Button: SMP aiming to challenge Rebellion at Le Mans
Ex-Formula 1 champion Jenson Button says his SMP Racing team's goal is to fight Rebellion Racing for the crown of fastest LMP1 privateer in next week’s Le Mans 24 Hours.
On Sunday Button made his debut on the Circuit de la Sarthe in SMP's BR Engineering BR1-AER alongside Russians Vitaly Petrov and Mikhail Aleshin.
Petrov ended the official test in fifth with a 3m21.603s, two seconds off Mathias Beche’s time in the #3 Rebellion R-13-Gibson, the fastest non-hybrid LMP1 of the day.
Button, who completed 20 laps on Sunday, said he was impressed with the pace shown by the competition but thinks his Russian outfit can be competitive in the race.
"The times are surprisingly quick for the test day," he said. "To get a privateer car into the [3m]19s – it’s pretty impressive.
"We’re a bit behind that, but we had traffic – I’m sure everyone does on every lap here. It’s an experience fighting through the traffic.
"Hopefully we’ll be able to challenge the Rebellions, which I think is the aim. It’s difficult to compare to the Toyotas, because you never know what they’re doing. You never know how quick that car can go."
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Porsche Curves "pretty amazing"
The 2009 F1 world champion enjoyed his first taste of the demanding Circuit de la Sarthe, adding: “The first sector is a lot of fun, it’s very rolling. It reminds me quite a bit of Suzuka’s first sector.
"The second sector is tricky, with the chicanes. And you’re also driving on roads. It’s a fully-blown race car down a street that’s really bumpy!
"Changing sides of the road is difficult, because it’s shaped like this [illustrates the crown] – I tried warming-up my tyres across it, and it was the most dangerous thing I think I’ve ever done!
Juan Pablo Montoya, who is contesting Le Mans for the first time this year for the United Autosports LMP2 team, was wowed by the ultra-fast Porsche Curves and enjoyed the old-school feel of the circuit.
Button echoed the sentiments of his former F1 colleague, saying: “Porsche Curves is pretty amazing. It’s surprising how much grip you have there in one of these cars.
"You get a little oversteer on the way in, but then the rear is really hooked up. Really, really enjoyable. It took a little while to get the confidence in the Porsche Curves, but now I have it.
"As a driver who’s been around many years, we remember not having asphalt run-off areas – and working up to a laptime. That’s always been the way I’ve been, so I enjoyed it. I look forward to getting in the car again."
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