Jenson Button Chicago Media Availability

JENSON BUTTON, No. 15 Mobil 1 Ford Mustang – IT’S BEEN A BUSY COUPLE OF WEEKS BETWEEN COMPETING AT LE MANS AND NOW LOOKING AHEAD TO YOUR SECOND CUP SERIES START. WHAT HAS THIS MONTH BEEN LIKE FOR YOU? “It’s been a busy month with lots of different things going on. The one thing that is most important to me is driving a racing car when it comes to work. So yeah, that’s never going to leave. I’m lucky enough that I’m in a position where I can go do certain types of racing for fun. Racing at Le Mans is something I’ve always wanted since 2018, but to go back in a stock car was pretty awesome. It was one of the best racing weekends of my career. I think for one, because it was so relaxed, but two, because it was just utterly nuts for us to be able to race a stock car at Le Mans against the GTs and Prototypes. It was a really special… I say weekend, but it felt like I was there for a month. I think it was 12 days that I was at Le Mans. Such a reception from drivers, teams and from the fans. I think we put on an amazing show for NASCAR. I think we definitely have a lot more fans that will be tuning in, especially for Chicago I think.”


AFTER YOUR LE MANS EXPERIENCE AND WITH NASCAR TRYING TO GROW INTERNATIONALLY, WHERE DO YOU THINK THIS WILL GO AND WHAT WILL THE CHALLENGES BE? “I can definitely tell you the positives and why I think people love seeing the car at Le Mans. One: It was a stand-out. I don’t think it was ever expected for a NASCAR style car to race at Le Mans. But for me, it was the sound of it. The sound blew everyone away. A meaty V-8, when you pass people in certain corners, there’d be cheering. Every time I was behind the safety car, I’d go around the track waving to the fans – the uproar when the car passed. I think it’s like that childhood sort of love for it. The picture on the wall – for me, it was a Ferrari F-40. But having a cool car on the wall that makes you smile, and I think the Cup car definitely did that at Le Mans. It was a car that got people smiling and that made you feel like a kid again, hearing this gigantic V-8 and the look of the car, and then they look at the lap times and see it’s quick as well. But, I don’t think lap times really matter. I think it’s more about the presence of the car, and the sound of the car that got people interested. This is one car going around, you know? It’s not the action-packed racing that we’re used to seeing in Cup. I think if you can get a fanbase in Europe, they will love that – within reason. I think there are certain things that the European fanbase will struggle with. I think the big one is the ‘no rules’ in terms of how aggressive you can be on the track. I think that’s one thing that takes all of us time to get into, in any category of NASCAR. We struggle with that initially, because it’s completely different to any other type of racing, where in other racing, if you tap a guy, you’re probably going to get a penalty or damage your car. Whereas, in NASCAR, that’s not the case. You can hit people, and it’s down to the other guy either to retaliate or to move out of the way. That’s the biggest thing I think for the European public to get their heads around.”


WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT COMPETING ON A STREET COURSE IN THIS TYPE OF CAR? WHAT DO YOU EXPECT? “Every street course I’ve done, whatever I’ve raced in, has been tight and twisty. it is what it is. You deal with it. When you look at IndyCar, which raced in Detroit, it was the tightest track that I’d ever seen. But, it was a great race. So, I think we can put on a great show. I think that’s what this race is going to be about, really. It’s going to be a big learning curve for everyone. There’s no room for error. You can’t dive into corners, make a mistake and then the next lap around, take it a little bit easier because you’ll be in the wall with a damaged car. So, I think in terms of what the teams and drivers do over the race weekends, it’s very different from normal. It’s going to be building up to a good lap time, and come the race, we can’t drive like we did at COTA (Circuit of The Americas), because none of us will get around Turn 1. I think there needs to be a little more respect for the circuit, as well as the other cars.”


HAVE YOU SPENT TIME IN A SIMULATOR IN PREPARATION FOR THE CHICAGO STREET RACE, AND WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE CIRCUIT? “I’ve only driven it on iRacing so far, but in about an hour and a half, I have a four hour simulation. So, I could tell you a little bit more after that. I have done sim before the race to one: Get my eye in and understand the circuit and to understand where the circuit goes – the bumpiness of the circuit – but to also work on setup. I think there’s a lot that can be done with setup to get a car that really works on a street circuit that gives you confidence, rather than just trying to find lap-time and efficiency. I think it’s more getting the car to a place where I feel comfortable with it, to push it harder.”


