CONCORD, N.C. – The driver lineup for the Garage 56 entry at the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans has been announced and it features three participants with a wide array of success in multiple motor sport disciplines.
RELATED: NASCAR announces driver lineup for Garage 56
Jimmie Johnson, Mike Rockenfeller and Jenson Button will share the driver’s seat for the 100th running of the legendary race. The driver roster was revealed on Saturday morning during a press conference before the start of the Rolex 24 At DAYTONA.
"The lineup of Jimmie, 'Rocky' and Jenson is everything we could have dreamed of – three elite drivers who have won at the highest levels of motorsports worldwide,” Jim France, NASCAR chairman and CEO said in a release. "As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of NASCAR, we are honored to have these world-class champions help bring the sights and sounds of a NASCAR race car to fans in Le Mans and across the world."
RELATED: Hendrick Motorsports to pursue Garage 56 entry in 2023
Last March at Sebring International Raceway, Hendrick Motorsports announced, in collaboration with NASCAR, Chevrolet, IMSA and Goodyear, its intention to compete in the 2023 edition as the Garage 56 entry. The entry awaits its official invitation from I’Automobile Clube de I’Ouest (ACO) and it’s anticipated to be approved for entry in the coming weeks, according to a NASCAR release.
"We couldn’t be prouder of this driver lineup that is going to go forward and represent this great effort – a monumental effort that we’ve been working on for quite some time," Jeff Andrews, the team president and general manager of Hendrick Motorsports, said.
"From a vehicle side, everything is coming along well. We’ve got a test down here on Tuesday and Wednesday. We are looking forward to that. The first time to get all three of these guys in that car consistently and get their feedback."
PHOTOS: Scenes from the Garage 56 driver announcement
Johnson and Rockenfeller were the drivers during recent outings for the Hendrick Motorsports-built Garage 56 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. Both piloted the car during the December test at Sebring International Raceway. Earlier that month, Johnson logged seat time at Carolina Motorsports Park, while Rockenfeller was behind the wheel for a test at Virginia International Raceway in November. In addition, Rockenfeller has been hard at work in the simulator helping to get things prepped.
“To be involved from day one has been just a great honor," Rockenfeller said. "It has been a lot of fun and I can’t wait to share the car with these two teammates."
PHOTOS: See scenes from the test at Virginia International Raceway
Johnson has a long history with Hendrick Motorsports as he raced in the NASCAR Cup Series for the organization, driving the No. 48 Chevrolet from 2001-20. During that time, he won 83 races and seven championships for the team. Johnson’s seven titles are tied with NASCAR Hall of Famers Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty for the most in the sport’s history. In November of 2022, it was announced that Johnson would run a limited Cup Series schedule and join with Petty to become a part owner of the now-named LEGACY MOTOR CLUB. In recent years, Johnson has also run IMSA events for Action Express Racing with Rockenfeller as a teammate, including the 2021 and 2022 Rolex 24.
"I’m so pleased to be here and be a part of this program," Johnson said during the announcement. "When Rick (Hendrick) called, I couldn’t resist the opportunity. It’s been a big dream of mine to go to Le Mans and compete and experience what Le Mans is all about. To know that I am going to Le Mans with this great group of drivers, this great team, the collaboration between GM, NASCAR and everybody involved. It is really a special opportunity."
Rockenfeller is a sports car veteran with a winning pedigree. The German-born driver has competed in many forms of racing such as the German Carrera Cup, the Rolex Sports Car Series and the European Le Mans Series. He is a two-time winner at Le Mans – in the GT Class in 2005 and as part of the overall winning team in 2010. Rockenfeller has competed in the event 10 times. He was also victorious as part of the overall winning team of the Rolex 24 in 2010. Last year marked Rockenfeller’s first two career starts in the Cup Series as he ran races at Watkins Glen International and the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL.
Button is a veteran of Formula One racing as he drove in that series from 2000 to 2017. He won the 2009 Formula One World Championship. For his career, the British driver notched 15 wins and 50 podiums. In 2018, he was the champion of Super GT Series alongside Naoki Yamamoto for Team Kunimitsu. Button has participated in the 24 Hours of Le Mans once before in 2018 and has dabbled in different endurance racing events such as the 24 Hours of Spa. He is also a six-time participant of the Race of Champions.
"When I finished my F1 career, I looked for new challenges and this is definitely an exciting challenge," Button said. "To work alongside these two drivers – as you can see already, there is some good banter. I think it just shows that teamwork we will need to go to Le Mans and perform as we would like. I'm very excited to work with this All-Star team and I think we can achieve something very special."
In addition, Jordan Taylor will serve as the team’s backup driver and will also help coach the drivers. Taylor is currently a competitor in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship for Corvette Racing. As an IMSA competitor, he is a four-time champion and was part of the winning Rolex 24 At DAYTONA team in 2017 with (Hendrick Motorsports vice chairman) Jeff Gordon, his brother Ricky Taylor and Max Angelelli. He also has a GTE Pro Class win at Le Mans (in 2015) and has finished on the podium four times in eight appearances.
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Chad Knaus, the vice president of competition at Hendrick Motorsports, is overseeing the project. Greg Ives works with the drivers to make sure they are not only comfortable in the car and at the tests, but also in what can be done in different driver-in-the-loop (DIL) sessions to be able to drive performance with the car.
"Being able to work with the variety of drivers that we are going to have from different aspects of motor sports is really exciting," Ives told HendrickMotorsports.com. "It is pretty neat to learn about the driver as an individual and to learn about their past and their accomplishments. Then, to meet them in person, they are just like every other guy we know. Their talent level is just in a different field (of racing). Just watching some of these guys get in the DIL, you learn pretty quickly why they were champions of their sport and professionals that are being sought after to drive projects like this."
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The Garage 56 entry will be a modified version of the Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 race car. The Garage 56 program was introduced in 2012 as a special single-entry class for innovative cars. It allows for creativity without taking away a spot in the traditional starting grid.
"Participating in one of the truly iconic events in auto racing and representing NASCAR and Chevrolet on the world stage is a privilege," Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports, said in March when the initial Garage 56 announcement was made. "Jim (France) deserves tremendous credit for having the vision for the project, and we thank him for trusting our organization with the responsibility. Even though Garage 56 is a ‘class of one,’ we are competitors and have every intention of putting a bold product on the racetrack for the fans at Le Mans."