Jenson Button will drive a NASCAR Camaro at the 24 Hours of Le Mans | Top Gear
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Jenson Button will drive a NASCAR Camaro at the 24 Hours of Le Mans

Le Mans’ 100th anniversary will feature the wildest of wild cards on its grid

Published: 31 Jan 2023

It’s a big year at Le Mans. The 100th anniversary of the 24 Hours, a whole bunch of new regulations to wrap our heads around and the return of Porsche, Ferrari and Peugeot in an onslaught of new competitors. Enough to feast upon, right? Well, now we learn Jenson Button will be driving a NASCAR racer in endurance racing’s headline event.

"This is a total surprise – I was on the way to Disneyland and took the wrong road," jokes Button during his unveiling at the 24 Hours of Daytona, where a number of new Le Mans racecars made their much-anticipated debut. "I've always thought of myself as a racing driver and having finished my F1 career, I look for new challenges. This is definitely an exciting challenge."

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He’s dabbled in a number of different race disciplines since leaving F1 – and even turned his hand to road car development with the Radford 62-2 – but now comes his second bite at scoring a Le Mans finish after failing to reach the chequered flag in 2018.

We say ‘a finish’ because the NASCAR Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro Cup car won’t win, barring a miraculous turn of events beyond even the wackiest of scriptwriters. It’s racing out of Garage 56, which has previously seen experimental delights like the DeltaWing and a hydrogen-powered car join the race as wildcard entries. Now it’s the turn of an actual NASCAR car in an attempt to increase global awareness of an all-American series.

Former F1 champion Button will race alongside Mike Rockenfeller, a former Le Mans victor with Audi, and seven-time NASCAR Cup Series winner Jimmie Johnson. Decent experience across the board, then. Jordan Taylor – a 2015 Le Mans class winner with Corvette and something of a social media sensation thanks to his Rodney Sandstorm alter ego – is on back-up driver and coaching duties. Hendrick Motorsports will run the programme.

"Before I went there, I thought Formula One was the pinnacle," admits Button. "But Le Mans is such a special race. It's such a big team event. We all have to work together to perform and to get a result out of it."

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His involvement was kickstarted when Rockenfeller invited him along to a test session of the Camaro at Sebring. "I haven't driven the car yet," Button acknowledges, "but I was at the test in Sebring watching and listening to all the information that the drivers were feeding back about the car."

The Camaro will be modified to help it transfer from ovals to the testing 8.5 miles of Le Mans, not least in its fitment of actual head and taillights rather than NASCAR’s usual stickers. The team are testing those during Button’s first stint in the car at Daytona this week.

"We're making every effort we can to really carry the NASCAR DNA over to Le Mans," says Jimmie Johnson. "That's really the design and the intent for this program. Even that big V8 engine; everybody in France is going to love hearing that thing scream down the straightaways."

Yes, people of northwestern France: NASCAR really is coming to town…

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