Ford Performance Notes and Quotes – Jenson Button Chicago Transcript (6.30.23)

Ford Performance Notes and Quotes
NASCAR Cup Series
Chicago Street Race Media Availability | Friday, June 30, 2023

Jenson Button will be making his second career NASCAR Cup Series start in this weekend’s inaugural Chicago Street Race. Button, driving the No. 15 Rick Ware Racing Ford Mustang, discussed the course and significance of the event with the media.

JENSON BUTTON, No. 15 Mobil 1 Ford Mustang – WHAT WERE YOUR THOUGHTS TRAVELING INTO CHICAGO AND OF THE COURSE? “It’s pretty exciting to be here at the first-ever street race in NASCAR. Chicago: I flew in from L.A. I live in L.A. My wife’s from California, and we flew yesterday into Chicago. Humidity is the first thing that hits you when you just get off the plane, which we’ll definitely have to deal with this weekend. But, it’s so cool – racing within a city. There aren’t many racing drivers that get that opportunity. I’ve had the opportunity at Monaco and in Singapore, but not in a stock car. So, this is a new and exciting opportunity. For me, I think the racing is going to be out-of-this-world and exciting. We also have a bit of weather thrown into the weekend – a possibility of rain and thunderstorms. So, that always mixes things up. I’m looking forward to the action. A big thank you to Mobil 1 for making this dream happen for me, to race three races in Cup this year.”

HAVE YOU WALKED THE TRACK YET? “I tried to, but they didn’t let my wife on… it was a ‘no.’ So, I’m doing it tomorrow morning. She has a VIP pass and VIPs aren’t allowed on-track.I’m going to walk it tomorrow. I was always going to walk it twice – once with the family, and then tomorrow morning with my crew chief and the team. I’ll be up bright and early at 7 a.m., and hopefully it’s going to be a little cooler as well.”

WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION TO HOW MANY 90-DEGREE CORNERS THERE ARE ON THIS COURSE? THERE MAY NOT BE A LOT OF PASSING OPPORTUNITIES, WHICH ISN’T IDEAL. “What’s not ideal? I mean, we’re here to get the best out of whatever we race on, right? It shouldn’t be dictated by what we think is best for us in the car. We should deal with what is put in front of us. The 90-degree corners: It definitely gives us some opportunity to pass. Not every 90-degree corner is going to give you that opportunity. I think Turn 1, Turn 2, Turn 5 and the last corner are the main overtaking places. Other sections of the track are too narrow, like Turn 9 – that long left-hander. It’s quite a narrow section, but that has its own challenges: First of all, keeping our car out of the wall, but also trying to thread the needle to go through that section. It’s going to feel extremely quick.The speeds won’t be extremely high, but when the barriers are that close, it feels unbelievably fast. It feels like they are narrowing in on you throughout the race. So, it’s a challenging track. You have to throw the bumps into it, you’ve got the overpasses… it’s going to be tough for us to learn in 50 minutes, to have confidence in the car and track, to push it and brake where we think we can brake, because one little lock-up and you’re in the wall. It’s not like you have a safety net like you have on most road courses. Tricky, but well-up for the challenge. I think we can put on a good show.”

WILL THIS TRACK CHANGE ANY DIFFERENTLY UNDER WET CONDITIONS TO OTHER COURSES? WILL IT BE THE SAME KIND OF ADJUSTMENTS IF IT DOES RAIN? “Everything gets more difficult when it rains – on any track, but especially a street course. One: Because, I don’t know the last time it rained here, and the oils from a road car which will be on the track. You won’t really have an issue with it in the dry, but as soon as it rains, it becomes slick. So, that’s an issue. Bumps make it more difficult in the wet, there’s no run-off, so if you want to lock-up and you’re in the wall – exactly the same in the dry. But, it’s more likely to happen because there is so much less grip. Normally, you’d take wet lines which would be a little different to dry lines, but you’re limited because the circuit’s so narrow. So it’s basically finding a line that you feel comfortable with, so you can get on the power as soon as possible. Racing in the wet… it’ll be nuts. It’ll be pretty crazy. Totally up for it. Most of the guys wouldn’t have driven on street courses, and most of the guys wouldn’t have raced in the wet. So, it’s going to be mayhem out there – but in a good and positive way. A little bit nuts… Like a sprinkling of nuts, whereas in the wet, it’s going to be a shower of nuts.”

