DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Jimmie Johnson, Mike Rockenfeller and Jenson Button will drive the special Garage 56 car that will compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June.
Johnson, a seven-time NASCAR champion, has been campaigning for a spot on the three-driver lineup for his former team. He had awaited the release of the IndyCar and NASCAR schedules to ensure his availability and was finally confirmed ahead of the Rolex 24 at Daytona on Saturday.
“I’m super excited – competing in the Le Mans 24 Hours one day was high on my wish list,” said Johnson. “Having this opportunity and working with everyone and this line-up of drivers is truly an incredible opportunity and one that I’m grateful to be a part of.”
Rockenfeller is a former Le Mans winner and has spent the last two years racing alongside Johnson with the Rolex at Daytona International Speedway in a Hendrick sportscar. He also did most of the testing for the project, driving the car on track and in the simulator at each test.
Rockenfeller won the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2010, the Le Mans 24 Hours in the GT class in 2005, the Rolex 24 in Daytona in 2010 and the German DTM Championship in 2013. He drove the car at every test on the track and spent countless hours behind the wheel in the simulator.
“It’s been a great journey so far with the entire team and project,” said Rockenfeller. “Being there as a driver from day one has been an honor and now to have Jimmie and Jenson alongside me as teammates at Le Mans is incredible.”
Button, the 2009 Formula One World Champion, was the surprising choice as most expected it to be four-time NASCAR Champion and Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon. Johnson had been actively recruiting Button, both drivers said on Saturday, but Gordon, 51, was trying to get back into racing shape, even competing in an IMSA-sanctioned race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in September.
“As a lifelong racing fan, I’ve always dreamed of driving certain cars with and against certain drivers and competing in certain events,” said Button. “In June, some of those dreams will come true in an event when I get to bring NASCAR onto the world stage with my friends Jimmie and Rocky for the 100th anniversary of the world’s most prestigious race.”
Gordon did not attend Saturday’s announcement at Daytona International Speedway because he was ill, but Hendrick Motorsports vice president and general manager Jeff Andrews said Gordon was fine with the Garage 56 lineup.
“From the beginning of the Garage 56 project, our goal has been to partner with the best racers in the world to represent us at Le Mans,” said NASCAR Chairman and CEO Jim France. “The line-up of Jimmie, ‘Rocky’ and Jenson is everything we dreamed of – three elite drivers who have won at the highest levels of motorsport around the world.
“As we celebrate NASCAR’s 75th anniversary, we are honored that these world-class champions are helping to bring the sights and sounds of a NASCAR racer to fans at Le Mans and around the world.”
NASCAR will bring its new next-gen car to Le Mans for the race’s 100th anniversary as part of a special category showcasing technology. Hendrick and General Motors were tasked with the project, but NASCAR opened up the data to all manufacturers after others complained that Garage 56 was giving an organization and manufacturer unfair access to a car everyone is still learning on.
The next generation Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 is expected to be approved by l’Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) to compete at Le Mans in the coming weeks.
All three drivers will take part in the two-day test at Daytona International Speedway next week. Jordan Taylor, who currently competes for Corvette Racing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, will serve as reserve driver and driver coach. Taylor won the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans in the GTE Pro Class and was on the podium four times. He is a four-time IMSA champion.
AP Auto Racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports