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Vandoorne Replaces Button in SMP Racing Lineup

Jenson Button withdraws from SMP Racing Le Mans drive; Vandoorne to step in…

Photo: Formula E

Stoffel Vandoorne will replace Jenson Button in SMP Racing’s LMP1 driver lineup for the 24 Hours of Le Mans this June.

Button, who joined SMP at the start of the 2018/19 ‘Super Season’, will be absent from the French endurance classic because of stated family commitments.

The 2009 Formula 1 world champion had already been ruled out of next month’s Six Hours of Spa because of a clash with the Japanese Super GT round at Fuji but will now also miss Le Mans.

His place in the No. 11 BR Engineering BR1 AER alongside Vitaly Petrov and Mikhail Aleshin will be taken up by Vandoorne, who currently competes in the ABB FIA Formula E Championship.

“I decided to withdraw from the WEC [ahead of] the 2019 Le Mans,” said Button.

“I really enjoyed driving for SMP Racing and was happy to be on the podium with this team, but I decided that now I need to spend more time at home with my fiancé during her pregnancy rather than two weeks at Le Mans.

“The decision has been made easier for me as I feel that the Toyota is currently unbeatable.”

Vandoorne, who like Button is a former McLaren Formula 1 driver, will take the place of Brendon Hartley in the No. 11 car at Spa.

Hartley replaced Button at the 1000 Miles of Sebring, again because of a Super GT clash, and was set to sub in for the Englishman in Belgium before swapping back for the Le Mans season finale.

The deal sets up Vandoorne, 27, for his Le Mans debut and his first outing in sports car machinery since contesting the Baku street course round of the 2013 FIA GT Series in a McLaren MP4-12C GT3.

The Belgian, who raced for SMP program operator ART in GP2, spent two seasons in F1 with McLaren before switching to Formula E for the 2018-19 season of the electric series with new team HWA Racelab.

“I am very pleased to join SMP Racing and drive the BR1 No. 11 prototype in my home race in Spa-Francorchamps and in the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans,” said Vandoorne.

“The LMP1 cars are really demanding and their performances are very close to Formula 1. I will have the opportunity to re-join  ART Grand Prix and a lot of people that I’ve been working with during my successful campaign in GP2.

“Also, it’s great to work alongside such experienced drivers as Vitaly Petrov and Mikhail Aleshin.

“My objective is to contribute to the team’s performance and work in collaboration with all the drivers to develop the BR1 prototype and to make a good impression.”

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365, covering the FIA World Endurance Championship, Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, among other series.

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