Back in mid-December, VeloVeritas pal Mike Zagorski noticed that 2009 Formula One World Champion Jenson Button was in Hawaii, by happy coincidence the same island that he lives on.
As it turns out, Jenson was on a bit of a holiday with his girlfriend, a Japanese model named Jessica Michibata, and long-time friend Chris Buncombe (24hr Le Mans driver) – and they had brought their bikes!
Mike made contact with Jenson and within a day or two had managed to nail down a time and place to ride.
Mike takes up the story…
My friend Shannon and I met up with Jenson, Chris, and some of their friends for a three hour ride. A high percentage of the group were from the UK, but I easily had the least British accent out of them all. I guess that comes with living in the US for the past 11 years.
Weather at the meeting point seemed pretty good, but as we left Honolulu and headed over the Pali Highway (A road that climbs 1600 feet up and over the Koolau mountain range that spans the Hawaiian island of O’ahu), good weather turned to heinous! Easily some of the worst rain I’ve seen on the Pali, but the group was still all smiles. Evidently, warm Hawaii rain isn’t quite as bad as cold wind-driven Scottish rain.
While the pace wasn’t always brisk, there were definitely a few hard digs put in up the climbs and Jenson was there every time, seeing a stable 400+ watts on the SRM with HR getting into the high 180’s / low 190’s. Does this guy race bikes or cars!?
In the last few miles of the ride I dropped the chain down to the 11 cog and gave it all I had… Jenson was riding beside me, in his aerobars, and it was neck and neck at 30+ mph. I asked myself “I’m having a drag race on bikes with a F1 driver… is this really happening?”.
We had a few more riders during his time here with the last one topping out at 167km’s. For that ride we had X-Terra racer Yu Yumoto from Japan, and Andrew (another Brit) come along.
With the group only containing keen guys, the pace was on from the get-go.
A couple of times testosterone would take over and I went off the front with Yumoto cruising at 30mph towards Kualoa Ranch (where some of Jurassic Park and other movies have been filmed). A few minutes later Jenson bridged up thanks to a 35mph effort.
80 miles into the ride there’s another climb that us locals refer to as “Pineapple Hill” which goes from Haleiwa on O’ahu’s North Shore (a 7-mile stretch of some of the best surfing in the world) between pineapple fields to Dole Plantation.
After a few attacked at the bottom it was Jenson, Yumoto, and myself spraying bullets around.
Plenty of attacks throughout the whole climb and a mile or so from the top I sat up and let the other two duke it out.
Jenson ended up getting the better of Yumoto. Chris joined us at the top with Andrew a little further behind. From there it was a mostly downhill ride back to Honolulu.
Riding with Jenson was definitely an eye opener into how fit an F1 driver can be. I dare to say that he could easily handle himself if thrown into a field of Pro or Cat 1 racers!