Did you know that fog lights, disc brakes and diesel were all tested in race conditions for the first time during the 24 Hours of Le Mans? The race leads the way in technological progress. In line with that vocation, the Garage 56 grid slot was introduced in 2012 and reserved for innovative cars.
Back in 2012 the DeltaWing differed from other prototypes in several ways. It weighed only 500kg and its pointed nose gave it the futuristic air of a space shuttle. It fared well in the race until an accident put it out of action. The American car made history all the same, as the first occupant of pit number 56. The extra slot on the grid was added so as to leave room for innovation without taking the place of a conventional car. The Garage 56 entry is not part of the official competition and technical regulations do not have to be applied. “The idea is to leave as much room for creativity as possible,” explains Vincent Beaumesnil, Manager of the ACO Sports Division. “Garage 56 explores the automobile technology of tomorrow and beyond. Environmental considerations such as fuel savings and carbon emission reduction are obviously very important.” Of course, all prototypes selected to fill the special spot on the grid must abide by all safety regulations including crash tests. “When we receive a Garage 56 application, we start by talking to the designers to get all the details,” says Beaumesnil. “We set performance criteria and they build their prototype accordingly. It’s no good having a Garage 56 car that is faster than the LM P1s just because technical restrictions don’t apply; the idea is to test new technology.”
In 2013, the invitation was extended to the developers of the Green GT H2, which featured a hydrogen-powered fuel cell. The Swiss-designed vehicle was to be the first car without an internal combustion engine to take part in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Unfortunately, a few days before the race, the team pronounced the car unfit to take part.
In 2014, the Nissan ZEOD RC did a lap of the Circuit de la Sarthe on electrical power only. However, the prototype did not last the whole course due to a gearbox fault.
The ACO rejected all Garage 56 applications for 2015, considering that none were of the standard required.
This year, the slot has been attributed to the SRT 41. The prototype is designed to cater for the handicap of one of its drivers, quadruple amputee Frédéric Sausset, who also heads the team. “This system can be fitted on any car in less than ten minutes. It opens up a whole realm of possibilities for handicapped persons. It puts the spotlight on disabilities and shows they are being catered for. Then there’s the demonstration of rising to a challenge, which is really important because the 24 Hours of Le Mans is all about people and their adventures.”
The candidate for 2017 has already been selected. The slot goes to the WR (Welter Racing) prototype which runs on bio-methane. “We receive five or six Garage 56 applications each year and do our best to announce the results two years ahead. The WR selection was announced in June 2015”, says Beaumesnil. The WR project is both innovative and timely. It uses liquefied methane, a gas produced by waste fermentation, as a fuel. Watch out for it at Le Mans next year!
Photo: The Nissan DeltaWing was the first Garage 56 car in 2012