One of the things that separates Le Mans from all the other major Motorsports events is the Garage 56 concept. If you are unfamiliar with it the concept is incredibly simple, 1 spot in each year’s LeMans 24 Hours is reserved for a car featuring new technology and innovation. This car is not limited by rules which gives manufacturers the freedom to explore and display their new technology in the crucible of motorsport. Garage 56 is where the very weird and very different Delta Wing and Nissan ZEOD made their respective debuts. Problem being neither finished the race. Neither even came close and this has the organizers in a bit of a bind. How do you feature new technology and keep it reliable. These cars are the very definition of Prototypes, new unproven technology on the track. Just making the 24 hours is a question mark. In a recent interview with sportscar365, Sporting Director Vincent Beaumesnil touched on this very issue.
“We require much more guarantees. We had some cars in the past not lasting very long in the race. This is something we definitely want to secure now.” Beaumesnil continued, “The principle of Garage 56 is that there’s no rules. You can come with a project, and we will tell them if it has some interest and if it’s possible to insert it at Le Mans because it has to be compatible with the race. A production car… why not? but it depends what. The idea of Garage 56 should not be a way for an OEM to do some promotions. We want promotion of technology.”
That last bit is the bit that caught my eye. Why? In the past Garage 56 has been for OEM’s testing tech for a potential LMP1 team in the future. Much the way Nissan tested the ZEOD prior to launching their full GTRLM LMP1 effort the next season. Never mind the GTRLM was a failure, the concept is what the ACO wants. Test one year, come back shortly thereafter with a factory LMP1 effort. The fact that Beaumesnil is open to the idea of GT cars occupying the Garage 56 spot is quite exciting. Even more exciting is the news coming out of Germany, of all places. According to the German publication Sport Auto Honda, specifically Acura could be throwing their hat into the 2018 Garage 56 sweepstakes. The car in question? A Hybrid version of the brand new NSX GT3.
Why would they consider such an entrant when the base car, the NSX GT3 hasn’t even turned a lap in true competition yet? The world of GT racing is approaching a crossroads. Hybrid supercars are all around us. It started with the extreme hypercars, P1, 918 and LaFerrari. Now it has trickled down into more approachable supercars like the Acura NSX. Nissan is likely to make the R36 GTR a hybrid. We aren’t that far away from a 911 hybrid. As more and more cars get the hybrid treatment GT racing series across the globe are going to face more and more pressure to start allowing hybrids. As of the moment no major GT racing series allows hybrids. The not so simple reason is all of these series utilize some form of BoP (Balance of Performance). Hybrids throw a huge complicated variable into the BoP equation. So in an effort to keep things simple the series’ have disallowed hybrids. However, Garage 56 seems like a perfect place to test a Hybrid GT car vs its conventional brothers. Garage 56 cars run unclassified so there is no worry about unfair advantages. The car will, race, data will be collected and eventually annualized.
Outside of the constant development on hybrid drive systems this wouldn’t be a future tech display like it has in the past. This would be more about the future of racing itself. Hybrids are coming, there is absolutely no doubt of that. Series will have to balance their performance against the competition. A NSX GT3 Hybrid would be a major first step towards that. The true shame of it all is that we have to wait until 2018 to see it.