Jenson Button, the 2009 Formula 1 champion, will be 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 all about “Show me where to sign?” says Button.
The trio will test together for the first time at Daytona two days after the 24 Rolexes.
Jensen Button literally struck a deal with Hendrick Motorsports to get 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 a red eye to head to the Florida track .
“Why not go for it?” Crew chief Chad Knaus smiled at Button during one of the breaks.
Button was installed on the seat and pedals before he even had a contract.
“They’re really open,” Button said Saturday at Daytona International Speedway after announcing he would be racing the historic 2023 NASCAR/Hendrick Motorsports effort at Le Mans with 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 heard about the Garage 56 project earlier from Johnson and followed up with Le Mans veteran and now Le Mans teammate Rockenfeller. Once a contract was offered, it was all about “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 about how Jimmie and Rocky’s car works.
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 Circuit de La Sarthe, there will be a lot of attention and a lot of pressure to run representative lap times, Button acknowledged. He previously raced in LMP1 at the 24 Hours in 2018, reaching 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, consistent. It’s going to be under high pressure because it’s the 100th. There will be a lot of eyes on the race, especially since we are 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 competed in a BMW GT3, predicts high-speed Porsche cornering will be the biggest challenge.
They’re “going to be the trickiest,” Button said. “These are the changes of direction. The first corner is going to be fine. You get the weight shift. But the next one is a bit more difficult, especially with Hypercars.
Just in case, the Hendrick team plans to bring a second car along with plenty of spares to make sure it crosses the finish line. “A 24-hour race is like an entire season in other series,” Button said.
Button, whose younger of two children turned 2 in December, said he cut back on his running efforts 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 on F1 broadcasts as a commentator.
“My wife said to me please get back racing. You’re pissing me off,” said Button, who added that he had no plans to race ovals and what to do with it. road racing with a production car was enough. “Running ovals is a skill I don’t have.”