IS THERE A COMPARISON, AS FAR AS THE “COOL FACTOR,” OF THE CHICAGO STREET COURSE TO LE MANS? “It’s so different. One thing I really loved at Le Mans is that we were racing against Prototypes – and we even took a couple of them as well. I think racing in a city… I think this is probably the first time I’ve raced in an actual city in a racing car. You know, Monaco is a principality, so I wouldn’t class it as a city. But, I think this will definitely bring in a different fanbase. I know that true NASCAR fans might think it’s a bit of an unusual type of track, so why do we bother with it? But, why not? I think it’s great that they’re willing to attract something different, and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. It’s one race on the calendar. I love that we’re trying new things, just like taking a stock car to Le Mans – amazing. What a great opportunity, and I think it brought in a very different fanbase. I think this will do something similar.”


LOOKING BACK AT COTA, YOU SAID IT WAS AN EMOTIONAL ROLLERCOASTER. WHAT DO YOU EXPECT AT CHICAGO, MORE SPECIFICALLY GETTING BACK INTO A CUP CAR AND HOW PREPARED YOU WILL BE AFTER YOUR FIRST EXPERIENCE? “Definitely better prepared. I just had the seat fit and all looks good. I struggled with heat exhaustion during the race, but now, I won’t have any issues. We’ve come up with a little solution that will make it a lot easier for me. In terms of the car and getting used to it, the first few laps I will be finding my feet if you like, having driven the car I did at Le Mans with traction control. It was a lot more compliant, a lot easier to drive. This is definitely a lot more edgy, so it’ll take me a few laps. But I think while everyone is learning the track, it’s not a bad thing at all. For me, it’s defining a setup that works and a drivable setup gives you confidence. It’s what we’re aiming to do over the two simulator days before we actually get to the track, so we’re fully prepared.”


WERE THERE STRUGGLES YOU EXPERIENCED AT COTA WHERE NOW YOU FEEL YOU WILL BE MORE PREPARED FOR INTO CHICAGO? “I think the big thing was how low they try to run the cars. I’m used to massive downforce cars, and you have a range of where you put the rear of the car for the diffuser to work at its best. With the Cup car, the car basically has to be on the ground to get the diffuser to work properly, which takes away all your compliance and suspension. So, in high-speed corners, it was completely the opposite of what I thought a Cup car would be. I thought it’d be very gradual, the slide, and it’d be easier to slide. But with this car, it’s the opposite. You get to a point where the rear just gives us, and the rear tire shutters – and you’re just fighting a lost cause, really. That was my biggest issue, and it meant that I couldn’t push the car as hard as I’d like, because it was like a cliff – the feeling of grip, then no grip. So, that’s something I know more now, but it’s something I want to work my way around and find a better direction. I still think there is a better option for a circuit like Chicago. The other one was just the racing. You can get used to a racing car, but you can’t get used to any car out there. It just takes time. The racing is something that takes longer – the style of racing, the aggression and the spotters. I think that I was lucky enough to have some great spotters that were very helpful, but I didn’t realize how important they were going to be. So, having been through that once, going to Chicago, I’ll arrive a lot more confident.”


WAS THE NASCAR EXPERIENCE WHAT YOU EXPECTED AND HAS IT ENCOURAGED YOU TO PARTICIPATE IN MORE RACES? “I think for half the race at COTA, I thought, ‘I don’t want to do this again.’ But for the other half of the race, I thought, ‘This is awesome, just awesome,’ in terms of the racing, the wheel-to-wheel action and not giving an inch. I definitely enjoyed that, and it’s something you do miss in single-seaters, especially in Formula 1 because the amount of downforce you have, there isn’t so much wheel-to-wheel action. I feel I had more wheel-to-wheel action in the first lap of the race at COTA than I do in a whole Grand Prix. So, loads of emotions – positive and negative – at COTA. Does it make me want to do it more? Yeah. I mean, road courses, yes. Ovals: I’d like to try an oval one day, but it’s another world. These guys have driven ovals since they were five or six years old. So, why would I be good there? I don’t know. It’s a possibility, but it’s a lot of work. It’s already enough getting used to driving such a big car for me, and the style of racing is a big step as well. Maybe one day. But, I’m very happy and very lucky to be doing the three races I’m doing this year, and I’m looking forward to Chicago and then Indy (Indianapolis Motor Speedway) in a few weeks time after that.”


DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’RE ON MORE EQUAL FOOTING AT A STREET COURSE LIKE CHICAGO, ESPECIALLY WHEN NO ONE WILL HAVE EXPERIENCED THE TRACK UNTIL THE FIRST PRACTICE? “Definitely helps. There are a few guys in the field that have raced on street circuits before – some very quick guys that have raced on street courses before. It’s easier for me than COTA, because at COTA, I feel like I’m not used to using that much of a circuit. I normally drive within the white lines, and at COTA if you make a mistake, you just run wide and come back on. You don’t really lose that much time, and again, it’s a very different way of driving. Chicago should be better for me. I feel confident that I can have a better result, but it can also all end in Turn 1. So, it doesn’t matter how quick you are, you also need to have a little bit of luck on your side.”


DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’LL BE MORE COMFORTABLE IN THE FIELD NOW, AFTER EXPERIENCING THE AGGRESSIVE STYLE OF RACING AT COTA? “Yeah, definitely. But I think everyone will tone it down a little bit. I watched Sonoma, and it definitely shows that it’s circuit dependent. COTA has always been a bit tricky, because you head up to Turn 1 and it’s so wide on the entry and then it’s narrow. In that while section, you can stay side-by-side all the way down to Turn 10. Whereas at Sonoma, it was a very different type of race. It felt more like I’m used to when I watched the race. I think Chicago will be something similar, because we all know that you can’t just run wide and come back on. I do think that the racing will be a little bit calmer at Chicago, and if not in the first start, people will start packing up a little bit and being a bit more respectful of the circuit. That’s the big thing with a street circuit that people learn very quickly.”


IF NASCAR WERE TO SECURE A DATE INTERNATIONALLY, WOULD YOU EXPECT A SIMILAR BOOM TO WHAT FORMULA 1 EXPERIENCED RACING IN AMERICA? “Yeah, there’s obviously a bit of reasons why F1 had the boom. I think F1 coming out to COTA, people wanted to get out to an event. Formula 1 was one of those events that people were really excited about, but it also helped with the Netflix series’ (‘Drive to Survive’) behind-the-scenes. I think here in America, we love behind-the-scenes. We like seeing the individuals who are actually competing with a bit of controversy. You definitely got that on the t.v. show, and that’s a big part of it. Racing is one thing, and I think understanding the personalities that are in the sport is something that I think European fans would want to know. Just seeing 39 cars go around is great, but if you don’t know who’s behind the wheel, you have no one to really support – unless you just like the color of the car, like my son does. I think there needs to be a way to get the European fans to understand the personalities within the sport, as much as enjoying the racing. I think it could be big, and doing a race in Europe next year would be great. You got a jump on what we did at Le Mans, and I think it had such a big following – I saw so many memes and it went crazy on social media. It could be easily forgotten, so I think it needs to be jumped on as soon as possible. A race in Europe would be great.”


KAMUI KOBAYACHI WILL BE MAKING HIS SERIES DEBUT AT INDIANAPOLIS LATER THIS YEAR. WHAT MAY WE EXPECT FROM HIM ENTERING THE SERIES? “Kamui has chosen a good race to start. I mean, if he started in Chicago, that would have been interesting. He’s definitely going to get a shock from anything he’s ever driven. It’s a big learning curve. I know he’s willing to learn. He’s very excited by it, and he said it’s been a dream since he was a kid to race in Cup. So, I look forward to racing with him. I’ve raced with Kamui for many years. When I won the (Formula 1) World Championship in 2009, in Brazil I had to overtake him to win. So, we’ve raced together in F1, we’ve raced together in endurance, in WEC. We’ve also raced together in Japan in Super GT – he came into the race there. I really look forward to his involvement. I think it’s great for the sport – another international driver and another guy who has such a high profile in endurance racing with Toyota. Exceptional driver. Kamui is quite an aggressive driver, so I think he’s going to fit in well in the Cup series. It’s still going to be a big shock to him, but I look forward to seeing how he performs.”


