Jenson Button believes SMP Racing can still compete to be the fastest non-hybrid LMP1 team at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, but is refusing to predict a result ahead of his debut.
The 2009 Formula 1 world champion turned his first laps of the Circuit de la Sarthe in last weekend’s official Test Day, although the No. 11 BR Engineering BR1 AER he shares with Mikhail Aleshin and Vitaly Petrov initially struggled with sensor issues.
Additionally, all three BR1s, including the SMP Racing pair, rolled out aero changes in response to Matevos Isaakyan’s airborne accident at Spa.
The adjustments have given the cars additional downforce, which has resulted in a drop in straight-line speed, however Button suggests they have actually had a positive effect in the high-speed corners.
“We are slow in the straights, but I think the downforce that we needed is on the car now,” he said.
“Porsche Curves felt awesome. And I think for the long-distance run, consistency is much better now with the rear tires.
“They are [positive] because they’re giving you downforce, but in terms of the drag that it gives you, it’s what you’d simulate really for a difference in downforce setup.
“So it’s not like we’ve just added something to the car that gives us massive drag and doesn’t really give us much downforce. It’s efficient. So in a weird way, I think it might be positive.”
Button added that he has been impressed with the speed of the BR1, and is optimistic about its chances despite the Toyota TS050 Hybrids having the upper hand in outright performance.
Fernando Alonso’s fastest Test Day lap of 3:19.066 was 2.5 seconds quicker than the No. 11 SMP car, while the best of the Rebellion Racing R13 Gibsons got to within seven-tenths of the hybrid benchmark.
The final Equivalence of Technology for Le Mans will be published this week, using data gathered from the test, and will decide how much fuel per stint the hybrids and non-hybrids are allowed.
“In outright pace, we shouldn’t challenge the Toyota, but we will also have a great race,” said Button.
“We’re hoping to be doing lap times in the teens, the 18s and 19s, and I think that’s extremely quick, not just for a professional manufacturer, but especially for a private team.
“I have no prediction, and I think it’s quite impossible for anyone to predict Le Mans. If it were a sprint race, it would be easy to say that the Toyotas will win. But it’s not.”
Busy Schedule for Button
Button has arrived at Le Mans as the points leader in Super GT, which he is contesting full-time with Honda.
The Briton said his current busy schedule of balancing GTs with LMP1 was not initially planned, but said the long-distance travel from his California home to circuits around the world was necessary for the opportunities he had.
“The last couple of weeks have been the quietest I’ve been,” he said.
“In Super GT it’s unlimited tire testing over the winter, so every week I was flying to Japan.
“Last year has been a really quiet year, and this year has been more like F1. I said I wouldn’t do that, but I have.
“Next year it will be quieter I’m sure. If I wasn’t doing Le Mans I’d have loads of time off, but I couldn’t say no. The regulations will be changing in 2020 and I wanted to drive these cars at Le Mans before they slow them down a little bit.
“I don’t think it matters, though, because the racing will still be great, but it’s nice to come here while the cars are at their best, at their fastest.”