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Your guide for the 24 Hours of Le Mans

Here is your beginner’s guide ahead of the biggest race on the 2024 endurance racing calendar: the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans.

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There is no event bigger than the 24 Hours of Le Mans in endurance racing. Every June, the eyes of the world turn to the small town of Le Mans in northern France to witness one of the most prestigious and grueling motorsport events on the planet.

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Origins

The 24 Hours of Le Mans first took place in 1923, introduced by the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) when Grand Prix racing was dominant in Europe. With Le Mans, the idea was to make cars that are not just fast, but also reliable. Le Mans was the most ideal test track, the long race needed fuel efficiency, long straights like the Mulsanne required enhanced aerodynamics, and unlike meticulously maintained circuits, the public roads used for Le Mans demanded robust parts to handle the additional strain.

The poster for the first ever 24 Hours of Le Mans from 1923

What does the race week look like?

During the 24 Hours of Le Mans, race week starts almost a week before the actual race begins with Le Mans Pesage (Scrutineering). For example, this year, the race is set to start on June 15th, but scrutineering began on June 7th. Since the inception of the championship in 2012, scrutineering and administrative checks have taken place at the Place de la République in the heart of the town. The scrutineering takes place over two days because the number of entries is large and divided between different classes with varying sets of rules and regulations.

A special Hypercar parade in the city center follows scrutineering. The parade happens along a 2.1-kilometer loop through the city. They are joined by the Safety Car and the Bentley 3 Litre Sport, which claimed victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1924.

Bentley 3 litre Sport – Photo: Shameem Fahath

After scrutineering, track action begins the next day with official test sessions to help teams acclimate to the circuit and its conditions.

On Wednesday, the race weekend officially kicks off with the first practice session, followed by qualifying. Qualifying determines the grid for the main race, except for the top 10 spots. The top 10 qualifiers advance to Hyperpole.

#6 Porsche Penske Hypercar – Photo: Shameem Fahath

The next day features two additional practice sessions followed by Hyperpole. Each category has its own qualifying and Hyperpole sessions, determining the top 10 grid positions, including the coveted pole position for the prestigious race.

Friday features the fourth and final practice session before the race on Saturday.

Car Classes

When the World Endurance Championship (WEC) was first run in 2012, there were four classes: LMP1, LMP2, and GTE grand tourers, which were further divided into GTE Pro for teams with professional driver line-ups and GTE Am for teams featuring a mix of amateur drivers.

Currently, WEC runs two classes: the Hypercar class and the LMGT3 class. Due to the expansion of the Hypercar class, the championship has discontinued the Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) class for the 2024 season. The Hypercar class’s success led to this change, as it gained significant interest from manufacturers.

The Hypercar class debuted in the 2021 season with entries from Alpine, Glickenhaus, and Toyota. Starting from the 2023 season, LMDh cars from IMSA were also permitted to compete alongside LMH cars. This integration has brought entries from BMW, Cadillac, Porsche, and Lamborghini, showcasing the collaborative success between WEC and IMSA regulations.

Porsche Hypercars – Photo: Shameem Fahath

The LMGT3 class debuted this year, replacing the LMGTE cars which have been a part of the championship since its inception. This new GT category focuses on amateur drivers and private teams. Aston Martin, BMW, Corvette, Ferrari, Ford, Lamborghini, Lexus, McLaren, and Porsche will compete through private teams.

#27 Aston Martin GT3 of ‘The Heart of Racing’ – Photo: Shameem Fahath

The LMP2 class, even though has been discontinued from WEC will still be a part of the 24 Hour race.

Apart from the WEC, which is the pinnacle of endurance racing, there are also the European Le Mans Series (ELMS), the Asian Le Mans Series (ALMS), and the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA), which take place in Europe, Asia, and America respectively. In both ELMS and ALMS, the top class is still LMP2. In IMSA, below the LMDh class, the LMP2 class continues to exist.

The 24 Hours of Le Mans this year allocated 16 grid spots to the top-performing LMP2 teams from ELMS, ALMS, and IMSA. This ensures that teams from these series have the opportunity to compete on one of the most prestigious stages in endurance racing.

