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Garage 56 Le Mans Effort To Feature All-Star Lineup

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, January 28 2023

Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson has visit to France on his mind. (File photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

A diverse and experienced driver lineup featuring former 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Mike “Rocky” Rockenfeller will pilot NASCAR’s Garage 56 entry during the 100th anniversary edition of the French endurance classic in June.

Rockenfeller will be joined by seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson and 2009 Formula One World Driving Champion Jenson Button behind the wheel of the Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, pending approval for entry by l’Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) in the coming weeks.

The Garage 56 project is a partnership among NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear _ the winningest team, manufacturer and tire in stock car racing’s 75-year history.

Announced in March 2022, the Garage 56 project involves racing a modified version of the Cup Series’ second-year Next Gen Camaro in the twice-around-the-clock classic at Le Mans.

“Since the beginning of the Garage 56 project, it has been our goal to partner with the top racers in the world to represent us in Le Mans,” said Jim France, NASCAR chairman/CEO. “The lineup of Jimmie, ‘Rocky’ and Jenson is everything we could have dreamed of _ three elite drivers who have won at the highest levels of motorsports worldwide.

“As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of NASCAR, we are honored to have these world-class champions help bring the sights and sounds of a NASCAR race car to fans in Le Mans, and across the world.”

France was honored last year with the 2022 Spirit of Le Mans Award in recognition of his longtime impact in motorsports and his work securing an historic convergence agreement between the Daytona-based International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) and the ACO. The first chicane at Le Mans’ Mulsanne Straight now is called the “Daytona Chicane” and the chicane at Daytona International Speedway _ once referred to as “The Bus Stop” _ now is called the “Le Mans Chicane.”

The Project 56 drivers were introduced Saturday morning during a news conference in the Media Center Deadline Room at Daytona International Speedway prior to the start of this weekend’s Rolex 24 at Daytona _America’s premier sports car endurance classic.

Johnson won a record-tying seven NASCAR Cup Series championships and 83 races for team-owner Rick Hendrick, Hendrick Motorsports and Chevrolet during his illustrious career. After transitioning to INDYCAR and the NTT IndyCar Series with Chip Ganassi Racing _ topped by his first start in the 106th Indianapolis 500 last May _ Johnson recently became part-owner of NASCAR Cup Series team LEGACY MOTOR CLUB. Johnson will return to NASCAR competition for next month’s 2023 season-opening Daytona 500.

Johnson participated in a test of the Garage 56 Camaro at Sebring, Fla., in December. “I’m super-thrilled. It’s been at the top of my Bucket List to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans some day,” said Johnson, 47. “To have this opportunity come _ and to partner with everybody and this driver lineup _ is truly an incredible opportunity and one that I am thankful to be a part of.”

A 39-year-old native of Germany, Rockenfeller’s sports car accolades include winning the 2010 24 Hours of Le Mans, the 2005 24 Hours of Le Mans GT Class, the 2010 Rolex 24 at Daytona and the 2013 German DTM championship. His resume lists factory endurance drives for Porsche, Audi and Chevrolet.

Rockenfeller has served as lead test driver for the Garage 56 Camaro, having wheeled the car at every on-track test in addition to spending countless hours behind the wheel in the General Motors simulator.

“It has been a great journey so far with the whole team and project,” Rockenfeller said. “To be involved as a driver from Day One until now was already a great honor, and to now have Jimmie and Jenson alongside me as teammates in Le Mans is unbelievable.”

Button compiled one of the most successful careers in F1 history, finishing with 15 grand prix wins and 50 podiums on top of his 2009 World Championship with Brawn GP. Button, 43, widely is considered one Great Britain’s all-time great drivers and popular motorsports ambassadors.

“As a lifelong racing fan, I have always dreamed of racing certain cars, with and against certain drivers and competing in certain events,” Button said. “In June, a number of those dreams will come true in one event when I get to bring NASCAR to the world stage alongside my pals Jimmie and ‘Rocky’ for the 100th anniversary of the most prestigious (endurance) race in the world.

“I’m really looking forward to sharing this journey with NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear and current and future NASCAR fans from around the world.”

All three drivers will participate in next week’s two-day test of the Project 56 Camaro at Daytona International Speedway.

Additionally, Jordan Taylor _ who currently competes in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship for Corvette Racing _ will serve as backup driver and coach the Project 56 threesome. Taylor won the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans GTE Pro Class and has finished on the podium four times. He also is a four-time IMSA champion.


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, January 28 2023
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