F1 Champ Jenson Button Sold Early on NASCAR Le Mans Effort: 'Where Do I Sign?'
Jenson Button, the 2009 Formula 1 champion, will part of the historic 2023 NASCAR/Hendrick Motorsports driver lineup at Le Mans along with seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson and Le Mans veteran Mike Rockenfeller.
Once a contract was offered it was only a question of “Show me where to sign?” Button said.
The trio will test together for the first time at Daytona two days after the Rolex 24.
Jensen Button literally jumped into a deal with Hendrick Motorsports to drive the team’s Camaro out of Garage 56 at Le Mans.
Button got a phone call from Jimmie Johnson at his Bel Air home in LA inviting him to the team’s first test at Sebring and the 2009 Formula 1 champion took a red-eye to get to the Florida track.
“Why not jump in?” crew chief Chad Knaus smiled to Button during one of the breaks.
Button was fitted to the seat and pedals before he even had a contract.
“They’re really open,” said Button on Saturday at Daytona International Speedway after it was announced that he will part of the historic 2023 NASCAR/Hendrick Motorsports effort at Le Mans along with Johnson and Le Mans veteran Mike Rockenfeller. “I know that they’re serious about what they do, but they don’t take themselves too seriously.”
Button had heard about the Garage 56 project earlier from Johnson and had followed up with Le Mans veteran and now Le Mans teammate Rockenfeller. Once a contract was offered it was only a question of “Show me where to sign?” he said.
“In Formula 1, you’re racing against your teammate," Button said. "In endurance racing, you’re working with your teammates. I love hearing about how the car is working 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 probably the loudest car at the Circuit de La Sarthe, there will be a lot of attention and a lot of pressure to run representative lap times, acknowledged Button. He has raced in LMP1 previously in the 24-hour in 2018, making it to the final hour with SMP Racing before an engine gave out in the final hour.
“It’s going to be a special year,” he said. “You put a lot of pressure on yourself. You want to be competitive, consistent. It’s going to be high pressure because it’s the 100th. There’ll be a lot a lot of eyes on the race, especially since we’ll 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 competed in a GT3 BMW, anticipates the high-speed Porsche Curves to be the biggest challenge.
They “are going to be the trickiest,” Button said. “It’s the changes of direction. The first corner is going to be fine. You get the weight transfer. But the next one is a little bit harder, especially with Hypercars out there.”
Just in case, the Hendrick team plans to bring a second car as well as plenty of spares to make sure it crosses the finish line. “One 24-hour race is like an entire season in other series,” said Button.
Button, whose youngest of two children turned 2 in December, said he curtailed efforts to go racing during the pandemic to focus on his young family along with wife Brittny Ward after competing in sports cars in Europe and Japan in 2018 and 2019. But she has recently encouraged him to do more than working on the F1 telecasts as a commentator.
“My wife said please go racing again. You’re annoying me," said Button, who added he has no plans to go oval racing and that road racing a stock car is enough. “Racing on ovals is a skill that I don’t have.”