You’ve just seen a video of a relatively massive NASCAR Chevy Camaro racing around a French race track with a bunch of wispy prototypes and fancy Aston Martins at something called “Le Mans.” You’re intrigued, but you wouldn’t know an LMP2 from a Pontiac Fiero and you’re pretty sure Mathieu Jaminet was the bad guy in “Ocean’s 12.” Don’t worry friend, here’s the complete newbs guide to enjoying the NASCAR storyline as well as enjoying the rest of the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Also, you’re picking the best year possible to become a fan. There are new teams, new cars, new drivers, new rules, and a lot of excitement. Congrats, you’ve perfectly timed your jump onto the old bandwagon. Last year’s race was kinda meh. This year’s race looks to be insane.
What Is The 24 Hours Of Le Mans?
Good question. It’s an endurance race with multiple classes that’s run each year in a town west of Paris named, unsurprisingly, Le Mans. It’s one of the oldest motorsports events and it was created, initially, to show that those fancy new automobiles were also robust enough to drive for 24 hours straight. The first race was in 1923, so this is the 100th anniversary race. That first race was won by a Chenard-Walcker, which isn’t a brand you hear a lot about today.
So They Race For 24 Hours?
Yup. Every team enters their car and that same car has to drive for 24 hours. The winner is the car that can drive the farthest in 24 hours, utilizing three or four drivers.
Is This A One-Off Or Is This Part Of A Series?
Both! The 24 Hours of Le Mans is technically a part of the World Endurance Championship (WEC), alongside the Sebring 1000 and Bahrain 6 Hours and some other races. However, the appeal of the race is so great and the name so important that a bunch of other people, including the Camaro, race there. You don’t need to care at all about the WEC to enjoy the race.
Did Someone Say The Track Is Eight Miles Long?!?
Hell yeah, buddy. The track was originally made up entirely of public roads running through three different French towns, including one giganto straight. These days, the track’s a mix of full-time racing circuit and public roads, but the long straight (called Mulsanne) is still there, albeit broken up by some chicanes because cars had a nasty habit of going so fast they flipped in the air (top speeds reached around 250 mph at one point). Still, the fastest cars last year managed to go 236 mph last year.
What Kind Of Cars Are Racing There?
Another good question! Le Mans has two main categories of cars: Prototypes and GT cars. The prototypes are purpose-built race cars that don’t look very much like any. The fastest of these are Hypercars, from brands like Ferrari (above), Porsche, Toyota, Cadillac, Glickenhaus, Vanwall, and Peugeot. Technically, there are two different styles of Hypercars with one (LMH) being 100% designed and built by a team and one (LMDh) based on an existing racing platform. It doesn’t matter! They’re all super fast and driven by pro drivers this year and, in theory, are competitive with one another.
The second set of prototypes are LMP2 cars, which are more affordable (relatively speaking) and are all basically identical. They’re not as fast as Hypercars but are faster than the GT cars. Some of these drivers are professional and some of them are amateur drivers paying for their seat.
The GTs are more traditional cars and are all based on real cars. The single GT category this year is made up of Porsche 911s, Ferrari 488 GTE Evos, Chevy Corvette C8.Rs, and Aston Martin Vantage AMRs called GTEAm. Technically this is a ProAm category so there’s a mix of pro and amateur drivers, but some teams (AF Corsa, Corvette Racing) are more pro than others. This is usually the most fun class to watch because the cars are a little slower and therefore mix it up more.
So, Uh, Is This NASCAR Cup Car Going To Win?
— jameypricephoto (@jameypricephoto) June 8, 2023
The Chevy Camaro ZL1 Cup Car is part of what’s called Garage 56, wherein a team is invited by Le Mans to bring something weird to the race. This year it’s a new (next gen) NASCAR stock car run by Hendricks Motorsports with Jenson Button, Jimmie Johnson, and Mike Rockenfeller behind the wheel.
It’s weird. It’s super big (look at the photo above). No one really knows what will happen but, based on qualifying times, we know it’s faster than all the other GT cars and slower than the LMP2 cars. Something strange would have to happen for a GT car to beat a prototype (it has happened exactly one time in modern endurance racing when it rained the whole race at Road Atlanta a few years ago).
So It’s Going To Beat All The GT Cars?
Maybe! The WEC isn’t classifying the Camaro with the other GT cars so it’s in a class by itself and, based on the reports I’m getting from contacts at Le Mans, the WEC just keeps letting the car go faster by allowing them to take some wing out of the car (to reduce drag at the straights) and who knows what else. Obviously, if the car crashes it’s not going to beat the other GT cars, but the big question is: Will the heavier, bigger Camaro use more tires and thus be forced to pit more?
My guess is it’ll be quite competitive and might outpace the rest of the GT field because, frankly, this isn’t your average Cup car, and it’s clear they’ve taken a lot of weight out of the platform, so I don’t think it’s actually that much heavier.
How Is a Camaro Beating a New Ferrari? A Corvette?
Because this is an exhibition car, to some degree, the Camaro doesn’t have to follow the same rules as the Corvette racing in GTEAm. While the Camaro is a little bigger and, maybe, a little heavier, it also has a 750 horsepower V8 built by a racing shop in North Carolina that knows what it’s doing. The other GT cars have around 500 horsepower. On a place that has a lot of long straights, that power advantage is a big deal. Also, I think everyone loves this program and is probably letting it get away with a lot.
Who Is Going To Win The Race?
I don’t know. It’ll be a Hypercar and, coming into the race, everyone assumed it would probably be Toyota again. It’s won a bunch and has the most modern experience. However, Ferrari shocked everyone by taking both front grid spots this year (i.e. they were the fastest two cars in qualifying). Here are some open questions:
- Will the Ferraris actually finish the race? It’s new.
- Will Toyota just slowly and efficiently grind everyone down?
- Is the Peugeot going to finish the race? It’s new as well.
- Can any of the LMDh/GTP cars win? I.e. can the Cadillac or Vanwall compete?
- Will Jim Glickenhaus wear a cool cowboy hat again? (Probably, yes)
In LMP2 it’s anyone’s race and, to some degree, it’s most likely that a quasi-pro team like Corvette Racing or AF Corse will take overall victory in GTEam, but it’s not a lock.
How Do I Watch The 24 Hours Of Le Mans?
First, both Patrick and Huibert are going to be there, so we’ll hopefully have some interesting posts here to look forward to next week, and maybe even this weekend. For the actual race do the following:
- Be awake at 10:00 AM ET/7:00 AM PT for the start of the race, tomorrow, Saturday June 10th.
- Listen to Radio Le Mans, which is the best English-language broadcast of the race and the easiest way to understand what’s happening. The hosts and reporters do a great job of contextualizing what’s happening in real time. Even if you watch the race somewhere else, turn down the volume and tune into RLM.
- Use this Live Timing page from the WEC to track where everyone is and how they’re doing. It’s 62 cars so it’s easy to lose track.
People In The United States
- You can watch the race on MotorTrend TV if you have cable/subscribe.
- You can sign up for MotorTrend+ and watch their stream. It’s just $4.99 for one month and you can watch the Pikes Peak documentary I co-directed.
People In Other Parts Of The World
- If you live in Austria or France you can watch on ServusTV or L’Equipe TV from a free stream.
- If you live in other parts of Europe you can watch on Eurosport or other local sports channels.
Should I Stay Up For All 24 hours?
Yes. Though I tend to fall asleep listening to RLM.