HOW DO YOU SEE FULL-BODIED STOCK CARS ON THIS TYPE OF COURSE, AS OPPOSED TO THE MORE NIMBLE RACE CARS YOU’RE USED TO? IS THIS EVENT SOMETHING THAT CAN BE DONE MORE OFTEN? “I like that NASCAR is thinking outside of the box, and that we’re trying new things. Why not? There are so many races on the calendar, and this is one of the 38 races that you guys do. I like that we’re trying something different. It is a big, heavy car, and I must admit when I first drove it, I thought it would soak up the bumps a lot better than it does. I think the reason is, because the diffuser on the car – you have to run the car as low as possible to get that diffuser activated. So you’re on the bump stops – there’s no suspension in these cars. Here though, we’ve done so much work in the simulator to get it to a point where it’s consistent and driveable, and it does soak up bumps. I don’t think that’s an issue. The V8 Supercars that race in Australia: They race on street courses all the time, and that’s the same kind of philosophy, the same ideas behind the car itself. We can make it work, but it’s just a limited amount of time to get the car into a working range before qualifying. The person who does will come out quickest.”

YOU MENTIONED TURNS 1, 2 AND 5 WERE THE KEY OVERTAKING CORNERS. THOSE ARE ALL PLACES THAT HAVE SURFACE CHANGES, SO CAN YOU EXPLAIN THE CHALLENGES IN THOSE CORNERS? “Surface change is always an issue, especially when it’s wet. That makes it even more difficult because concrete is very slippery when wet. You change your style to suit the material you’re driving on, whether it’s the asphalt or the concrete. You might brake slightly earlier, but harder if it’s asphalt to get all the braking done on the asphalt area before you step onto the concrete. So you have most of the slowing down done. Turn 1 will be a tricky one. Walking the track is a must. So tomorrow, for the hour that we have, we’ll be really concentrating on where the concrete starts and the asphalt finishes. That is really key for understanding the track and the different conditions. Also when the rubber goes down, it’ll go down differently on concrete than asphalt. It’s also working that out and the areas you can push the car, areas you need to look after the car. Maybe braking earlier into a corner and getting a better exit. In some corners you can brake later and use that grip of the asphalt. It definitely throws something into the mix of ‘things to learn,’ but we all should be pretty good by that point.”

HOW DOES A STREET COURSE TEST A DRIVER IN COMPARISON TO A TRADITIONAL OVAL? “I guess it’s kind of similar to ovals in a way. You don’t have the aero issues that you have on an oval, I guess. I’ve never driven an oval, so I don’t know. But when you watch, you have lots of different issues with the airflow over the car, traffic and what have you. So you don’t have that, but in terms of not having much room for error, I think that’s kind of similar to an oval – you make a mistake on an oval and you’re in the wall. Here, it’s exactly the same thing, but it could be entry, apex and exit where you can find yourself in the wall here. It has its unique challenges, because you’re using the brakes, your modulating brakes throttle all the way through the corner. I expect the quick guys, which there are a lot of them in Cup, to get to grips with this place pretty quickly. I definitely have an advantage racing street courses, but not in such a big car. It’s always been in a single-seater. I don’t think I’m so on the back foot like I probably was in Austin, but I also don’t have a massive advantage coming here, because I don’t know the car as well as most. I think you’ll see a lot of us in qualifying touching the barriers here and there – as long as it’s side on, then it’s ok because you’re not going to damage the toe links. You have to be aggressive to get a lap-time out of the car here, but the problem is that it’s a lot of risk. It’s very easy to find yourself in the wall.”

