SMP Racing announced Friday (April 27) that 2009 Formula 1 World Champion Jenson Button will drive the team’s No. 11 BR Engineering BR1 LMP1 prototype in a partial schedule during the 2018-19 FIA World Endurance Championship Super Series. As a result, he will debut along Mikhail Aleshin and Vitaly Petrov at Le Mans in June.
“I’m happy to be part of the SMP Racing team [in] the World Endurance Championship,” Button said in a press release that was translated from Russian. “My partners this year will be Mikhail Aleshin and Vitaly Petrov. I know Vitaly well on his performance in Formula 1, and Mikhail – on his success in IndyCar. I think that with them and the experience that we have accumulated in different racing series, as well as with the fantastic experience of the team in endurance race[s], we will have an excellent chance to fight in the forefront and [contend] to win. I’m looking forward to the race.”
“I am pleased to welcome Jenson Button as part of our team,” said SMP Racing founder Boris Rotenburg. “This is an outstanding world-class pilot, [a] World Champion of Formula 1. He will perform in the crew with our strongest pilots, Mikhail Aleshin and Vitaly Petrov, in the car of the highest category, LMP1. This car was built by the best specialists of the Russian company BR Engineering and the Dallara concern, using the latest technology of world motorsport. We are all confident that the crew will be very strong and will be worthy of competition to rivals from around the world.”
The LMP1 speed charts at the WEC Prologue were skewed because of Toyota GAZOO Racing running outside of the Equivalence of Technology (EoT) rules for a good chunk of the first day. Once Toyota put their cars in the proper configuration, they could not run as fast as Petrov did in the SMP Racing No. 11.
Button is missing the season-opening 6 Hours of Spa-Francochamps because of another full-time ride. Button currently competes in a Honda NSX-GT for Team Kunimitsu in the Autobacs Super GT Series’ GT500 class in Japan. The second race of the Super GT season, a 500 kilometer race at Fuji Speedway, is a clash with Spa. The race is scheduled to start Friday, May 4 at 1:40 a.m. EDT (2:40 p.m. local time), the day before the WEC race.* While it is theoretically possible for Button to do both races, it would not be wise. If Button were to do both races, he would likely be unable to drive the LMP1 car prior to the race.
Note: In Japan, the Super GT race falls during what is known as the “Golden Week,” a period of time with a number of national holidays. It is the most popular time of the year for Japanese workers to take vacations.