In a bid to spur innovation and fire imagination, organizers of the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans sports car endurance race have in recent years permitted the entry of a car that doesn’t conform to the rules of its existing race car categories.
They dub this wildcard entry “Garage 56,” in reference to the last garage in the track’s facility on the pit lane. For 2023, Le Mans welcomes the unorthodox entry of a Nascar stock car, in this case, a Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. Since Nascar switched to the Next Gen car, which uses many components from the Australian Supercars racing series, people wondered what the potential is for such cars in the Le Mans race.
As the exclusive tire supplier to Nascar, Goodyear was tasked with providing the tires for this experiment, which means that they’ll be providing traditional racing slicks, tires for rain, and intermediate tires for wet track or light rain conditions. As part of the effort to build tires that will provide the Camaro the speed it needs to provide a respectable showing for Nascar among Europe’s elite sports cars along with the durability to be safe at the speed of the track’s legendary Mulsanne Straight, Goodyear is employing tires that collect data in real time.
Goodyear’s Sightline intelligent technology comprises a passive, non-battery sensor that is cured directly into the tire’s carcass during production to provide live data to the Hendrick Motorsports team throughout the race. The temperature and pressure data coming from the tires, in combination with the driver’s feedback and the car’s performance will tell the Hendrick engineers what they need to adjust to keep the car rolling at maximum speed for the entire 24 hours.
“Because tires are a vehicle’s only connection to the road, they have the potential to provide tremendous real-time insight that improves the performance of drivers under the most grueling of conditions,” said Rich Kramer, Goodyear’s chairman, CEO, and president in the company’s press release. “Goodyear is extremely proud to have the tire intelligence to unlock this potential in motorsports, and it’s been a privilege to partner with Nascar, Hendrick Motorsports, and Chevrolet on this Garage 56 entry.”
In preparation for the day-long challenge of racing at Le Mans, the drivers and engineers have evaluated the Goodyear tires through 7,500 miles in ten tests at eight sites in the past year. While Goodyear has been a longtime supplier for Nascar’s stock cars, in recent years the company has been the sole provider of tires for the Le Mans Prototype 2 category in endurance sports car racing, which should have helped provide some frame of reference for the task of adapting stock car rubber to the rigors of long-distance road racing.
Though mostly forgotten now, Goodyear was a tire supplier for Formula 1 from 1964 until 1998. Cars using Goodyear rubber scored 368 F1 wins, and Goodyear’s Eagle F1 tire for sports cars wears its name in tribute to that heritage today. The company also has scored 14 wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the past, including the famous victory by Ford’s GT40 over the then-dominant Ferrari racers in 1966.
Goodyear made the tires for the Le Mans Garage 56 effort at its Innovation Center Manufacturing plant in Akron, Ohio. The company describes these three tire types:
- Tires for dry conditions that help provide high levels of endurance and grip allowing the car to compete for the full 24 hours of Le Mans race.
- Intermediate wet tires for mist to light rain conditions to help the car perform at its maximum potential in inclement weather.
- Full wet tires for heavy rains featuring a unique tread design and tire construction to help channel water out of the tire surface’s contact patch while using a softer tread compound to help maintain grip when the temperature of the racetrack is cooler.
While Hendrick Motorsports doesn’t have any direct competition for the Camaro ZL1 Next Gen stock car, the team does want to run lap times that are competitive with the GTE category sports cars and do so reliably for the duration of the race. Getting safely through to the end will depend significantly on how the tires perform in the varying conditions the team is likely to encounter throughout the race.