WHAT WERE THE SIM LAPS LIKE? “I spun coming out of the pits, so it wasn’t a good start. Once you get up to speed… the throttle control is nuts around here. You really have to modulate the gas pedal – there’s a lot of modulation, especially because there are so many bumps. Laterally loaded when you get on the throttle, it’s really tough. Straight ahead traction is fine. The big area where we’ll be struggling, I think, is Turn 3 to Turn 4. That fast right kink, before you turn right over the bridge in that really narrow path of the course. There is no room for error. When you come through Turn 3, it’s quite bumpy as you hit the brakes, so the car is moving so much through the braking zones, and trying to pick your apex point is really difficult. it gets to a point where you have to think, ‘Am I going to make the corner or not?’ At some point, you go past the point of no return. You’ve turned in… and if you get it wrong, you’re going to be in the wall. There is a point where you can go, ‘I’ve braked too late’ and turn left onto the escape road and turn it around. So that for me is going to be the trickiest corner to get right, because there’s the run-off area, you can brake late and be aggressive. But it gets to that point where you either choose to turn right or go straight.”

WHAT DO YOU THINK A RACE LIKE THIS MEANS TO THE FANS? “I can only think of positives. I don’t see why anyone would be negative. It’s one race out of many. We’re trying something new. I think it’s exciting. We’re going to see Cup cars and Xfinity cars racing on the streets of Chicago. I mean, it’s pretty crazy, right? I think it’s a great challenge for everyone. For the organizers that put this on, I’m impressed. But also for everyone involved. The logistics are difficult. I know from previous experience in street races. For the team and drivers, it’s all a big learning curve. I think to have got to this point already, we should congratulate everyone for what they’ve done. Hopefully, we can repay that by putting on a great race this weekend, and we’ll hopefully see more street courses in the future. I want to see some racing in Europe. I think that’s a good possibility, and I think the European fans are very on-board with NASCAR at the moment, especially after the performance we had at Le Mans. So, there’s a big fan base to tap into there – new fans. I think that’s one thing about racing in the streets here. There are a lot of new fans that come to the sport. You have to respect the people that have been a fan of this sport for decades, but you also want to bring in a new, younger fan base. This is a good way of doing that.”

YOU HOLD THE GUINNESS WORLD RECORD FOR REACTION TIME ON THE BATAK WALL. HOW DOES YOUR RECORD-HOLDING REACTION TIME ASSIST YOU INSIDE THE WHITE LINES ON THE TRACK? “Inside the walls, which are the white lines here. It was a publicity thing I did a few months ago. I had the world record of a batak wall, it’s called – how many lights you can extinguish in 30 seconds. I had the record when I was in my twenties, and they asked, ‘ You think you can beat it?’ I said, ‘No way.’ But, I did. So, in my forties, I have the world record for this batak wall reaction test. And you’re right: You need that at a place like this. These cars aren’t the quickest cars I’ve driven, but it’s reacting to what the car is doing, and it’s such a narrow circuit here for these cars. Every experience I’ve had on a street circuit, when you’re in the race, it also feels like it gets narrower every lap. It feels like the barriers are narrowing in on you. Every race car driver will tell you this. This race, for example, at Monaco and Singapore: It gets tougher and tougher each lap, because the focus and concentration needed is way beyond anything else. So mentally, the drivers are going to get out of the car and be tired after this one. Reaction, yeah, are going to be key – especially with the other 37 guys out there. It’s pretty nuts on your own, but then you throw everyone else into the mix? It’s going to be a great race to watch, especially for me to be in the mix. It’ll be a lot of fun.”

ON A SCALE OF 1-10, 10 BEING THE MOST DIFFICULT, WHERE DOES THIS COURSE RANK IN YOUR CAREER? “It’s difficult to give you a definitive answer, as I haven’t driven the course yet. But, from my experience in the simulator, it’s definitely tricky. These cars, they don’t slow down like the cars I’m used to. Normally, we brake at the 150-yard marker, and in the Cup car, you’re at the 500-yard marker. So, there’s a lot going on when you hit the brakes going into the corner, and one little slip-up and you’re in the wall. I think, mentally, it’s a very challenging race for us. The logistics of being in a city: It’s not an issue for the drivers as much. We stay across the road and walk to the track, which is great. It’s quite relaxed. But the actual race itself is going to be extremely challenging. If I put Monaco and Singapore as two very challenging courses in a racing car, I put them up at an eight, and I’d probably put this at a nine. It would be just above in terms of challenges for all of us out there.”

