We mentioned earlier this morning that this year’s Japanese Grand Prix will be run without a native driver – or engine manufacturer – for the first time in the race’s history since it came back on the Formula One calendar in 1987.
Perhaps the locals will shift their support and attention to Jenson Button? The McLaren driver has a love and affinity for Suzuka more than any circuit on the calendar, except his actual home Grand Prix in Silverstone. He explained as much leading up to this weekend’s on-track festivities.
“Japan is almost my second home Grand Prix, besides Silverstone, as this country here is in my heart,” said Button, who won in 2011 even though it was overshadowed by Sebastian Vettel’s clinching of his second straight World Championship.
“2011 was such a tough race, leading towards the end, running low on fuel with Fernando chasing me and Sebastian. It was amazing to win especially that year when Japan had had such a rough year as a country itself. So this was a very special victory, and my girlfriend was crying her eyes out,” he said. Button’s girlfriend, Jessica Michibata, is Japanese.
He rated two McLaren victories at Suzuka as his most memorable moments there, not either of the 1989 or 1990 comings-together between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost.
“Probably Mika Hakkinen’s win (in 1998), and for sure also Kimi’s (Raikkonen) win (in 2005),” said Button. “I was racing then. I remember having a qualifying in mixed conditions, and I qualified in the dry and managed to be on the front row, but Kimi caught the wet. He had to work his way through the field during the race, and he won it in the last or second-to-last lap only. That was a mega drive.”
Gabby Chaves is set to return to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship at Watkins Glen International later this month.
The Columbian-American driver, who last competed in IMSA in 2016 – with the DeltaWing outfit – will sub for the injured Joao Barbosa – he hurt his wrist in a cycling accident earlier in June – in the No. 5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R in the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen.
Chaves will partner Filipe Albuquerque and Christian Fittipaldi in the No. 5 Cadillac.
Chaves expressed gratitude for being asked to fill in, but kept his enthusiasm muted, noting that he is getting the opportunity ultimately because another driver got hurt.
“The first thing is of course that you never want to have an opportunity because someone got hurt, so this is an unfortunate circumstance with Joao having his injury,”said Chaves. “But I appreciate the opportunity to join the championship-leading team. Mustang Sampling Racing has had a strong start this year and hopefully I can help the team continue to have those kinds of results.”
Chaves added, “I love Watkins Glen, it is a great track and I am looking forward to racing the Cadillac Prototype there. I’m excited to be going back to endurance racing. With different classes all racing at the same time, there is a lot for the driver to deal with as you work through traffic. So I am looking forward to racing at the Glen again, and I really appreciate this opportunity with Mustang Sampling Racing.”
Chaves’ most recent IMSA event was the 2016 Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen, when he finished seventh in the Prototype class.
The No. 5 Action Express Cadillac currently sits tied with the sister No. 31 Whelen Engineer Racing Cadillac of Eric Curran and Felipe Nasr atop the IMSA standings, though Barbosa’s hopes of a driver’s championship are set to take an enormous hit with him missing Watkins Glen.