By: Zach Catanzareti, Staff Writer
The race at Circuit of the Americas will see the 2009 Formula 1 World champion compete against seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, three-time IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar champion Jordan Taylor and fellow F1 champ Kimi Raikkonen.
For Button, though, the challenge may be as steep as the 133-foot climb up COTA’s infamous first turn.
Like Taylor, the Brit makes his Cup debut Sunday with no prior starts on the national level. However, Button will not be piloting Taylor’s Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, the quickest crew on road courses in years. Instead, the 43-year-old will compete with Ware, a smaller team in the Cup garage with just one top-five finish in 528 races.
Partner that with the slew of transitional chinks and it’s a weekend of learning for Button, who will make a total of three Cup starts in 2023.
“I’ve never jumped into a car for 13 laps and gone qualifying,” Button said Friday after opening practice. “That’s very different from what I’m used to. I’m not a guy who jumps in the car and goes immediately quick. I need to work with the engineers and build it around me.”
A factor Button is unfamiliar with is the use of a manual gearbox, which he is using this weekend for the first time in 24 years. Additionally, he’s never heard the “soothing” voice of a spotter and is still getting used to looking through a windshield.
“The weirdest thing for me is that there is so much of the windscreen [windshield],” he said. “Focusing out of the windscreen is really difficult, there are all sorts of different pillars and different angles, the wiper. Getting your eyes to focus past that definitely takes time. I’m used to having a visor and that’s it.
“[A stock car] is heavy, it’s lazy in some ways. It doesn’t make it less exciting, but it is just very different.”
“I’m confident in what the car is doing. It’s moving a lot. I followed a few guys [during opening practice] and I’m doing most things right. It’s just the fine-tuning.”
One perk of the RWR team is Cody Ware, the 27-year-old driver who is paired with Button this weekend. With nearly 100 Cup starts to his name, Ware also made starts in the NTT IndyCar Series in 2021.
Button believes this wide breath of experience will benefit him greatly.
“The first thing I noticed is that [Ware] is a big dude,” he said. “He’s like… [looks straight up]. He is tall and you don’t get that in F1. I’m 6 foot and am the tallest driver in F1. So, 6’4? It’s tall! To even fit yourself into a stock car.
“With his experience with racing different cars, he knows how competitive the Cup Series is. That’s the big thing, really.
“A lot of people come here and they think, ‘Ah, it’s easy. I’ve driven racecars my whole life around circuits, why would it be any different in the Cup Series?’ But it is. It’s heavy, it’s lazy in some ways. It doesn’t make it less exciting, but it is just very different.”
Slotting 28th on the board in opening practice, Button has his sights set on realism for Saturday time trials and the 68-lap race on Sunday.
“I don’t expect to qualify top three and finish top three on Sunday,” he said. “I expect a challenging race but a race [where] I will learn a lot as well. That’s why I’m going to do three races this year. One race isn’t enough. I need the experience of here in COTA before I go to Chicago and the last one in Indianapolis.
“There is no reason for me not to be competitive. It just takes some time. These guys have driven these cars for years, they know the nuances and what makes them work. It will just take a little time for me.”