Next year, NASCAR team Hendrick Motorsports is planning to bring a Next Gen stock car to the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It is one of the strangest projects in racing history, one that even those working on the project don’t have a full handle on just yet. But we know it’ll be a stock car and we know it’ll be racing at Le Mans, so we can start making some assumptions about what it will look like. Existing simulators with both the car and the track offer a preview of how that might go.
In a video for CXC Simulations, former IndyCar driver and current broadcaster Townsend Bell spent an hour testing a Next Gen car around the Circuit de la Sarthe in a simulator to get a better idea of how the race will go. What he found was something strange: Not necessarily a car too slow to race in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but a car fast in such different ways that it will be a challenge for those racing in and against the car alike.
As Bell describes, what’s strange about the stock car is not so much that it is 15 seconds or so a lap slower than a traditional car but the way in which it happens to be slow. Big power still means big speed on the larger straights. But, with more weight and less downforce than everything it will run against in the 24 hour classic, mid-corner speeds are significantly lower in both low-speed and high-speed cornering situations. Add the sheer size of the car into the equation and the stock car will be difficult for leading prototypes to pass.
That problem is going to be compounded by the other thing coming to Le Mans in 2023: A wide collection of new factory prototypes from Ferrari, Porsche, Peugeot, Cadillac, and others. A significantly more competitive top level of competition is going to mean even more cars with the most significant possible speed differential in the corners from the stock car. If anyone catches the stock car while racing for position, the point in a lap where the leading car catches it will significantly alter their speed in that lap. That will make the stock car a significant factor in the race, even if Hendrick Motorsports isn’t racing against anything else itself.
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