Stoffel Vandoorne will replace Jenson Button in the remaining two rounds of the 2018/19 FIA World Endurance Championship at Spa Francorchamps and Le Mans.
The Belgian ex McLaren F1 driver will drive the #11 BR1 AER LMP1 alongside Vitaly Petrov and Mikhail Aleshin replacing Brendon Hartley at Spa, who is set to join the Toyota Factory team as reserve driver for Le Mans, and who also has a partial clash with testing duties for the forthcoming Porsche Formula E team.
He has been widely tipped too to replace Fernando Alonso in a full works Toyota drive next season if, as expected, the Spaniard opts to leave the Toyota Gazoo Racing effort after Le Mans.
Jenson Button was due to return to the team for Le Mans but has now opted not to do so:
“I decided to withdraw from the FIA WEC for the 2019 Le Mans race. 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 fiancé during her pregnancy rather than two weeks at Le Mans. The decision has been made easier for me as I feel that Toyota is currently unbeatable.”
Stoffel Vandoorne said: “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. 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.”
Mikhail Aleshin: “I welcome Stoffel to our team. He is a professional of the highest class and has a good experience, including in Formula 1, where he drove for the McLaren Team. It is great that Stoffel will spend with us several races. We thank Brendon who helped our team to finish on the podium at Sebring. Brendon drove perfectly and his input into the work on the BR1 was very valuable.”
Vitaly Petrov: “I understand the decision of Jenson and I wish him and his family all the best. Our SMP Racing Team now needs a driver who will be able to successfully drive in the final two rounds of the FIA WEC and I’m happy that Stoffel has joined us. The race in Spa-Francorchamps will help him to get used to the championship and to prepare for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. I hope he will adapt quickly and we will support him along the way.”
27-year-old Belgian Vandoorne won the Formula Renault 2.0 European Cup in 2012, was the Vice-Champion in the World Series by Renault 3.5 in 2013 and won GP2 Series in 2015.
In 2016-2018 Vandoorne took part in Formula 1 as part of the McLaren Team. In 2019, Stoffel took up a simulator driver role with the Mercedes AMG PetronasF1 Team alongside his HWA Racelab Formula E racing programme, where he scored the first podium finish in the recent Rome ePrix.