24 Hours of Le MansNASCAR Cup Series

Jenson Button, Jimmie Johnson, Mike Rockenfeller to pilot NASCAR Garage 56 at Le Mans

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Credit: James Gilbert/Getty Images

The much anticipated NASCAR Cup Series Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 entry at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, to race as a Garage 56 entry, will be piloted by a triumvirate of racing stars in Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller, who have stock car experience and raced together in IMSA, and Jenson Button. NASCAR announced the lineup on Saturday.

Johnson is an unsurprising pick as a seven-time NASCAR Cup champion and one of the greatest drivers in the sport’s history. Hendrick Motorsports, with whom he had spent his entire Cup career until his retirement from full-time NASCAR racing at the end of 2020, is preparing the Le Mans entry. The run will add to a busy year for Johnson as he returns to NASCAR as an owner/driver of Legacy Motor Club.

Rockenfeller won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2010. The longtime Audi factory driver and DTM star eventually linked up with Chevrolet and raced a Cadillac alongside Johnson at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona in 2021 and 2022. The German has been testing the Garage 56 car since its announcement before making his NASCAR début at Watkins Glen in August.

“The last two years and sharing the car with him here at the Rolex 24 how much fun we’ve had, the relationship we’ve built, and honestly being around one another and both being in the Action Express car really helped us move forward with this programme and be in the early days of developing the car, and then now we’ve got the nod to participate in it together,” said Johnson. “It’s been a great couple of years. I think we’ve built a great friendship, and certainly looking forward to racing together in Le Mans.”

Button might be known for his decorated Formula One career, but the 2009 World Champion has been eyeing other adventures since his exit in 2017. He won the Super GT championship in 2018, ran that year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans but retired, and has even competed in off-road in Extreme E, Nitro Rallycross, and the Baja 1000. The lattermost means the Garage 56 lineup with have two of three drivers with Baja experience as Johnson was an off-road racer in his early career.

“This is a total surprise. I was on the way to Disneyland and took the wrong road,” Button quipped. “It’s really, really special to be here. I’ve always thought of myself as a racing driver, and I’ve finished my F1 career and I look for new challenges. This is definitely an exciting challenge, to work alongside these two.”

Hendrick Vice Chairman Jeff Gordon, a longtime road course ace and 2017 Rolex 24 winner, was long speculated to be one of the drivers but was ultimately not selected. Button was eventually picked up after building a rapport with Johnson.

“I was just asking Jimmie what he was up to in 2023, because this guy can’t sit still,” Button recalled. “He was running through a few things he’s hoping to do, and he said, ‘I’m hoping to bring NASCAR to Le Mans.’ I was like, ‘Sorry, what?’ It started there, and then I got in touch with Rocky, and he said, ‘We’re testing out in Sebring. Come and check out what we’re doing and see if it’s something that would interest you.’ Then I spoke to John (Doonan, IMSA president and project leader), and it all started from there.”

Jordan Taylor, a longtime NASCAR fan and current IMSA driver for Corvette, will serve as a test and reserve driver.

As a Garage 56 car, which is intended for projects hoping to test new ideas under the rigors of a 24-hour endurance race, the team will not be listed in the final results.

“To be there and fight for overall victory, I think every driver wants to do that. But this year for sure for us it’s a little different. We won’t be able to,” commented Rockenfeller.

“But we will for sure see the cars and watch it closely, and I think for the sport, it’s just amazing to see all these manufacturers coming to Le Mans. I remember we raced there and we were one or two brands, and it was already great. But now to have all these manufacturers on the grid, it’s truly amazing for Le Mans but also I think we don’t need to look that far, we just watch the race today and we see already what it will be like.”

The 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans will take place on 10/11 June.

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Justin is not an off-road racer, but he writes about it for The Checkered Flag.
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