Payne: Cadillac, Corvette, Camaro bring V-8 thunder to 2023 Le Mans

Posted by Talbot Payne on March 1, 2023

France’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, the world’s most prestigious sportscar endurance race, will have a decided American accent this June.

Cadillac announced Monday that three of its thunderous, V-8-powered Cadillacs will join the largest prototype field at Le Mans in more than a decade.

The Caddy squadron, coming off a successful 3rd-4th-5th place finish at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, will take on the world’s elite sports-car makers June 10-11 — including Ferrari and Porsche, the latter managed by Bloomfield Hills’ legendary Team Penske that will also field three cars. And that’s just the tip of the spear. The General Motors Co. juggernaut will include entries from Corvette (in the GT class) as well as a special Chevy Camaro ZL1 NASCAR in the special Garage 56 class.

Cadillac's trio of hybrid prototypes will rake on the world at Le Mans in June. The #1 Cadillac was third at the season's opening 2023 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona.

When the flag drops on the 24-hour race at 3 p.m. local time June 10, the packed grandstands will shake with the bass of American V-8s mixed with the high-pitched tenor turbo-V-8s and V-6s from Europe and Japan.

“The European fans will just love to hear all that GM V-8 hardware echoing around the one of the world’s most famous road-racing venues,” said Charles Bradley, editor of, a popular international racing publication.

The formidable entry is not just about raising goosebumps, but also about raising GM brand awareness. The General is undergoing a historic brand transition to all-electric cars in the next decade as well as extending its Cadillac-Corvette marketing to international markets as never before. The company sees motorsports as key to that effort, and Caddy even has its eyes on the world’s premier open-wheel series, Formula One, partnering with Indianapolis-based Andretti Autosport.

“Le Mans is another step towards GM’s globalization plan, which includes F1 down the line,” said Bradley. “It’s going to be a huge step.”

Leading the charge is sports car endurance racing.

“We are thrilled to return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with the full Cadillac Racing team,” said Rory Harvey, global vice president of Cadillac. “Over the last 20 years, Cadillac Racing has built a legacy of winning on the track, and we feel very privileged to return to Le Mans during this exciting, new, electrified era in racing.”

That new era comes compliments of a historic agreement between race sanctioning bodies — International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) in North America and the World Endurance Championship (WEC) globally — to synchronize class regulations. The rule alignment has attracted manufacturers interested not only in racing before a wider audience, but also in developing battery-powered powertrain solutions that dovetail with the industry’s ambitious move toward production EVs. The result? The biggest prototype field at Le Mans in years.

The #02 Cadillac driven by Earl Bamber, Richard Westbrook, and Alex Lynn will enter the Sebring WEC race in March.

“The lure of Le Mans is a powerful one for all manufacturers as it’s sports cars’ ultimate test of speed versus reliability around one of the world’s fastest racetracks,” said Bradley. “In this centenary edition, this is going to be one race victory you could boast about for a long time.”

But don’t be fooled by the electrification moniker. Endurance racing at 200 mph on the high banks of Daytona and the epic, 3.7-mile-long Le Mans Mulsanne straight requires state-of-the-art internal combustion engines. Batteries would quickly drain at such speeds, and so small battery packs are used to complement ICE powertrains with acceleration and better fuel economy.

An aerodynamic tour de force, the Cadillac prototype looks like a fighter jet on wheels — a sail even extends from cockpit to rear wing — yet manages to include distinctive Cadillac design elements like vertical lighting. At its heart is a 680-horsepower, 5.5-liter, dual-overhead-cam V-8 engine developed in Pontiac and mated to a common hybrid-electric unit used by all teams.

The only difference between the Cadillacs running in the IMSA and WEC series is cosmetic: The so-called Caddy V-LMDh competes in the GTP class here, while in France the Cadillac V-Series.R will compete in the Hypercar class.

The complex, new, GTP-class powertrain made its debut last month at IMSA’s Daytona and, though it encountered teething issues, the hybrid unit provided thrilling racing with the Cadillac, Penske Porsche and Acura entries fighting it out until the checkered flag.

Le Mans promises similar thrills, though significantly, the Daytona-winning Acura GTP racer will not be present in France. Even as star driver Helio Castroneves got down on one knee at the post-race press conference to beg team owner Michael Shank to go to Le Mans, manufacturer Acura/Honda has not committed to the June event.

That is an opening for Cadillac and Porsche Penske teams that lacked — respectively — speed and reliability against the Acuras that finished 1-2 in Florida. The #2 Cadillac V-Series.R, which finished fourth overall at Daytona, will get its first taste of international competition March 8 at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring in Florida. Entered by Ganassi Racing and piloted by Earl Bamber, Alex Lynn and Richard Westbrook, it will compete in the full WEC schedule, including stops in Portugal, Italy, Belgium, Japan and Bahrain in addition to Florida and Le Mans.

At the Rolex 24 of Daytona, the Acura and Porsche prototypes took the front row in qualifying. The Acura won but will not be making the trip to Le Mans in June. The brand only sells in the US.

Toyota has dominated international sports car racing the last four seasons with its hybrid Hypercars.

“Going up against the Toyota, Ferrari and Peugeot at Le Mans will make it a far tougher test, and we’ll get a litmus test at Sebring next month when they all go toe-to-toe,” said Bradley. “But what you can expect from Cadillac is excellent reliability; it really outlasted Porsche at Daytona.”

Come June, the #2 car will be joined at Le Mans by its sister #3 Cadillac piloted by Sébastien Bourdais, Renger van der Zande and IndyCar superstar Scott Dixon from New Zealand. The Kiwi iron man will somehow compete in the June 10-11 marathon a week after the June 4th Detroit GP and the Indy 500 May 27th.

A third Le Mans entry, the #311 Cadillac (fifth at Daytona), will be entered by Whelen Engineering with Pipo Derani, Alexander Sims and Jack Aitken sharing driver duties.

“We’re proud to be representing the U.S., and the Cadillac V-Series.R is a great continuation of our racing heritage,” said GM sports car racing program manager Laura Wontrop Klauser, referencing previous Caddy Le Mans appearances in 1950 and in 2000-2002.

Corvette Racing (pictured here at the 2023 Daytona 24 Hours) will race its C8.R in the GTE AM class at Le Mans.

That GM racing heritage extends beyond Cadillac. Chevy’s Corvette has been a fixture in international GT racing for the last three decades, racking up 117 wins and eight Le Mans class victories. Corvette Racing will be back at Le Mans this June with its mid-engined C8.R competing in the GTE Am class against Porsche 911s, Ferrari 488s and Aston Martin Vantages.

The Corvette effort has its eye on 2024, when the badge will introduce for international racing its first, turn-key GT3 car for sale to consumer racing teams, an expansion of ‘Vette’s business model.

While the Cadillac and Corvette Le Mans entries feature GM’s latest dual-overhead-cam V-8 mills, they will be joined by a good ol’ small-block Chevy V-8 powering a NASCAR Camaro ZL1. Yes, NASCAR.

The NASCAR Chevy Camaro ZL1 will compete in the Garage 56 class at Le Mans in 2023.

Entered in Le Mans’ special, so-called Garage 56 class that showcases a unique entry, the Hendrick Motorsports Camaro will be driven by an electric team of ex-Formula One great Jenson Button, ex-NASCAR champ Jimmie Johnson and European sports car racer Mike Rockenfeller, winner of the 2010 Le Mans for Audi.

“I can’t wait to see a souped-up NASCAR Camaro zooming along the Mulsanne straight!” said’s Bradley.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

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