F1 champion Jenson Button pre-sold NASCAR Le Mans effort: ‘Where do I sign?’

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Button on NASCAR Le Mans effort: ‘Where do I sign’Vince Mignott/MB Media – Getty Images

  • Jenson Button, the 2009 Formula 1 champion, will be part of the historic NASCAR/Hendrick Motorsports 2023 driver lineup at Le Mans alongside seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson and Le Mans veteran Mike Rockenfeller.

  • Once a contract was offered, it was just a matter of “Show me where to sign?” said Button.

  • The trio will test together for the first time at Daytona two days after the Rolex 24.

Jensen Button has literally struck a deal with Hendrick Motorsports to drive the team’s Camaro out of Garage 56 at Le Mans.

Button received a phone call from Jimmie Johnson at his Bel Air home in Los Angeles inviting him to the team’s first test at Sebring and the 2009 Formula 1 champion took the red-eye to hit the Florida track.

“Why not dive in?” crew chief Chad Knaus smiled at Button during one of the breaks.

Button was fitted to the seat and pedals before he was even signed on.

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Jenson Button will team up with Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller at Le Mans in June.James Gilbert – Getty Images

“They’re really open,” Button said on Saturday at Daytona International Speedway after it was announced that he will be part of the historic 2023 NASCAR/Hendrick Motorsports effort at Le Mans alongside Johnson and Le Mans veteran Mike Rockenfeller. “I know they take what they do seriously, but they don’t take themselves too seriously.”

Button had heard about the Garage 56 project earlier from Johnson and had been following Le Mans veteran and now Le Mans teammate Rockenfeller. Once a contract was offered, it was just a matter of “Show me where to sign?” he said.

“In Formula 1, you race against your teammate,” Button said. “In endurance racing, you work with your teammates. I love hearing how the car works from Jimmie and Rocky.

The trio will test together for the first time at Daytona two days after the Rolex 24, sharing the track with the new Corvette Z06 GT3.R.

As the only NASCAR entry and arguably the loudest car at the Circuit de La Sarthe, there will be a lot of attention and a lot of pressure to achieve representative lap times, Button acknowledged. He has already raced in LMP1 in the 24 Hours in 2018, making it to the final hour with SMP Racing before an engine stalled in the final hour.

“It will be a special year,” he said. “You put a lot of pressure on yourself. You want to be competitive, consistent. It will be high pressure because it is the penny. There will be a lot of eyes on the race, especially as we will be there. I think a lot of eyes on this side of the pond will be on the race.

Given the weight of the Camaro, Button, who has been racing a BMW GT3, expects the high-speed Porsche cornering to be the biggest challenge.

They “will be the most complicated,” Button said. “It’s the changes of direction. The first corner will be fine. Get weight transfer. But the next one is a bit more difficult, especially with the Hypercars out there.”

Just in case, Hendrick’s team plans to bring in a second car and loads of spare parts to make sure he crosses the finish line. “A 24-hour race is like a whole season in other series,” Button said.

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Jenson Button racing at Le Mans in 2018.David Davies – EMPICS – Getty Images

Button, whose youngest of two children turned 2 in December, said he has scaled back his efforts to go racing during the pandemic to focus on his young family alongside wife Brittny Ward after racing sports cars in Europe and Japan in 2018 and 2019. But she recently encouraged him to do more than work on F1 telecasts as a commentator.

“My wife said please go back to racing. You’re bugging me,” said Button, who added that he has no intention of racing ovals and that road racing in a stock car is enough. “Racing ovals is a skill I don’t have.”

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