Button goes back to driving school ahead of Extreme test

FILE PHOTO: Formula One - F1 - Monaco Grand Prix - Monaco - 24/05/2017 - McLaren's Jenson Button during a news conference. REUTERS/Max Rossi

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's 2009 Formula One world champion Jenson Button is going back to driving school before the most extreme test of his motor racing career.

The 41-year-old winner of 15 grands prix with Honda, Brawn GP and McLaren will be racing for his own team in the Extreme E off-road all-electric series that debuts in Saudi Arabia in April.

Before then, the racer who was renowned for a silky smooth driving style at speed around circuits feels the need to acquire some rougher skills.

"I’m going to have a busy few weeks before the first race. I’m going to school this week. I’m going to rally school," he laughed in a Zoom interview with Reuters from his home in Los Angeles.

"I’m also going to do some short course running over here, racing on dirt tracks and I still have my Extreme E test to look forward to so hopefully we’ll be ready for the first race.

"Going up against the likes of (nine times world rally champion) Sebastien Loeb and (triple Dakar winner) Carlos Sainz, it’s kind of a dream come true. Those guys are my heroes," added the Briton, who in 2019 entered the off-road Baja 1000 in Mexico.

"I raced in F1 and I would look at those guys and think it was unreal what they could do with a car. So going up against them is pretty cool."

The new series will also feature teams owned by seven times Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton, Button's former McLaren team mate, and Mercedes' 2016 world champion Nico Rosberg. Neither will be driving, however.

American track rivals Chip Ganassi Racing, sponsored by General Motors' GMC, and Andretti Autosport will also be there, racing in environmentally-damaged parts of the planet to highlight the effects of climate change.

The five round series of short races will feature a male and female driver in every team, with women and men competing against each other.

"There's a lot of talented women out there and it’s nice to see that they are at the forefront now and in a category that’s very competitive," said Button.

"Also I love what Extreme E is doing, running these electric vehicles in places that have been seriously affected by climate change... we’re not going to change the world by driving there, it’s about bringing awareness to those areas.

"For me as a racing driver I’m going there to have fun and race against the best in off-roading and I really think it will be a pretty cool spectacle."

For Button, going off-road also takes him full circle to his youth when his late and much-missed father John raced in rallycross.

"I used to love watching the old boy race in rallycross. He used to race a Beetle, rear-wheel drive," he recalled. "I loved it and he was so good at drifting a car and then VW said he had to drive a Golf which he didn’t like as it was front-wheel drive.

"He was a good drifter and much better than I am but I can learn and hopefully he passed that down. I’m still yet to see, but I’m hoping he has."

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis)

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