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Button to Make LMP1 Debut with SMP

2009 Formula 1 World Champion Jenson Button to make WEC debut in LMP1…

Photo: Courtesy of Jenson Button

SMP Racing has added 2009 Formula 1 World Champion Jenson Button to its LMP1 driver lineup for the 2018-19 FIA World Endurance Championship season.

Button, 38, will co-drive one of the Russian outfit’s BR Engineering BR1 AER prototypes with Mikhail Aleshin and Vitaly Petrov, with the Briton’s debut coming in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

It will mark Button’s first appearance at the French endurance classic.

The trio will then contest the remainder of the ‘Super Season’, including the next two editions of Le Mans and the 1000-mile race at Sebring in 2019.

“I am pleased to welcome Jenson Button as part of our team,” said SMP Racing founder Boris Rotenberg. “This is an outstanding world-class pilot, world champion of Formula 1. He will perform in the crew with our strongest drivers, Mikhail Aleshin and Vitaly Petrov, in the highest category.

“This machine is built by the best specialists from Russian company BR Engineering and the Dallara concern, using the latest technology in world motorsport.

“We are all confident that the crew will be very strong and will be worthy of competition to rivals from around the world.”

Button claimed his F1 title with the flash-in-the-pan Brawn GP squad, as part of a 17-season career at the single-seater pinnacle that included 15 victories.

After clinching his only championship, Button raced with McLaren until his retirement from full-time F1 at the end of 2016.

He has since turned his attention to sports cars, first securing a drive in Super GT and now the WEC.

“I’m happy to be part of the SMP Racing team at the World Endurance Championship,” said Button. “I know Vitaly well on his performance in Formula 1, and Mikhail from his success in IndyCar.

“I think that with them two and the experience that we have accumulated in different racing series – as well as with the fantastic experience of the team in the endurance race – will give us a wonderful chance to fight in the front ranks and claim victory.”

Aleshin and Petrov will drive as a pairing in next weekend’s season-opening Six Hours of Spa, due to Button’s Super GT commitments.

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365 and e-racing365, with a focus on the FIA World Endurance Championship and various electric racing series.

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Tyler Sanders

    April 27, 2018 at 5:23 am

    LMP1 field is stacked with excellent drivers

    • daedalus

      April 27, 2018 at 9:38 am

      could not agree more, apart from headman in the dragonspeed car all the drivers are top notch, there should be some really good battles this year.

  2. Matt

    April 27, 2018 at 7:24 am

    Isn’t Le Mans in two months? It’s still April

    • David Chaste

      April 27, 2018 at 8:32 am

      Prepared statement that was probably scheduled to be released later (May). But when there’s a hint of leak to steal your thunder…you release it early so the leak(er) wont cash in on his exclusive info. But then they forgot to revise it slightly

  3. David Chaste

    April 27, 2018 at 8:37 am

    So if a super gt team can afford button, and a some russian mogul is throwing cash at him, why couldnt penske cough up the dough. Surely those programs have nowhere near the caliber of the penske acura juggernaut.

    • Rory

      April 27, 2018 at 9:28 am

      in regards to Super GT it’s quite likely that it’ll be Honda paying him not the team that he races for, now Penske and the Acura IMSA programme would you pay full season money to a guy that’s only going to be doing 3/4 races max for you? some teams might but we all know the captain isn’t that stupid

    • AudiTT

      April 27, 2018 at 9:31 am

      A GT500 program will cost in the tens of millions of dollars. Wouldn’t surprise me if it’s almost $100m given the amount of cars they run. As for SMP, they funded an all new LMP1 from Dallara.

      Penske will be well funded, but I think it’s more in line with GTE budgets.

    • Tyler Sanders

      April 27, 2018 at 3:16 pm

      Maybe Button does not give a sh’t about Penske or Imsa Racing?

      • Travis McBee

        April 27, 2018 at 3:53 pm

        Really, because he was interested and wanting a ride a few months ago…

    • John

      April 27, 2018 at 8:28 pm

      Maybe because the Captain likes known quantities, values loyalty, and doesn’t hire for PR value? Penske is circumspect in how he runs his business, and who he hires. Even if Honda made a push for Button doesn’t mean he’d necessarily get the job.

      Penske already had Montoya and Castroneves on the payroll, and conveniently move over from his downsizing Indycar program. Taylor was defending series champion, and Cameron is an IMSA veteran. Pageneud is also on the payroll, and he and Rahal are both HPD guys with series experience.

      Sure, Button is a pretty good driver and a WC, but that was built on having the best car for the first half of the 2009 season, before the competition caught up.

      What would Button bring to that scenario that would place him above the rest? And at what price?

      Something didn’t add up for Penske, and as they’ve found, the competition is fierce, even without bringing in a newbie to add to the challenges.

    • chappelle

      May 1, 2018 at 1:44 am

      Button has publicly said he doesn’t want to race in Indycar because he believes it is too dangerous. Keep in mind Dan Wheldon and Justin Wilson were both Jenson’s old karting buddies (both passed away during Indy races), and I wouldn’t blame him if he doesn’t want to do ovals now.

  4. John

    April 27, 2018 at 8:38 pm

    Forgot to add that Button’s wishy-washiness and lack of dedication in his final years in F1 probably didn’t look good on the resume to a prospective employers.

    Fine, if he needed a break or a change of scenery, but that kind of uncertainty was probably another factor. Was he still hungry, or would his next gig be a hobby?

    Again, if one knows anything about Penske, it’s that he is very selective, and has firm ideas of who he likes to hire.

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