Stoffel Vandoorne will make his endurance racing debut in FIA World Endurance Championship’s 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps for SMP Racing.
Ex-F1 and current Formula E driver Vandoorne will drive the #11 SMP Racing BR Engineering BR1 alongside Vitaly Petrov and Mikhail Aleshin – the Russian outfit’s regular entrants for the 2018/19 WEC superseason in the LMP1 category at Spa-Francorchamps.
The pair had Button’s support for four rounds in the year including the 2018 Le Mans 24 Hours race, but the British racer decided to focus his attention on his Super GT programme where he won the title in 2018 alongside Naoki Yamamoto.
The 2009 F1 champion also has an off-road programme initiated as he raced in the Mint400 event, while he is also to race in Baja1000. He pulled out from WEC’s rounds at Sebring and Spa-Francorchamps for 2019, but was to race in Le Mans 24 Hours event.
However, the British racer has now decided to end his endurance racing programme, with the Russian team signing HWA Racelab’s Vandoorne. Button was replaced by Brendon Hartley in Sebring, who was scheduled to race at Spa-Francorchamps as well.
But the Kiwi has decided to move out all-together as he won’t be able to race for SMP Racing in Le Mans, which gives Vandoorne more time to get used to the car, the team, his teammates and the racing overall.
“I am very pleased to join SMP Racing and drive the BR1 #11 prototype in my home race in Spa-Francorchamps and in the legendary 24 Hours of Le Mans,” said Vandoorne. “The LMP1 cars are really demanding and their performances are very close to Formula 1.
“I will have the opportunity to re-join ART Grand Prix and a lot of people that I’ve been working with during my successful campaign in GP2. Also, it’s great to work alongside such experienced drivers as Vitaly Petrov and Mikhail Aleshin.
“My objective is to contribute to the Team’s performance and work in collaboration with all drivers to develop the BR1 prototype and to make a good impression.” Its only a co-incidence but the Belgian will kick-off his sportscar career at his home venue as he said.
Meanwhile, Button cited his fiance’s pregnancy as one of the prime reasons to pull out from Le Mans. “I decided to withdraw from the FIA WEC for the 2019 Le Mans race,” he said. “I really enjoyed driving for SMP Racing and was happy to be on the podium with this team.
“But I decided that now I need to spend more time at home with my fiance during her pregnancy rather than two weeks at Le Mans. The decision has been made easier for me as I feel that the Toyota is currently unbeatable.”