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Le Mans 24 Hours of Le Mans

Button: Garage 56 entry will show “true NASCAR” at Le Mans 24 Hours

Formula 1 world champion Jenson Button feels that fans will get a “true experience” of NASCAR in its one-off special appearance at this year’s Le Mans 24 Hours.

Hendrick Motorsports, Garage 56, Chevrolet Camaro ZL1

Button is due to get his first taste of the modified Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 at Daytona International Speedway’s road course on Tuesday.

As part of a joint effort between NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, Automobile Club de l’Ouest, IMSA and Goodyear, the 2009 Formula 1 world champion will share the Next Gen-based Chevy with Mike Rockenfeller and Jimmie Johnson in the centenary edition of the French endurance classic, using the Garage 56 slot dedicated to “technology of tomorrow and beyond”.

The project pays homage to NASCAR founder Bill France Sr, who first took stock cars to Le Mans 24 Hours nearly half a century ago, and shows how the ACO is increasing its ties with its counterparts in North America.

Button was announced as part of the line-up last weekend on the eve of the Daytona 24 Hours, and already got a chance to witness the Camaro in action during a private test at Sebring just before Christmas last year.

He believes the Garage 56 entry will demonstrate NASCAR’s unique qualities to a relatively unfamiliar audience in Europe, and hopes it will add another new element to Le Mans’ centenary celebrations.

“I think people should see NASCAR for what it really is, which is what they’ll get to experience,” he said. “I'm really looking forward to seeing the other competitors and seeing the fans' opinion on the car and what we are trying to achieve.

“I stood out on track in Sebring and I felt like a kid again. That's what I want from motor racing. It put a big smile on my face, that love came back for racing.

“When you hear a NASCAR out on track it's mad and this thing seems even louder than a [regular] Cup car for some reason.

“The driver change is going to be interesting! We are still going to have old school Cup car driver changes with the jack, which is great and how it should be.”

Garage 56 Driver Lineup for Historic Entry at Le Mans , Jimmie Johnson, Mike Rockenfeller and Jenson Button

Garage 56 Driver Lineup for Historic Entry at Le Mans , Jimmie Johnson, Mike Rockenfeller and Jenson Button

Photo by: Bob Meyer

Asked what the spirit of NASCAR meant to him, the Brit replied: “Stock cars. Lots of noise. Big V8s.

“I've watched NASCAR for years and I've always followed Jeff [Gordon]'s career and Jimmie's career. Jimmie invited me to a couple of races, so I've always enjoyed the atmosphere here.

“It seems a little bit more relaxed than what I've been used to, not in a negative way but a positive way, because what they do on track is very serious but outside the car it's a bit more relaxed.”

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Button revealed that it was a casual conversation with seven-time Cup Series champion Johnson that led to him being invited to a test at Sebring, before he struck a deal to join the Hendrick-run team for his first appearance at Le Mans since his debut in an SMP Racing LMP1 car in 2018.

“I was just asking Jimmie what he was up to in 2023, because this guy can't sit still,” the 43-year-old said. “He was running through a few things he's hoping to do, and he said, I'm hoping to bring NASCAR to Le Mans. I was like, sorry, what?

“It started there, and then I got in touch with Rocky, and he said, we're testing out in Sebring. He said, ‘Come and check out what we're doing and see if it's something that would interest you.’ Then I spoke to John [Doonan, the IMSA president who is overseeing the project] and it all started from there.”

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