WHAT DID YOU LEARN ABOUT THE TIRES, ESPECIALLY IN WET CONDITIONS, AT LE MANS THAT COULD POSSIBLY BE USED IN NASCAR IN THE FUTURE? “The wet weather was always going to be difficult for us. We did a lot of testing in the dry on different types of circuits – COTA and Sebring. So we were really able to work closely with Goodyear to produce a tire that worked for us. But the wet was something completely different. We really didn’t get much testing, and as you know, no NASCAR categories really race in the wet. So there hasn’t been much experience with this technology. The technology in NASCAR and the technology in endurance racing is very different. In NASCAR you have a fabric belt in the tire, and in endurance racing and F1 you have metal – a metal belt in the tire. So, it works in very different ways. The NASCAR tire will overheat within a few corners, and then it slides around quite a lot on the surface – which works in NASCAR. But, when you try to apply a wet tread to that, it makes it very difficult. It’s very easy to overheat the tires. As soon as they’re overheated and the blocks move around, it makes it very tricky, because they degrade very quickly. So, the wet’s tricky, and in the dry times, we definitely made improvements that could be interesting. We obviously had a wider rear tire, which would also be interesting to see if that would work in Cup as well.”


WHERE WOULD BE A GOOD FIRST CIRCUIT IF NASCAR WERE TO EXPAND MORE INTERNATIONALLY? “I kind of feel it’s not what NASCAR would want to do, but it would be good to jump on a weekend where there’s another race. So whether it’s an F1 weekend, which is unlikely, or a WEC weekend – an endurance weekend. Because you have the big fanbase there already, and it would be a good starting point for future races in Europe.”


CAN YOU COMPARE F1 AND NASCAR ON A STREET CIRCUIT? “In an F1 car, you throw the downforce out there. In F1, you’re really working with efficiency with downforce. So, you might not put a certain Gurney flap on for most tracks if the straight-line speed is down. But on a street circuit, you don’t care about efficiency. Just throw as much downforce down as you can. The problem with a Cup car: We don’t have a lot of downforce and the downforce you do have, the only way you get it is to run the car on the floor. On a street circuit, you can’t do that because it’s bumpy. You hit the ground, you hit the bump-stops. So, you’re kind of in a tricky situation. There’s a lot of setup work that needs to be done for Chicago, and I think you’ll see big differences up and down the grid in terms of performance and how the cars handle on-track because of that. So, I would say it’s easier for F1 going to a track because they understand their aero package, whereas we’re limited in Cup. The way to get downforce is to run the car low. It’s going to be a tricky weekend, but it’s an exciting challenge, and something I’m very much looking forward to.”


WHAT’S A MEMORY FROM LE MANS THAT STICKS WITH YOU? “Overtaking an LMP2 car. It was just an amazing experience. First, the car was great to drive. It was easy to drive, which was what you need around a place like Le Mans. When you’re doing a three and a half hour stint with the car, you need it to be relatively easy to drive. It was. But for me, it was the roar, it was the sound, overtaking GT cars. There was a certain place on the course like down in Tertre Rouge which is onto the first part of Mulsanne, that LMP2 cars would try to overtake us. If they got it wrong and put out too early, they’d pull alongside us and we’d drag passed them down the straight. I never thought I’d see that – a NASCAR out dragging an LMP2 car down the straight. I loved it. It made me smile a lot out on-track. I’m sure it annoyed a lot of drivers out there, but that’s what made me smile. It was the sheer aggressiveness of our car, but also the performance of it surprised a lot of people. But that whole thing was about bringing more fans to NASCAR. I think that’s what we did, and it put a smile on a lot of fans’ faces. That’s what was lovely to see.”


WHY DO YOU THINK DRIVERS TAKING ON A MULTI-DISCIPLINARY ROLE IS IMPORTANT, AND WHY DO YOU THINK NOT MANY DO? “I think because it’s uncomfortable. They found a route that works for them, and something they’re confident in and very good at. They don’t want to try something else because they may not be as competitive, and they’re worried about what people think about them if they aren’t in a Cup car. I wasn’t so competitive in a Cup car, but for me, it’s all about the learning and the challenge of improving. I think a lot of drivers that are at the top-level of one category, they’re worried about stepping out of their comfort zone by trying something new and not being as competitive. Whereas for me, I feel like I have nothing to lose. I’ve won the World Championship in F1 – it’s what I set out to do. Now I’m racing because I love racing. I love learning new things and those challenges are what keep me going. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be racing. Few have – Fernando Alonso is the big one, obviously jumping into Le Mans and into the Daytona 24 Hours. But those are kind of similar categories to F1 because of downforce. I would love to see more drivers jumping into a NASCAR, especially in the Cup series because it’s so competitive. That’s why I really enjoy racing against Kimi Räikkönen. I’m so happy that Kamui is racing. But I’d really like to see more drivers from the endurance world or F1 come in and have a taste of NASCAR, seeing how competitive it is. I never thought it’d be as competitive as it is. I knew ovals would be something different all together, but I didn’t think the drivers would be so good on street courses and road courses. Pleasantly surprised.”