#9 Proton Competition LMP2 – Photo: Shameem Fahath

The Circuit

The 13.626km Circuit de la Sarthe hosts the 24 Hours of Le Mans annually. The track combines public roads and dedicated racing sections, including four long straights where drivers can exceed 340km/h (210mph). The most famous section is the 6km Mulsanne Straight, a regular road when not used for the race. Known locally as the Ligne Droite des Hunaudières, it has featured two chicanes since 1990, lowering the top speed from 405km/h (252mph) achieved in 1988 but enhancing safety.

Onboard the Peugeot for a lap around Circuit de la Sarthe

Notable Moments

Le Mans has seen numerous unforgettable moments in motorsport history. Perhaps the most iconic is the intense Ford vs. Ferrari rivalry of the 1960s, which later got turned into a film.

Another dramatic highlight came in 2016 when the #5 Toyota suffered a heartbreaking failure just three minutes before the race’s conclusion, underscoring the unpredictable nature of endurance racing where victory is never assured until the checkered flag is waved.

Who’s driving in the 2024 24 Hours of Le Mans?

If you’re a long-term motorsports fan, you’ll find quite a lot of familiar faces in the WEC. Renowned F1 drivers like 2009 World Champion Jenson Button, Kamui Kobayashi, Robert Kubica, and Daniil Kvyat, to name a few, will be on the grid this year.

MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi will also be present on the grid, racing in GT3 for Team WRT. While there are no points for guessing the number on his BMW, he’ll be sporting his iconic #46 here as well.

You can find the full spotters guide here which tells you who’s driving what at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

How to Watch

You can watch the 24 Hours of Le Mans in India live on fiawec.tv.

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WEC

6 Hours of São Paulo – WEC heads to Brazil

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credits - Toyota content pool

After wrapping up the series’ biggest race in Le Mans, the WEC paddock heads south to the Autódromo José Carlos Pace. The last time time WEC still held the 6 Hours of São Paulo was back in 2014. Now a decade later, WEC heads back to South America to start the second part of the season. In the both the classes, the competition is close as ever. Thus, there is a lot to look forward to. Here is the DRC preview for the 6 Hours of São Paulo.

The Title fight – Porsche X Ferarri X Toyota

Perhaps the biggest point heading into São Paulo is just how close the championship is at halfway through the season. In the manufacturers, Porsche is sitting at 108 points, 9 ahead of Ferrari (99), who themselves are 3 ahead of Toyota (96). Ferrari had a strong showing the last time out in France. (Click here to read our Le Mans report.) But the Italian brand is yet to win a race outside of La Saarthe. In order to win the overall championship, they would surely be looking to win on Brazilian soil.

credits-Toyota gallery

Porsche had qualified at pole for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but they struggled keep up with the pace come the race end. Porsche has had success at this track, in a very different car nevertheless. With a total of 104 points still up for grabs in the 2024 season, its anyone’s championship for the taking.

The grid at the last 6 Hours of São Paulo (2014); credits-wec

TOYOTA-Conway returns to #7

Mike Conway, the regular driver of the no. 7 Toyota hypercar was forced to sit out the 24 Hours of Le Mans after a cycling incident. Now, nearly a month later, He is completely fit and ready to jump back in the #7. His crew of the no. 7 car is still in the competetion for the drivers championship, and he will be working this weekend to get closer to that trophy.

The other Toyota, #8 was robbed of a podium finish in Le Mans after the #51 Ferrari nudged them into a spin in the closing stages of the races. This weekend, they would surely be looking to do themsselves one better and top the leaderboards.

BOP changes incoming for Brazil

Incoming this weekend is BOP changes. In the Hypercar category, the Isotta Fraschini has shed the most weight while teams like Ferrari and Toyota have taken up weight. However, when you take into account the ‘Power Gain’ system used by WEC to manage power beyond 250Kph, Ferrari and Toyota have managed to enter into increased power figures overall.

Ferrari and Toyota have gained 1.8% and 2.8% respectively. Meanwhile, Lamborghini, Alpine and Cadillac have each lost 1%, 1.3% and 1.5% after the threshold of 250kph. Isotta, Porsche and BMW have 0 gain or loss after 250 kph.

