The support was unmistakable. The enthusiastic race fans absolutely “all in” for America’s Garage 56 entry in next weekend’s Centenary 24 Hours of Le Mans descended upon the sunny Le Mans city square Saturday afternoon, eager to get a glimpse and hear the unmistakable roar of NASCAR’s celebrated entry into the legendary race.
Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson drove the blue and silver No. 24 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 on a one-kilometer journey from the “Scrutineering” set-up in city center through local landmarks and down the Avenue Charles De Galle.
Checkered flags flew high above the Rue Gambetta and Avenue Francois Mitterrand welcoming the crowds of people dressed in varying shades of Chevrolet blue, Ferrari red and Le Mans red-white-and-blue.
Crowds climbed an overpass to watch Johnson drive the Garage 56 entry through town and out of the Wilbur Wright tunnel – fans loving the distinctly unique deep sound of the car’s engine and appreciating the special European “union” of NASCAR and the legendary sports car race.
“It was amazing,’’ said Johnson, who is also owner of the Legacy Motor Club organization in the NASCAR Cup Series.
“There’s a very unique energy as I’m sure you can sense here. I’m having a blast and we are truly enjoying a warm welcome from the competitors and the fans.’’
There was that absolute distinct feeling of building excitement and widespread anticipation for the June 10-11 race – at the famed 8.467-mile road course located about a two-hour train ride southeast of Paris.
After more than a year of developing the car – a joint effort between NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear – Johnson and his co-drivers: Formula One champion Jenson Button, sports car champion Mike Rockenfeller and reserve driver IMSA champion Jordan Taylor are taking in the Le Mans scene and ready to race at last.
The Garage 56 entry is in a class of its own, “Innovative Car,” but will line up on the 61-car grid alongside all the other traditional sports car class cars.
After more than a year of testing – including several full-on 24-hour runs – the team’s first race week practice laps will come Sunday in two practice sessions – one at 10 a.m. and the other at 3:30 p.m. local time. Monday and Tuesday are off-days at the circuit, in terms of racing. Qualifying and practice resume Wednesday.
The drivers are ready. The team is ready. And the city of Le Mans – the capital of sports car racing this summer – couldn’t be more eager to at long last see the car on track.