Jenson Button said he views his unexpected inclusion into the NASCAR Garage 56 project as the “first stage of getting back into serious racing.”
The Briton was confirmed as one of the three drivers that will pilot a modified Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Cup car at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, teaming up with Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.
While Johnson and Rockenfeller have both been deeply involved in the program since development started last year, Button only joined recently.
The 2009 Formula 1 world champion turned his first laps behind the wheel of the car during a two-day test session at Daytona International Speedway immediately after the Rolex 24.
Button revealed that his introduction to the project came when he was invited to attend a test outing at Sebring International Raceway in December.
“They said ‘Why don’t you come on over’, so I flew from Los Angeles overnight,” Button said. “It was actually Rocky that said come [to the] test and he asked John Doonan if I could come along and he agreed.
“So I came out to the test and texted Jimmie before, saying ‘I’m coming to watch you test.’
“[I] turned up a bit scruffy and a bit tired, went out to the track and watched the car everywhere around the track.”
Button said that the sensation of watching the V8-powered Chevrolet lapping the 3.7 mile Florida circuit reawakened his passion for the sport.
He has not raced in a full-time capacity since the conclusion of his third season of Super GT in 2019.
“I stood out at the track at Sebring and I felt like a kid again,” Button said. “That’s what I want from motor racing.
“I spent my whole career in F1 and I retired from F1 because I wanted to do something new in racing. I wanted to do other things.
“So I’ve done a few things, I’ve raced in Super GT in Japan, raced at Le Mans, done a few other things, GT racing.
“So when I saw the car on track, it put a big smile on my face. That love came back for racing and I was like ‘Show me where to sign, I’m really interested to work with these guys.'”
Much to his surprise, Hendrick Motorsports Vice President of competition Chad Knaus then invited Button to get behind the wheel of the car during the Sebring test.
“At the test, I went to watch them,” Button elaborated. “So I watched Rocky driving and I watched Jimmie driving and then Chad said: ‘Why don’t you just jump in the car?’
“I was like ‘What do you mean, just jump in the car? I’ve not got a helmet, I’ve not got a suit.’ They said ‘I’m sure you can borrow one.’
“I was like, ‘This is not what I’m used to. I need to prepare for this.’
“They were just so open for me to jump in the car and I think I really liked that, that atmosphere within the team. They’re very serious at what they do but they don’t take themselves too seriously, which is great.
“This is a really exciting project and won’t go to Le Mans and be slow.
“The car will be competitive, not that we’re racing against anyone but 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.”
Button ultimately did not drive at Sebring, instead getting behind the wheel at the Daytona test where the car ran with newly installed headlights.
The 43-year-old has one previous start to his name at Le Mans, joining the SMP Racing LMP1 outfit in 2018. A 2019 return was on the cards before it fell through and he was replaced by Stoffel Vandoorne.
“It didn’t happen first of all because I had two children and I did not want to spend time away from home when they were so young with my wife,” he said of his 2019 plans.
“Funnily enough a couple of months ago my wife said, ‘Please go and race something. You’re annoying me.’
“She understands that passion and that it’s never going to go away. That love for racing, that love for competition, that love for driving cars.
“This is my world and it’s never going to leave me. As long as the want is still there, the reactions are still there and the fitness is still there…
“I’m 43, so there’s a lot of years in my racing career still ahead of me. This is the first stage of getting back into serious racing.”