LMGT3 – Championship fight in full swing

If the Hypercar category is showing a close championship, the LMGT3 is not behind either. The top two teams (Manthey EMA and Mathey PureRXcing) sit on the exact no. of points, 75. The third placed team is Team WRT #31 placed just 2 points behind the table toppers.

Team WRT #31 placed P2 in the 24 hours of Le Mans; credits-BMW Group

The other team under Team WRT is the no. 46 BMW piloted by Ahmed Al Harthy, Maxime Martin and Valentino Rossi. They had a particularly difficult Le Mans as they crashed out in the Dunlop Chicane. They were showing good pace until the crash and surely they would be hoping to replicate atleast their racepace here in Brazil.

The other fan favourite team, Iron Dames is in good form as well. They have recently won in class at the 4 Hours of Imola in European Le Mans Series (ELMS) held durng 5-7 July.

At Interlagos, a track which is comparitively narrow for multiclass racing, it will be very thrilling for us fans to watch how different races unfold amongst different classes.

The Track

The Autódromo José Carlos Pace, or Interlagos as it is known amongst fans, is a track that tests every aspect of a car. The first 3 corners flows one into another effectively tugging at the downforce of the car. Coming immediately after is a straight that will be the hotspot for clearing backmarker traffic. Interlagos is a track where every corner flows into another, and with modern machines capable of eye watering speeds, the drivers will hardly get any time to rest. Setting up a car for this track will also be a workload as it requires both downforce and low drag conditions for the best performance. Hitting that sweet spot between the two will be important for the best results.

When and where to watch

In India, Eurosport will be broadcasting the races on TV.

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WEC

Le Mans 24 Hours – Ferrari triumphs second year running

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Image: Shameem Fahath
credits - Shameem Fahath

With a close contested Le Mans 24 Hours that saw the top 9 cars finish at the lead lap, it was anybody’s win for the taking. But come the race end at 19:30 IST on Sunday, it would be the no. 50 Ferrari who would cross the finish line first.

Celebrations down in Maranello

With strong showing in terms of reliability and performance from most of the hypercar field, it was brewing to be an interesting race.

Through the night, a less familiar yellow Ferrari was at the top, the No. 83 of AF Corse. However, its first trouble came in the form of a collision with no. 15 BMW LMDh of Dries Vanthoor. Kubica was given a 30-second penalty for causing this collision.

This was the end of the no. 83’s lead run.

#83 AF Corse Ferrari (Image: Shameem Fahath)

That car would not finish as they retired due to a hybrid system issue.

But come the race end, it ultimately boiled down to a Toyota vs Ferrari battle for the win. No. 50 Ferrari found another obstacle in their course when its right hand side door came undone. This forced Nicklas Nielsen to come into the pits in the final 2 hours of the race, out of sequence with everybody else.

After Toyota completed its final pit stop of the race, it suspected the 50 Ferrari would need to stop once again. But as the end of the race came near, it became clear to Toyota that Ferrari were not stopping. They asked Jose Maria Lopez in no. 7 car to bring home P2.

With Nicklas Nielsen at the wheel, the no. 50 car co piloted by Antonio Fuoco and Miguel Molina crossed the finish line first with no. 7 toyota in second and last year’s winners no. 51 crew in third after serving a 5 second penalty given to them for spinning the no. 8 Toyota.

Race winning #50 Ferrari Crew (Image: Shameem Fahath)

With this win, Ferrari has maintained its 100% win percentage at the Circuit De La Sarthe with the mighty 499P.

Toyota’s valiant effort

The start of the WEC season was not a strong showing by the Japanese crew. Hence, the Toyotas were not on the winners prediction of many people. When the qualifying session came to an end, Kamui Kobayashi in no. 7 car was looking quick. However he ended up making a rare mistake and spun his car causing a red flag. This meant his lap time was deleted. The no. 7 car started the race in 23rd (last amongst the hypercars).

Apart from this, the regular driver of no. 7 car, Mike Conway had injured himself before the race in a cycling accident. He was replaced by Jose Maria Lopez.

