Jenson Button’s IMSA Debut and Two Challenge Series Championship Runs Highlight the Team’s Michelin Raceway Weekend
October 10, 2023
By Tony DiZinno for IMSA.com
Photo Credit: LAT Images
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Few teams run as varied a program within IMSA as Minnesota-based JDC-Miller MotorSports. Heading to Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, the team’s three-series, three-class, four-car effort looks to steal headlines, thunder and championships from their rivals.
In Saturday’s Motul Petit Le Mans, the capper to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season, 2009 Formula 1 World Champion Jenson Button will make his IMSA and track debut aboard the team’s No. 5 Porsche 963 entry in the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class. It provides Button a chance to reunite with his NASCAR Garage 56 and 24 Hours of Le Mans teammate, Mike Rockenfeller, and emerging talent Tijmen van der Helm.
The team will also run a Le Mans Prototype 3 (LMP3) chassis with drivers Rasmus Lindh, Dan Goldburg and Till Bechtolsheimer for the last race of that class within WeatherTech Championship competition. Its No. 85 Duqueine D08 has run with multiple drivers in four LMP3 races this year and has a best finish of third at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring with a driver lineup that included Goldburg and Bechtolsheimer.
Motul Petit Le Mans will follow three additional races earlier in the weekend where the team seeks championships in a pair of IMSA challenge series.
Unitronic/JDC-Miller MotorSports with Chris Miller and Mikey Taylor in the No. 17 Audi RS3 LMS TCR will attempt to wrest the Michelin Pilot Challenge Touring Car (TCR) class championship away from Harry Gottsacker and Robert Wickens, who have a 20-point lead in the No. 33 Bryan Herta Autosport Hyundai Elantra N TCR.
Similarly, Goldburg looks to secure the inaugural VP Racing SportsCar Challenge LMP3 title in the No. 73 JDC MotorSports Duqueine D08.
Pulling double duty this weekend for JDC-Miller by driving an LMP3 in both the WeatherTech Championship and the VP Racing Challenge, Goldburg has a pair of 45-minute races in the latter to erase a 90-point gap to Bijoy Garg and the No. 3 Jr III Racing Ligier JS P320.
Button Eagerly Anticipating GTP Debut
The JDC-Miller Porsche 963 tested at Michelin Raceway on Sept. 19, which allowed Button to learn both the car and the 2.54-mile, 12-turn track. After a 31-hour travel day from Singapore to Braselton, Georgia, Button was awed by the facility.
“How cool is this place?!?” Button remarked in a video before he started his track walk.
The smile continued once he’d completed the test day.
“Today went really well,” he said. “I got some good laps in the car. This track is nuts! It’s so fast, so fast flowing, with loads of blind crests. And I’m learning the track with a new car.
“It took a little while, but I felt really good at the end and good in the car. Yeah, I’m confident, so bring on Petit Le Mans!”
The JDC-Miller Porsche finished eighth at the TireRack.com Battle on the Bricks at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, ending a run of three straight top-five finishes.
Team principal John Church isn’t ready to announce 2024 program plans but hinted “things are coming together well” and announcements should follow the season finale.
Taylor, Miller Headline JDC’s Challenge Series Title Attack
JDC has three IMSA titles on its resume, with three consecutive championships in Prototype Lites – the VP Racing Challenge’s previous series iteration – from 2014 to 2016 (Misha Goikhberg, Kenton Koch and Clark Toppe won those titles, respectively). Winning both the Michelin Pilot Challenge and VP Racing Challenge titles in the same year would mark quite a feat; winning either would add to the team’s extensive resume.
Taylor and Miller’s new second-generation Audi features a sequential gearbox among other technical enhancements. After working through some teething issues the first third of the season, Taylor and Miller hit their stride. They’ve won the last two races –VIRginia International Raceway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway – and finished first or second in five of the last six races.
“The setup on this car is quite a bit different,” Taylor explained. “It’s a bit like a GT3 car with shims and how we adjust things. Now, I feel like we have a decent grip on it.”
As a single-car team, Taylor doesn’t underestimate what it would mean to win the title.
“I started in this class in 2018, and it was a lot more grassroots-type teams,” Taylor said. “Unless you put in huge money to compete, it’s quite hard, so I commend the smaller teams.
“You need a good driver lineup too, because it’s stout to go against (Herta drivers) Wickens, Gottsacker, (Mark) Wilkins and (Mason) Filippi.”
JDC-entered cars will run in Saturday’s Motul Petit Le Mans, which begins at 11:40 a.m. ET on Peacock in the U.S. (USA Network joins with live coverage at 6:30 p.m.), with the Michelin Pilot Challenge Fox Factory 120 at 12:25 p.m. Friday and the VP Racing Challenge races at 4:40 p.m. Thursday and 9:25 a.m. Friday. All three of those races will air live on Peacock.
The F1 World Champion Looks to Parlay His Motul Petit Le Mans Ride into a Fulltime Sports Car Gig in 2024 and Beyond
September 28, 2023
By Jeff Olson
IMSA Wire Service
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Jenson Button did more than just accept his latest challenge. He welcomed it.
