Haas F1 Team’s Gunther Steiner geared up for 2016 debut, discusses possible driver line-up (VIDEO)

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Ahead of Haas F1 Team’s long-awaited Formula 1 debut in 2016, NBCSN’s Leigh Diffey sat down with team principal Gunther Steiner at the Canadian Grand Prix to discuss the team’s preparations and ongoing growth of operations in North Carolina, England and Italy.

In 12 months’ time, the team will have taken part in its first race in North America, and Steiner hopes that it may buck the trend of new teams in recent years and have some points on the board by this point.

“The first thing is that we get there and ware well prepared,” Steiner said. “We for sure do not want to be last.

“We are working hard for that. I think if everything goes to plan, maybe we have got a few points by this time.”

One of the biggest questions surrounding Haas’ debut is the driver line-up, with a number of names being linked to the two seats. The favorite for one of the drives is American driver Alexander Rossi, and although Steiner was quick to praise him, he explained that a number of drivers were on Haas’ shortlist.

“Correct, he is doing pretty well at the moment in GP2,” Steiner said. “We are looking a a pool of drivers. The pool a lot of people know the pool which is out there that we can get in to.

“We are speaking with them, seeing how confident they are with programme because we want them to be confident with us.”

Another American linked with a seat is IndyCar driver Josef Newgarden, but Steiner suggested that Haas would not be looking for drivers from the series due to their lack of F1 experience.

“I think these guys are not bad, but on the downside of them – and I don’t want to sound negative about it – is they have no F1 experience,” Steiner said.

“By us being a new team, coming out, everything is new. Throwing someone in like this is a big risk for us but also for them.

“We also have to look after these people as they have a career in front of them, they are young guys. They invested a lot of time and money in their career. We don’t want to be the people who don’t deliver. We need to be careful with everything. We evaluate all of this stuff.”

A recurring name linked to the drive is Danica Patrick, given that she races for Gene Haas’ Stewart-Haas Racing Team in NASCAR.

Steiner said that she would always be subject to speculation given he links with the team, but that he would be surprised if she wanted to walk away from NASCAR.

“It will always be,” Steiner said when asked if the story would persist. “She is a Stewart-Haas driver.

“But I think Danica is at the stage in her career where she is doing good in NASCAR. Why would she take the risk to come this way?”

See the video above for the full interview where Steiner discusses Haas’ relationship with Ferrari and the team’s overall progress as the countdown to its debut continues.

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Jenson Button joins NASCAR Garage 56 at Le Mans with Jimmie Johnson, Rockenfeller

Jenson Button NASCAR Le Mans
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The NASCAR Garage 56 entry in the 24 Hours of Le Mans will be driven by champions of three major-league series — Jenson Button, Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.

The lineup of the Hendrick Motorsports-prepared Next Gen Camaro was announced Saturday before the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

NASCAR’s Garage 56 project was announced in March 2022 as a joint effort by NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear. It marks the return of a NASCAR team to Le Mans for the first time in nearly 50 years with Hendrick fielding a Camaro ZL1 as the “Garage 56” entry in the 100th edition of the sports car classic.

It’s long been expected the car would include Johnson, the seven-time Cup Series champion who is returning to NASCAR’s premier series as a driver-owner in 2023. Rockenfeller, the 2013 DTM champion and 2010 Le Mans overall winner, has attended every NASCAR Garage 56 test since last year while racking up simulator testing hours.

The surprise was Button, the 2009 Formula One champion who has become a popular commentator. Rick Hendrick initially said wanted four-time Cup champion and current Hendrick Motorsports COO Jeff Gordon to drive the car, and Gordon had raced a sports car at Indianapolis last year to test his race shape.

GARAGE 56 ANSWERS, ANALYSISMore on the NASCAR-Hendrick entry for the 24 Hours of Le Mans

“Since the beginning of the Garage 56 project, it has been our goal to partner with the top racers in the world to represent us in Le Mans,” NASCAR chairman and CEO Jim France said in a release. “The lineup of Jimmie, ‘Rocky’ and Jenson is everything we could have dreamed of – three elite drivers who have won at the highest levels of motorsports worldwide. As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of NASCAR, we are honored to have these world-class champions help bring the sights and sounds of a NASCAR race car to fans in Le Mans, and across the world.”

Button had one of the most prolific careers in F1 history finishing with 15 wins and 50 podiums on top of his 2009 World Championship and is widely considered one of the top British drivers of all time.

“As a lifelong racing fan, I have always dreamed of racing certain cars, with and against certain drivers and competing in certain events,” Button said in a release. “In June, a number of those dreams will come true in one event when I get to bring NASCAR to the world stage alongside my pals Jimmie and ‘Rocky’ for the 100th anniversary of the most prestigious race in the world. I’m really looking forward to sharing this journey with NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and current and future NASCAR fans from around the world.”

Johnson will make his 24 Hours of Le Mans debut a year after starting his first Indy 500. He has 83 victories in the Cup Series, where he will return for the Daytona 500 next month with his Legacy Motor Club team.

He also has been involved with testing the Garage 56 Camaro.

“I’m super thrilled – it’s been at the top of my bucket list to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans someday,” Johnson said. “To have this opportunity come – and to partner with everybody and this driver lineup – is truly an incredible opportunity and one that I am thankful to be a part of.”

Rockenfeller teamed with Johnson on the No. 48 Ally Cadillac in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2021-22. The German driver has been the lead test driver for Garage 56 and has driven during every on-track test.

“It has been a great journey so far with the whole team and project,” Rockenfeller said. “To be involved as a driver from day one until now was already a great honor, and to now have Jimmie and Jenson alongside me as teammates in Le Mans is unbelievable.”

The car will continue testing with all three drivers next week at the Daytona International Speedway road course. Rolex 24 and four-time IMSA champion Jordan Taylor, who drives for Corvette Racing, will be the team’s backup driver and coach. Taylor also won the GTE Pro class in 2015 at Le Mans, where he has four podium finishes.

The project also is being supported by IMSA GTP team Action Express, whose general manager is former NASCAR executive and Daytona 500-winning crew chief Gary Nelson. Action Express built the first test car for the Garage 56 but since has handed off the project to Hendrick, where it’s being over seen by vice president of competition Chad Knaus (the crew chief for Johnson’s seven championships).

“Action Express got it going and built the mule car, and then Hendrick joined the program, took it from where we had it, and they’re doing a major percentage of the work,” Nelson told NBC Sports. “We just did a test a couple months ago on a wet track. We’ve done a couple of other tests as they were ramping their program up. Now their car is good, tested and running. We’re still involved and here to help. The Hendrick guys have taken the reins, and Rick Hendrick and Chad Knaus are a thrill to work with and doing a much better job. It’s more NASCAR than prototype racing.”