WAS THE SIMULATOR VERY DETAILED, ACCOUNTING FOR SURFACE CHANGES LIKE MANHOLE COVERS ON THE COURSE? “Yes, it’s lasered. They lasered the track. I think the simulation that I drove was before they tarmacked a few sections lately… put new asphalt down. So, it was before that. But yeah, in terms of where the bumps are, for the bits they haven’t changed, it was as it should be in reality.It’s very difficult to know the grip level. There’s going to be a lot of dust out there, oils from cars driving on the streets. There are a lot of things to still learn, and also the way it’s going to progress through the weekend. The grip level is going to go through the roof. When we first drive the track, it’s going to be very low-grip. I have questioned, as I’m in the [Group] A part of qualifying and not the [Group] B part, whether it’s fair because B is going to be so much faster on a street circuit, where it grips up so much more. A little bit unfair. I’d rather A be one side of the grid and B be the other side. But hey, it’s not my regulations. It just means I have to qualify in the top-five.”

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT SHANE VAN GISBERGEN TESTING IN NASCAR AND WHAT’S THE COMPARISON TO SUPERCARS? WHAT ABOUT TO THE CAR THAT COMPETED IN LE MANS? “I’m more amazed that he actually got to test, because I didn’t. In his race car as well. No, it’s great having Shane on-board. Whatever he jumps in, he’s super competitive. This is very much what he’s used to in terms of street courses. The weight of the car is kind of ‘used to,’ I guess? With Supercars, it might be a little heavier? I expect him to be very competitive this weekend. He’ll be right at the front-end. So hopefully I will be racing with him, and I’ll be near him. For him to come across and say it has a lot of front grip and it turns in as he would hope, it’s kind of surprising, but it’s great to hear that. The cars are in a good place, where it’s competitive against a V8 Supercar. For me, compared to the Garage 56 car, it’s very different. We didn’t have regulations, so we could do what we wanted – move the fuel tank forward, more power, more downforce, power shift… so, we made it into a car that was very driveable. We had traction control. It was the easiest car that I had ever driven. So you go through the Porsche Curves at Le Mans, little bit of understeer the way through, rear’s really stable – no issues with this like we had at COTA, where the rear tire just gives up because there’s no suspension and because you have to run the diffuser on the ground. We made it really easy to drive, which is what you need for an endurance race. The Cup cars are a lot more difficult, but it doesn’t matter. It means it’s the same for all of us. It’s a challenge. It’s just getting on-top of how the car is. I think we’ve made a lot of progress from where I had the car at COTA to here, so I’m looking forward to getting out there and seeing how it feels.”

WHAT HAVE YOUR FORMER F1 COLLEAGUES BEEN SAYING TO YOU SINCE JOINING NASCAR, AND HELPING BRING THAT CULTURE TO LE MANS? “I actually had lunch a couple of months ago with Rubens Barrichello, who was my teammate back in 2006-2009 in Formula 1, and he heard of it and was like, ‘What?’ First he was like, ‘Why would you want to take a stock car to Le Mans?’ And I told him about it, and he still didn’t get it. I think since the race, he’d have a very different opinion. Everyone that saw the car on-track loved it. It definitely brought something to Le Mans. Le Mans is such a special place, anyways – 100th year, hypercars are in a great place. But everytime we went past the grandstands, they’d cheer. Every lap. Every lap the stock car went around, they cheered. I think we definitely pulled in a lot of fans for NASCAR, which is great. Friends are very supportive, ex-competitors from F1 are very supportive of me racing NASCAR. They’re like, ‘I’d love to give that a go.’ Daniel Ricciardo, I think we all know, is a big fan of NASCAR. Maybe we’ll get him in a car in the next couple of years. It’s a great challenge, and I never thought that I’d have the opportunity to race in Cup. I think every driver at the pinnacle of the sport would love the opportunity to jump around and try different things. That’s even F1 drivers, they’d love to try racing at Le Mans in the top category… Indy and racing in NASCAR in Cup. I feel very privileged to have the opportunity. So, big thanks to Mobil 1.”

