Jenson Button, the 2009 Formula 1 champion, will join seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson and Le Mans veteran Mike Rockenfeller in the historic line-up of NASCAR/Hendrick Motorsports drivers for 2023 at Le Mans.
Once a contract was offered it was just a matter of “Show me where to sign?” Button said.
The trio will test together for the first time in Daytona two days after the Rolex 24.
Jensen Button literally struck a deal with Hendrick Motorsports to drive the team’s Garage 56 Camaro at Le Mans.
Button received a 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 red-eye to head to the Florida track.
“Why don’t you jump in?” crew chief Chad Knaus smiled at Button during one of the breaks.
Button was mounted on the saddle and pedals before he even had a contract.
“They’re really open,” Button said Saturday at Daytona International Speedway after it was announced 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’re serious about what they do, but they don’t take themselves too seriously.”
Button had previously heard about the Garage 56 project from Johnson and had contacted 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,” said Button. “In endurance racing you work together with your teammates. I like to hear from Jimmie and Rocky how the car works.”
The trio will test together for the first time at Daytona two days after the Rolex 24, sharing the circuit with the new Corvette Z06 GT3.R.
As the only NASCAR entry and probably the loudest car on the Circuit de La Sarthe, there will be a lot of attention and pressure to put in representative lap times, Button acknowledged. He has previously raced in the 2018 24 Hours in LMP1 and made it to the final hour with SMP Racing before an engine failed 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 and consistent. It’s going to be high pressure because it’s the 100th. There will be a lot of eyes on the race, especially because 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 driven a GT3 BMW, expects the fast Porsche Curves to be the biggest challenge.
They “become the trickiest,” Button said. “It’s the changes of direction. The first corner is fine. You get the weight transfer. But the next one is a bit more difficult, especially with Hypercars out there.
Just in case, the Hendrick team plans to bring a second car along, as well as enough spare parts to ensure he makes it to the finish line. “One 24-hour race is like a whole season in other series,” said Button.
Button, whose youngest of two children turned 2 in December, said he has limited efforts to take up racing during the pandemic to focus on his young family 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 work as a commentator on the F1 broadcasts.
“My wife said please go racing again. You’re annoying me,” said Button, adding that he has no plans to race ovals and that road racing with a stock car is enough. “Racing ovals is a skill I don’t have.”