the crew. The No. 24 Camaro was turned back out briefly before it had to be serviced again for a rear driveline issue before it rejoined traffic for the remainder of the race.
“My heart’s full,” Johnson said after the race, celebrating with the rest of the Garage 56 crew. “All the reasons we came here with NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, to come here with so many different faces and have this experience has just been awesome. My bucket’s full. I’m really happy.”
For many European fans, the Garage 56 project delivered a first taste of North American stock car racing, something that Johnson was thrilled to be a part of.
“There have been so many unique moments in this, but ultimately I would say the fan reception [impacted most],” Johnson said. “If it was in the parade, or just the cool down lap on the way back, even the corner marshals were going nuts, it was impressive.”
IMSA President John Doonan joined the celebration and called the NASCAR Le Mans stint a success.
“It’s beyond expectations,” he said. “[NASCAR CEO] Jim [France] had his expectations that we put NASCAR further on a global stage and satisfy our partners that were critical for this to happen. I think most rewarding for me was seeing all the men and women in this program experience this place, this event, especially it being the 100th anniversary. I walk out of this circuit this evening with a whole new group of friends in this industry. And that’s hard to come by.”