Ex-Formula 1 champion Jenson Button says he owes his place in the SMP Racing LMP1 team to James Rossiter recommending that he contact the Russian outfit.
Button will contest the remainder of the 2018/19 FIA World Endurance Championship season from next month’s Le Mans 24 Hours onwards, partnering Mikhail Aleshin and Vitaly Petrov in the SMP’s #11 BR Engineering BR1-AER.
He had his first run in the BR1 in a test at Magny-Cours after the season opener at Spa earlier this month, which he was forced to miss owing to clashing commitments with Honda in Super GT.
Speaking about how the opportunity to join SMP came about, Button revealed it came as a result of Rossiter – who was test driver at the Honda F1 squad when Button raced for the Japanese manufacturer – getting in touch with him, after the Super Formula driver observed the BR1’s speed in private testing.
“I actually found out through a friend [Rossiter] who saw the BR1 prototype testing [while testing for ByKolles],” Button told Motorsport.com.
“[He said] the car was looking great and – he watched it on circuit – he said, ‘this is a great opportunity, so you’ve got to give SMP Racing a call and see if they have a seat available’. Which I did.
“He was testing in, I don’t know if it was Aragon or Portimao, and he said that the SMP car looked fantastic, so he gave me the opportunity really to get the drive.”
Toyota dominated the Spa WEC opener over its non-hybrid LMP1 opposition, both its cars finishing two laps clear of the third-placed Rebellion R-13-Gibson.
While Button acknowledges Le Mans remains Toyota’s to lose, he believes there is still an “opportunity” for SMP to spring an upset.
“Toyota is a works team and realistically if they get beaten it’s [because] they’ve made a big mistake,” Button admitted. “But you never know at Le Mans, and that is what is great.
"The pace of the BR1 prototype has been fantastic in testing, from what the [other] drivers say as well. They are able to get the maximum out of the car pretty much every lap.
“So who knows? It’s not just down to being the quickest, it is about being the quickest from Lap 1 to the end of the 24 hours, and I think for many teams it is about getting to the end of the race.
“But personally I feel for SMP Racing, they still want to win, and there is still that opportunity, I think.”
He added: “I think a lot of people are very interested to see how P1 goes, because you only have one hybrid team and you have a lot of privateers, and I think they like seeing those privateers coming out and trying to take it to the big team.
“Even if Toyota disappears into the distance, I still think there will be a great race for the privateer teams in Le Mans.”
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