HOW MUCH OF A SHOCK IS IT GOING TO BE GETTING BACK INTO A CUP CAR AFTER ALL THIS TIME AWAY, ESPECIALLY WITH LE MANS? “Yeah, there are certain things. It feels identical when you’re in the car – when you’re sat in the seat, when you look out over the dash it’s the same. But then you don’t have paddles on the steering wheel. You have the giant stick to pull on, and then you have to blip the throttle on the downshifts, you have to lift off the throttle on the outshifts. So, yeah it’s going to take a little while. And then obviously, traction control which saves you if you get in a tricky situation. I’ll ease into it pretty quickly. I did last time. So, not to worry. When I started driving in the Garage 56 car, I hadn’t driven a racing car for two and a half years. I was able to get used to such a big and heavy car reasonably quickly. I have no worries of jumping right back in.”


IS THERE A COURSE SIMILAR TO CHICAGO STREET COURSE WHERE YOU’VE HAD EXPERIENCE? “Not really. I mean you could look at other street courses and compare – obviously Monaco is very different. I feel Monaco is tighter, much tighter than Chicago. No. There are a lot more street circuits in America that probably are similar. I think maybe the Detroit track for IndyCar. I do feel that Detroit was even bumpier than what we’ll find – or I hope so anyway. But, no. I don’t really know what to compare it to… Macau, maybe? Macau has big, long straights and fast, sweeping corners, whereas Chicago doesn’t. I’d say it’s more of a stand-alone. I think the big thing is also the bridges. There are two bridges we go over, which is going to be the trickiest situation, because we’re braking as we go over those bridges. The rear-end is going to be going wide. People are going to be brave if they try to overtake there.”


WOULD YOU CONSIDER A FULL-TIME RACING SCHEDULE IN A PARTICULAR SERIES? “Yes, I have jumped around doing lots of different things over the years. I also raced in GT in 2020, I did one race in the UK in GT3, and rally-cross – basically because I’ve always wanted to race in those series. I’ve been very lucky that I’ve been able to jump into certain cars here and there to race. I didn’t think I’d want to do a full season again, because of how busy the schedule always is, but I feel I’ll be racing in something next year, doing a full season. It’s great doing one-off races, but you don’t get the best out of yourself, and that’s why for me doing three races here in Cup has been really good because I get to spend time with the team, I get to spend more time in the simulator and really work with my engineer and crew chief to develop the skills between them and have a good understanding. So yes, I want to do a full season next year, time permitting. I need to balance a few things, as I’ve been very busy this year. But, it will be in endurance racing which will be in either IMSA or WEC.”


CAN YOU SHARE SOME MOMENTS WITH YOU AND YOUR TEAM FROM LE MANS? “Yeah that’s why I love endurance racing. It’s such an emotional weekend – especially a 24-hour race. The mechanics and engineers – they’re not away for just 24 hours. It’s 36 hours, really. So, that experience is very special. To share it with such a big team of people was very cool. A lot of fun stories and lots of emotion whether you win, lose, crash, retire, or finish – whatever it is, you cross the finish line when the clock stops. That moment with everyone is special. That’s what I love about racing – it’s that team atmosphere. You’ve worked together to achieve greatness. That’s what I miss having been away from motor racing for a couple of years.”


COULD YOU LEVERAGE YOUR FINISH IN FUTURE OPPORTUNITIES? “First of all, big thanks to Jim [France] and Rick [Hendrick] for giving me the opportunity to race at Le Mans with them. Jim is very passionate about NASCAR, but he was very passionate about bringing NASCAR to the endurance world. He was at most of our tests, as well. To see the smile on his face and the excitement every time the car passed, it really shows that he’s really passionate about racing. I don’t think the weekend could have gone any better. Jim was very happy and he was awake for most of the race. The experience of sharing that emotion together was pretty awesome. Who knows what could happen in the future? Whether it’s WEC, IMSA or maybe some more NASCAR in the future? I don’t know. I’ll definitely be leaning on Jim a little bit for that.”


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