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January 28, 2023

Jimmie Johnson headlines three-driver Garage 56 entry for Le Mans

Officials with the Garage 56 project announced a driver roster Saturday for the entry in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, tapping veterans Jimmie Johnson, Jenson Button and Mike Rockenfeller to share the modified Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 in this year’s 100th-anniversary edition of the sports-car classic.

The three drivers were introduced Saturday morning at Daytona International Speedway, just hours before the start of IMSA’s season-opening Rolex 24 endurance race. The Garage 56 entry — a collaboration among NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear that is based on the Cup Series’ Next Gen car — is set to race at Le Mans on Jun. 10-11 as a special-invitation entrant.

“Since the beginning of the Garage 56 project, it has been our goal to partner with the top racers in the world to represent us in Le Mans,” said Jim France, NASCAR chairman and CEO. “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. 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.”

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The trio represents a well-tenured group known for success in a variety of motorsports disciplines — Johnson primarily in stock-car racing, Button from his winning background in Formula 1, and Rockenfeller as an ace from the world of sports and touring cars. Each of the three have expanded their portfolios in recent years, crossing over into other racing series, and all three are scheduled to participate in a two-day test Tuesday and Wednesday at Daytona.

Johnson’s name is the most familiar for stock-car fans as a seven-time champion of NASCAR’s top division. The 83-time Cup Series winner is returning to NASCAR this year, partly in a team ownership role with Legacy Motor Club and as a part-time driver. He turned his first laps in the Next Gen model during testing earlier this week at Phoenix Raceway, and he also assisted in shaking down the Garage 56 test car at Sebring International Raceway last month.

Johnson retired from full-time NASCAR driving duties after the 2020 season. Since then, the 47-year-old California native spent most of the last two seasons in IndyCar, but also branched into a limited schedule of sports-car competition. Overall, Johnson has made nine starts in the Rolex 24, including teaming with Rockenfeller the last two seasons.

“I’m super thrilled,” Johnson said in a news release. “It’s been at the top of my bucket list to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans someday. To have this opportunity come — and to partner with everybody and this driver lineup — is truly an incredible opportunity and one that I am thankful to be a part of.”

Rockenfeller has been the primary driver during Garage 56 testing, bringing a rich sports-car pedigree to the project. The 39-year-old German veteran has two Le Mans wins — an overall title in 2010 and a class victory in 2005 — and is a multi-time champion in Europe’s touring car and GT circuits. He also drove on the winning Rolex 24 team in 2010.

This year’s effort will mark Rockenfeller’s 11th appearance in the 24 Hours of Le Mans field. He expanded to make his NASCAR Cup Series debut last year, joining Spire Motorsports for appearances at Watkins Glen International and Charlotte Motor Speedway’s road course.

“It has been a great journey so far with the whole team and project,” Rockenfeller said. “To be involved as a driver from Day 1 until now was already a great honor, and to now have Jimmie and Jenson alongside me as teammates in Le Mans is unbelievable.”

MORE: Scenes from Garage 56 testing at VIR

Button, 43, is a 15-time Grand Prix winner and the 2009 Formula One champion. The British star also has one start in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, sharing driving duties in an SMP Racing entry that retired early with engine failure.

Since the end of his F1 career, Button has competed in the Japan-based Super GT Series, winning the championship as a rookie in 2018. He has also expanded his involvement into vintage racing and rallycross.

“As a lifelong racing fan, I have always dreamed of racing certain cars, with and against certain drivers and competing in certain events,” Button said. “In June, a number of those dreams will come true in one event when I get to bring NASCAR to the world stage alongside my pals Jimmie and ‘Rocky’ at the 100th running of the most prestigious race in the world. I’m really looking forward to sharing this journey with NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and current and future NASCAR fans from around the world.”

The announcement also came with news that three-time IMSA champion Jordan Taylor will join the Garage 56 effort as a reserve driver and a driver coach. Taylor has made four appearances on the podium at Le Mans, including a GT class win in the 2015 edition.