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Focus Turns to Preparation for NASCAR Effort at Le Mans

Jenson Button, Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller are on an increased testing schedule to get the car and themselves properly prepared for the 24 Hours of Le Mans.


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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The “reveal” was everything expected. On Saturday morning at Daytona International Speedway in the hours before the green flag dropped for the Rolex 24 At Daytona, a huge assortment of racing’s highest profile figures made the long-awaited announcement for who would drive the Garage 56 entry at the famed 24 Hours of Le Mans this summer.

Seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, former Formula One world champion Jenson Button and the sports car ace, former Le Mans overall winner Mike Rockenfeller, were officially introduced as the drivers of the car – a combination effort of IMSA, NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet, Goodyear and ACO [Automobile Club de l’Quest]. The reaction – from racing executives in the room and from people across the world on social media - was immediate and overwhelmingly receptive for this one-of-a-kind entry in one of auto racing’s most renowned events.

In the days since IMSA’s Rolex 24 finished at the famed Daytona infield road course, Johnson, Button and Rockenfeller made laps in the Garage 56 car. Rockenfeller, who won Le Mans overall in 2010, had already done the majority of testing to date, but it was the first time Button had a chance to drive the car and the full team had a proper test.

“It’s been fun and to get this group together and have everyone here from [Chad] Knaus to drivers, Greg Ives, everyone, it’s nice to just get into it,“ Johnson said Wednesday of the test session. “We’ve been working on various reliability and performance related items and getting into race mode here.

Another test is scheduled at the historic Sebring (Fla.) International Raceway later in February – the same place where this driving trio ultimately first came together for the project only a couple months ago.

“I was just asking Jimmie what he was up to in 2023 because this guy can’t sit still,’’ Button said during the Garage 56 announcement over the weekend. “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 [Rockenfeller] 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.“

It certainly did, and now the three drivers are on an increased testing schedule to get the car and themselves properly prepared for the June 10-11 race in France.

“I think we’re going to have some more details come out in another announcement more specific to the car itself,“ Johnson said over the weekend.

“But I can say that we’re taking every effort we can to really carry the NASCAR DNA over to Le Mans. That’s really the design and the intent for this program. Even that big V-8 engine, everybody in France is going to love hearing that thing scream down the straightaways.“

-Photo credit: James Gilbert/Getty Images