Earlier this year – when they were in the midst of the NASCAR Garage 56 project that successfully showcased a NASCAR Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro on a global stage at the 24 Hours of Le Mans – Mike Rockenfeller asked his teammate if he would be interested in joining JDC-Miller MotorSports for the 26th annual Motul Petit Le Mans. Button, 43, didn’t need time to ponder the invitation. He promptly said yes.
“The question should be why would you not do this?” Button said. “I’m a racing driver. I could sit on the couch and do nothing, but why would I want to do that? I have to race.”
The 2009 Formula One world champion will be accomplishing three firsts in his acclaimed, 26-year career: Racing a Porsche prototype, racing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and racing at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.
“IMSA is something I’ve watched for years,” Button said. “I love endurance racing. I love the teamwork that goes into it, and how drivers have to work together rather than being rivals within the team. The racing is just awesome.”
So awesome, in fact, that Button is seeking to parlay next month’s run at Petit with JDC-Miller into a more permanent gig in the realm of endurance racing for 2024 and possibly 2025. Most likely that would involve a full-time ride in the FIA World Endurance Championship, he said, with a side hustle in IMSA Michelin Endurance Cup races.
“There are a few very good options,” Button said.
But for now, the immediate task is Petit Le Mans. He’ll join Rockenfeller and Tijmen van der Helm in the No. 5 JDC-Miller Porsche 963 for the team’s sixth race as the first customer team in the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class this season. The 10-hour race is the fourth endurance race of 2023 and season finale for both the WeatherTech Championship and Michelin Endurance Cup.
It’s both a step into and a step out of Button’s areas of expertise. He spent almost two decades racing and winning in high-downforce cars – and is returning to it for the first time in four years – but he doesn’t have much experience with multiclass racing or co-driving with teammates.
“Endurance is the place I want to be,” Button said. “Multiclass racing throws something else into the mix with traffic. There’s always a lot more action because of it. The way IMSA is run, you don’t know who is going to win until after the last safety car, basically. Endurance racing is where it’s at.”
So, too, is IMSA and its five classes and too-close-to-call championship battles. Button marvels at joining the GTP class, in which three manufacturers – Porsche, Acura and Cadillac – are within five points of one another for the championship heading into the final race.
While JDC-Miller didn’t get its customer Porsche up and running until May and therefore isn’t a part of the championship drama, Button says he won’t alter his approach to the race.
“It’s dangerous to not give it your all,” he said. “You’re not going to let people past. We are here to race and we’re here to compete. It’s a championship but it’s also a standalone race. You want to do the best you can. No quarters given, definitely not. As soon as you start taking it a bit easier on the guys fighting for a championship, it actually makes it worse.”
Since departing F1 after 18 seasons in 2017, Button’s racing career has been diverse and adventurous. He’s raced in Super GT, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, WEC, Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters (DTM), British GT, Extreme E, Nitro Rallycross and, earlier this year, three NASCAR Cup Series races and the NASCAR-backed Garage 56 entry at Le Mans with Rockenfeller and Jimmie Johnson.
A test of the JDC-Miller Porsche last week at Michelin Raceway marked the first time Button had driven a high-downforce car since 2019.
“The first 10 laps were a bit of a shock to the system,” Button admitted. “Getting used to downforce cars again and a circuit that is fast, flowing, blind and unforgiving was interesting. But to be fair, I loved it. Absolutely loved the challenge. I feel at home driving high-downforce cars. It’s in my makeup. It’s what I’ve done for two decades.”
He joins a select group of stars from other racing series participating in Motul Petit Le Mans on Oct. 14. Reigning Indianapolis 500 winner Josef Newgarden will join the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsport GTP entry with co-drivers Felipe Nasr and Matt Campbell.
Newgarden’s IndyCar teammate, Scott McLaughlin, will return to Tower Motosports to try to add to their Le Mans Prototype 2 (LMP2) class victory in March at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. Six-time IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon and four-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves – who have been frequent competitors in IMSA endurance races the past several years – also are expected to be on the grid again at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.
“It’s nice to see drivers from different categories jumping in and being competitive,” Button said. “It’s lovely that we’ve got drivers from all over the world wanting to try their hand at endurance racing.”
For Button, though, the question of why always becomes the question of why not. He talks of drivers in his age range who continue to race successfully at high levels. He mentions multi-time World Champion Fernando Alonso, still competitive in F1 at 42. Above all, Button says, the desire is about competition.
“It never leaves you as a racing driver, that want for competition,” Button said. “As long as I still want to race and am still healthy and fit and my reactions are still there, there’s no reason to stop racing. When I get to a point where I’ve lost my edge, I won’t be doing so much serious racing. But for now, wow! I feel like I’ve got a lot of years ahead. I still feel like a 20-year-old when it comes to racing.
“I will race as long as I can.”
(Photo of Jenson Button courtesy of Drivinhard Media Group)