After the retirement of no. 83 ferrari, it looked like a three way battle between porsche, Ferrari and the Toyotas.

#8 Toyota Gazoo Racing Toyota GR010 (Image: Shameem Fahath)

All through the night, the no. 8 Toyota was at the top of the standings. The other Toyota (no. 7) in the hands of Kamui Kobayashi was looking fastas well as he posted the fastest lap of the race at lap 254 (3:28.756). As the race neared its end, the Toyotas were looking well suited to challenge for victory. However trouble arrived for the no. 8 as no. 51 Ferrari nudged the Toyota into the Mulsanne corner. It fell to 6th position and everntually finished in fifth.

The no. 7 Toyota almost completed a last to first challenge as it split the red Ferrari on the podium.

Porsches still not back to the top step at Le Mans

Porsche has had a strong start to the season with a win in Qatar and a 100% podium appearance. Hence, going into the Le mans 24 Hours , they looked strong competitors for the overall win. This was further strengthened when the No. 6 Porsche in the hands of Kevin Estre took pole on Thursday.

However come the start of the race, they were passed quite quickly by the strong Ferraris.

#6 Porsche Penske Motorsport (Image: Shameem Fahath)

This along with a wrong wet tyre change strategy meant the Porsche was not off to a strong start. However as the night rolled on, Porsche was looked as being the frontrunners for overall victory.

But trouble was back for Porsche. No. 4 car of Mathieu Jaminet, Felipe Nasr and Nick Tandy was out of the race as it crashed into the tyre wall at Indianapolis

The no. 5 and no. 6 were looking off the pace as the race got underway after the safety car period. They eventually finished in 6th and 4th respectively.

The mighty JOTA crew

In the qualifying session held on Wednesday night, Callum Illot at the wheel of the no. 12 JOTA lost control of his car in the esses. This crash did not looked heavy at first glance but when the mechanics looked closely, they found that the chassis of the car had been damaged.

This meant that if they wanted to field the no. 12 car in the race, they needed to build a car from scratch in just 24 hours! A usual build like this takes 3 whole weeks. But the mighty JOTA crew managed to complete it in just 24 hours. They did the shakedown on the Le Mans Airfield.

They eventually finished the race in P8 (no. 12) and P9 (no. 38)

Cadillac’s one lap pace

Cadillac might not appear as clear cut winners when you look at the final race standings. The no. 3 retired due to an engine issue and no. 311 fnished way behind the lead pack, 31 laps to be precise. Only the no. 2 Cadillac finished in P7 bagging points for the american outfit. Their one lap pace, however, looked mighty stronng. With factory Cadillacs finishing hyperpole in P2 (no. 3) and P3 (no.2), they certainly hoped for a better result out of the final race.

#3 Cadillac Racing (Image: Shameem Fahath)

Lamborghini’s succesful debut

Iron Lynx’ operated Lamborghini effort had a pretty succesful debut at the 2024 Le Mans 24 Hours. With a race that tests every nook and crook of a car, the Italian outfit had both its cars across the finish line. The no. 63 car piloted by M. Bortolotti, D. Kvyat and E. Mortara even scored a point by finishing in P10. The other car no. 19 finished P13 with R. Grosjean, A. Caldarelli and M. Cairoliat the wheel.

#19 Lamborghini Iron Lynx (Image: Shameem Fahath)

Trouble for the BMW and Peugeot 

Unlike Lamborghini, BMW’s debut was not pleasant. Out of the two cars, no. 15 car of Dries Vanthoor suffered an accident while getting lapped by no. 83 Ferrari of Kubica. This led to the no. 15 shunting into tyre wall and effectively out of the race.

The other BMW no. 20 started the race in 16th and climbed up to P10 before Robin Frijns lost grip in the ford chicanes and crashed into the tire wall 2 hours into the race.

They rejoined the track 30 minutes later and eventually finished the race 215 laps down on the leaders.

Peugeot had a lukewarm race as well. On one hand they managed to complete the entire 24 hours with both their cars just 2 laps down on the leaders, but they lacked pace to contest for the top points paying positions. The better of the Peugeots, no. 94, got beat by the Lamborghini SC63 for the final points position by a mere 8 seconds.

