Jeff Gordon interested in 24 Hours of Le Mans but isn’t sure if he’ll race the NASCAR entry
Jeff Gordon is interested enough in the 24 Hours of Le Mans next year to “go play around” once Hendrick Motorsports takes delivery of its specially modified Camaro.
But the NASCAR Hall of Famer and Hendrick Motorsports vice chairman stopped short of declaring himself ready to come out of racing retirement for the first time since being part of the winning overall team in the 2017 Rolex 24 at Daytona.
“As far as competing (again), I don’t know,” Gordon said Thursday morning during an interview with “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM’s NASCAR channel. “This Le Mans program looks interesting. Probably going to do a little simulator work for them. My last race was the 24 Hours of Daytona. I love that event. We had good success by winning it with Wayne Taylor Racing and with Cadillac.
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“And so this program is something that would be exciting to go to Le Mans. I want to be a part of it. We are a part of it with Hendrick, but I just don’t know if I’ll be able to get behind the wheel and drive it in that race. I’m certainly going to go play around with the car when we get it. Play around with the simulator and see if it’s something that’s realistic.”
There have been few hints about the driver lineup since the announcement last month of NASCAR’s expected return to Le Mans in 2023 with Hendrick fielding a Camaro ZL1 as the “Garage 56” entry in the 100th edition of the sports car classic.
The program will be overseen by Hendrick vice president of competition Chad Knaus, who has been calling strategy since last year in IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship races for the No. 48 Cadillac that includes Hendrick’s seven-time Cup champion, Jimmie Johnson.
When asked about the driver lineup for Le Mans during a March 17 news conference for the project at Sebring International Raceway, team owner Rick Hendrick said with a laugh that “we’re going to put Gordon on a diet, and then we’ll get Jimmie back.”
Johnson since has talked about racing Le Mans with Hendrick, who also would like to have an active Cup star as part of the expected driving trio for the race.
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But before settling on drivers, there still is much to be done, including formal approval by the ACO (the race’s organizers) and finalization of the car’s specs. It’s expected the car would have a hybrid engine, and it would need other major adjustments (working lights, durable brakes, etc.).
“There’s a lot involved,” Gordon said. “You’ve got Dallara, one of the primary partners, that’s going to build a one-off chassis that, underneath the skin, is going to be quite a bit different to be able to run 24 hours -- the powerplant, the fuel cell, the tires. There’s a lot of things that are in the plans and a lot of work to be done between the folks at IMSA, Chevrolet, Hendrick and NASCAR.
“It’s going to be a fun project but also a very challenging one. In a short period of time, you think next June is plenty of time to prepare, but it’s not an easy task. We’re so far in the early stages that it’s hard to really get you any really solid answers on how everything is coming together right now.”
Somewhere on that list of unknowns is the availability of Gordon, who clearly would be an appealing choice as a four-time Cup Series champion whose highly marketable personality and transcendent popularity still would resonate in France and around the world.
Gordon, 50, occasionally still drives in a Hendrick program called “Track Attack” that brings older, modified Cup cars to club tracks (such as The Thermal Club near Palm Springs, California). But he said it’s unlikely he would attempt a NASCAR one-off similar to Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the Xfinity Series at Martinsville Speedway last week.
“I don’t want to say never,” said Gordon, who retired from full time Cup competition after the 2015 season and returned to make eight starts in 2016 as a substitute for Earnhardt. “I just have so much respect for the competitors, for the effort it takes to build a car and put a team out there. I want to make sure whatever that effort is, that my effort would equal it, to be able to go have fun and be successful. I just don’t see where I have the time to do that these days.”
Even if the former USAC dirt-track star would have liked a shot this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway.
“I’m still bummed out that I’m not back out there because I really would have loved to have driven a stock car on dirt,” Gordon said, pausing to laugh. “And no, that’s not going to happen in the future.”
The 24 Hours of Le Mans, though, long has interested Gordon, who spoke about the possibility six years ago.
“I’ve always said that if the right opportunity came along I would like to,” Gordon told Reuters in a February 2016 story. “If I feel healthy enough with my back. Physically fit enough to handle the (high gravity forces) ... make the lap times. It would definitely be the goal.”