WILL WE SEE YOU RACE IN NASCAR MORE ON A REGULAR BASIS? “I have spoken about this but for me, at this point in my life, it’s just not possible. I couldn’t do 38 weekends of the year. I’ve got two little kids, and I know some drivers can do it and it works for them. But for me, having so many years of racing already under my belt, of traveling and what-have-you, it’s very difficult. The thing is, also, a lot of the stuff I do would go away – those deals that I have for years to come. It puts me in an awkward situation if I just did one or two years in NASCAR. So, it’s a dream to do a whole season, but I don’t think it’s actually a reality. I’d love to keep doing one-off races if there was an opportunity, but it’s also not easy – I know that – from a team’s point of view to find a car or charter that I could just jump into for certain races.”

WILL YOU BE MORE AGGRESSIVE OR CONSERVATIVE ON THE RESTARTS THIS WEEKEND? “You’re definitely going to see different styles of racing here, I think. You have the aggressors, and you are going to have the drivers that sit back and just let it unfold, knowing that there’s going to be another restart anyways at the end of the race. I think survival is the main thing. Having a car at the end of the race that’s still working, and everything’s pointing in the right direction. I mean, if you’re quick enough and right at the front, you’re going to be aggressive from the word ‘go.’ But, if you’re in the middle of the pack, you’re going to be trying to stay out of trouble until two-thirds of the race is done, and you’re still pointing in the right direction. Then, you can push on, hopefully to a good result. If it’s dry, it’s going to be a real challenge. Overtaking is not going to be easy, because there is no room for error. If it’s wet, it’s 100-times more difficult. I think we’re all excited about this race. We have no idea how it’s going to go, but I think we have to, as much as we should, be respecting each other more than we probably did at COTA – respecting the track is a big one as well.”

WHAT DOES A SUCCESSFUL CHICAGO STREET RACE EVENT, COUPLED WITH LE MANS, DO FOR NASCAR? ALSO, WHERE IS EUROPE SHOULD NASCAR GO? “I love the idea we have in Indianapolis, where we’re racing the same weekend as IndyCar. It brings in fans from two different motorsports. I think, yes, Le Mans was great for NASCAR. This is the first road course we’ve driven since then, so it will definitely have a lot of eyes on it from European fans. Yeah, the car’s different. But, it kind of looks very similar, or it sounds very similar – and there’s 38 of them on-track doing more of a show like we were at Le Mans. I think we’ll pull in a lot of fans. We need to have a good race. I think if everyone is just crashing into each other – I know there’s no rules with how aggressive you can be, well there is to a point – but it’s a very aggressive series, and I think a lot of European fans aren’t used to that. I think that’s what’s going to be the hurdle for them. Can they get into that style of driving? Or, are they going to switch-off because it’s nothing like any other kind of racing? I think this will be helpful for us in terms of our racing, because we can’t be too aggressive. So hopefully, it’ll make for good racing – good overtaking moves, and when you make that move on the inside and it’s so clean, it’s like, ‘Wow, that was awesome.’ I think that if we can have a good race this weekend, it’s great for the fan base and for NASCAR bringing in new fans. Racing in Europe: Brands Hatch Indy Circuit would be amazing Because it’s almost an oval anyways. That would be a lot of fun.”

MAYBE THE EUROPEANS WILL LOVE THE DRAMA? “I think we all love drama, and that’s why we like behind-the-scenes of motor racing like ‘Drive to Survive’ for Formula 1. It has a big fan base because people see the personalities, they see the behind-the-scenes of the sport. Otherwise, they’d just see drivers driving around with crash helmets on. I think that’s what’s going to help NASCAR, if we can find a way to bring fans in and they understand the personalities in the sport, behind the series. That’s key as well. There isn’t just 38 guys riving around. They don’t know who they are. It’s important for them to know the individuals, for them to support one or two of them. They have someone to back. I think that’s what we can still build on here. I’m not sure the drivers would be a fan of it but, this is what I think would help the sport.”

WHAT MUSIC DO YOU LISTEN TO AHEAD OF A RACE? “It’s funny, actually. The last couple of years of F1, I used to listen to reggae because I’d have so much energy already that I needed to calm myself down. Coffee was off – I couldn’t drink coffee before the race because my foot would be doing this (taps) on the pedal. In my early years, it was Rage Against the Machine, and that got me into a lot of trouble. But now, it’s definitely more country music, basically because, I need to keep myself calm and my head in the right space. If I listen to anything too crazy, I’d put myself in a dark place. We don’t want that before the race.”

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com

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