#94 Peugeot Total Energies (Image: Shameem Fahath)

Eventually 94 Peugeot finished in P11 while 93 Peugeot finished in P12.

Alpine’s engine woes

Alpine was the team that took the biggest loss in the hypercar category. At the start of the race, both the Alpines were doing pretty good and no. 36 ran in P13 overall.

But come the fifth hour, both the cars were out of the race due to an engine issue .

In a race where fellow debutants like Lamborghini and even Isotta Fraschini managed to finished to complete 24 hours, Alpine managed to do only 5. The French team surely need to ask questions and come up with solutions.

Image: Shameem Fahath

Close fight in the LMP2 class

In the LMP2 category, no. 22 machine of United Autosports piloted by Oliver Jarvis, Bijoy Garg and Nolan Siegel finished in first place in the Le Mans 24 Hours. This was the second class win for the team. The top five teams in the LMP2 category after a complete 24 hours of racing was a mere 40 seconds! Last year’s Le Mans LMP2 winners Inter Europol competetion team came in P2 by 18 seconds.

LMP2 winning crew of #22 United Autosports (Image: Shameem Fahath)

Manthey’s magic in LMGT3

In the LMGT3 class it was pure domination by the Manthey EMA no. 91 car. They finished a lap ahead of the second placed Team WRT BMW no. 31. This was Manthey’s debut at the Le Mans 24 hours in the LMGT3 era. The podium was rounded up by the Proton competetion no. 88 Mustang.

#91 Manthey Ema Porsche 911 GT3 R LMGT3 (Image: Shameem Fahath)

Elsewhere, the no. 46 BMW of Team WRT piloted by Ahmad Al Harthy, Valentino Rossi and Maxime Martin was leading the LMGT3 pack before a mistake by Al Harthy meant the car crashed into the tire barriers at the Dunlop chicane. This ended the no. 46′ race.

Image: Shameem Fahath

With a total of 23 hypercars starting the race and the top 9 hypercars finishing at the lead lap, praise shall also be showered at ACO, the conducting body of Le Mans 24 Hours for creating a true balance of power. Even in the lower classes, the racing was as close as ever. All these facts truly reflect that we are in the golden era of endurance racing.

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WEC

Le Mans’ Laboratory: A Look Inside the Innovative Garage 56

Garage 56 at the 24 Hours of Le Mans showcases the race’s commitment to innovation, this special entry allows teams to explore groundbreaking technologies outside conventional rules. Continually pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in motorsport.

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24 Hours of Le Mans, one of the most prestigious and gruelling motorsport events in the world, has a rich history of innovation and competition. Currently one of the most unique features of the race is ‘Garage 56’, a special entry slot dedicated to experimental cars that push the boundaries of automotive technology and performance. In the sea of “by-the-book” Hypercars and GT cars, Garage 56 offers a special testbed for the engineers and teams who see the art and potential of the road not taken.

History

Garage 56 was introduced in 2012 by the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO), the organizing body of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The aim was to encourage technological innovation and advancements at Circuit de la Sarthe and in motorsport as a whole. This unique slot allows one car to compete outside the usual regulations, provided it demonstrates significant technological innovation or environmental benefit.

2012 – Nissan DeltaWing

Garage 56 debuted with the Nissan DeltaWing. Originally created as a new generation IndyCar it came to Le Mans to compete. The car was fielded by All American Racers (constructor), Highcroft Racing (team) supported by Nissan. It featured a radical design with a narrow front track and a lightweight structure, aiming to achieve high drag efficiency and low fuel consumption. A four-cylinder Nissan turbo propelled the car.

The car qualified 29th with Marino Franchitti, Michael Krumm and Satoshi Motoyama driving. While qualifying was pleasant to the project, the race wasn’t as much. The car was retired after 75 laps following an accident after a collision with #7 Toyota TS030 Hybrid.

Credits: motortrend.com

2013 – GreenGT H2

The GreenGT H2, a hydrogen fuel cell-powered car, was selected for the 2013 race. However, it did not participate due to developmental issues that prevented it from being race-ready in time. It highlighted the potential of hydrogen fuel cells as a sustainable energy source for motorsport.

