Former F1 champion Jenson Button will go up against his ex-McLaren Formula One team-mate Fernando Alonso at Le Mans next month, after securing a drive with the Russian privateer squad SMP Racing.
Button will share the outfit’s BR1 prototype with fellow ex-F1 driver Vitaly Petrov and former IndyCar man Mikhail Aleshin at the Le Mans 24 Hours and the subsequent rounds of the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) ‘Super Season’, which includes Silverstone in August and runs to Le Mans in 2019.
The 2009 F1 champion said: “I’m delighted to be a part of the SMP Racing team. I think with the experience we have from different types of racing and the team’s fantastic experience in endurance racing, we have a great chance to fight at the front for the win and I can’t wait to get going.”
SMP Racing owner Boris Rotenberg added: “I’m happy to welcome Jenson as a part of our team. We’re sure that our line-up is one of the best and most competitive in the FIA WEC.”
The championship gets going this weekend in Spa, Belgium, with Aleshin and Petrov racing as a duo due to a clashing commitment for Button in Japan, driving a Honda NSX GT at the second round of the Super GT season.
SMP’s other entry is being driven by Russians Egor Orudzhev and Matevos Isaakyan, plus ex-Peugeot and Toyota factory driver Stephane Sarrazin. Their rivals in the LMP1 class include the works Toyotas, with Alonso among the drivers, as well as Rebellion Racing, ByKolles, Dragonspeed and a pair of Ginettas from British team Manor.
The addition of Button’s name to the grid means that a total of 22 drivers with some F1 experience will be taking part in Le Mans this year, including Alonso, Bruno Senna, Sebastien Buemi and Kamui Kobayashi in the LMP1 class; Juan-Pablo Montoya, Paul di Resta, Jean-Eric Vergne, Giedo van der Garde and Pastor Maldonado in the LMP2 ranks; plus Porsche’s Gianmaria Bruni and Ferrari’s Giancarlo Fisichella in GT.