Credits: Autocar.co.uk

2014 – Nissan ZEOD RC

Ben Bowlby saw the successor to his Deltawing to be the ZEOD RC (Zero Emission On Demand Racing Car). Once again backed by Nissan and fielded by Nismo, this time the car was powered by a hybrid electric drivetrain with lithium-ion batteries and a 3-cylinder Turbo engine, producing a total output of 695bhp.

Driven by Lucas Ordóñez, Wolfgang Reip, Satoshi Motoyama, the car qualified 27th, and managed to set a lap using electric power in the warm-up, which accomplished the goal of the project to “set a purely electric lap time at racing speeds”. Although, a gearbox issue would plague the car and would eventually force the car to retire on lap five.

Panoz and Ganassi sued Bowlby and Nissan over use of intellectual property due to the similarities with the DeltaWing, the matter was eventually settled out of court in 2016.

Credits: sportscarracingnews.com

2015

2015 would see the garage 56 empty due to the nominated entry of Welter Racing, a biomethane-fuel prototype fell behind schedule because of funding issues. ACO later determined that none of the candidates were unfit.

2016 – Morgan LMP2 SRT 41 By Oak Racing

2016 would be a truly beautiful and heart warming year for Garage 56 as it would welcome a project led by Driver Frédéric Sausset, a quadruple amputee. The SRT 41 LMP2 was modified to allow Sausset to drive using a specially adapted control system, Sausset operated a throttle and braking system which with his thighs, while the steering column was directly attached to his right arm limb. His teammates would race the car normally.

The team would Qualify 32nd and finish a highly respectable 38th setting multiple records along the way including being the first Garage 56 car to finish the race, highlighting advances in accessibility and inclusivity in motorsports, demonstrating that high-performance racing is accessible to all. The team found its place in the hearts of motorsports fans all across the globe.

Credits: DOMINIQUE BREUGNOT (ACO)

2017 – 2020

These few years would see numerous attempts including the failed return of Welter Racing and Perrin with the Project 424, an LMP1-based electric car with an autonomous driving mode.

But ultimately ACO would once again deem the candidates unfit and not mature enough to race. 2020 would see itself as a victim of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Credits: racecar-engineering.com

2021 – La Filiere by SRT 41 Oreca 07 LMP2

2021 welcomed Frederic Sausset once again to Garage 56, this time fielding a specially modified Oreca 07 Gibson LMP2 car with a lineup of three disabled drivers. Transcending barriers Sausset would this time round have not one but two drivers, paralyzed from the waist down racing his car.

The team would Qualify 29th and finish an incredible 32nd once again defying all odds and in the process the two disabled drivers became the first disabled teammates to compete and finish in the history of the race.

Credits: 24h-lemans.com

2022

Garage 56 would once again remain empty.

2023 – Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 StockCar

Nascar, to celebrate its 75th anniversary took the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 StockCar run by Henderick Motorsports, its most successful team. The modified Stockcar would be driven by 7x Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, 2009 F1 world champion Jenson Button and 2010 Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller.

The car was quite different to the traditional machines that normally graced the track, in it’s sheer size and brute force produced by it’s incredible V8. It truly was a Goliath in the sea of Davids, but this story ends differently; the team would qualify and finish a very respectable 39th putting up a good fight with the GTEs. While the GTEs had a clear advantage in the corners, the Chevy would thunder down the straights.

Credit: Getty Images

Future

As we look into the future, Garage 56 continues to be a beacon for innovation in motorsports. It offers a unique platform for testing and demonstrating new technologies that may eventually become standard in racing and commercial vehicles.

“Le Mans has always been a crucible for innovation. Garage 56 gives inventors and engineers a chance to dream big and bring those dreams to life in a way that can inspire the entire automotive world.”

Don Panoz, Founder of Panoz Motorsports 

As automotive technology continues to evolve, Garage 56 entries will likely explore new frontiers in electric propulsion, autonomous driving, advanced materials, and more. Thus maintaining its role as a crucible for the future of racing technology and the broader goals of sustainability and inclusivity in motorsport.

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