A spirited battle for fourth between Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen created an intra-team controversy after they made contact and crashed together on Lap 40.
Ricciardo, who had previously passed Verstappen only to lose the spot during an exchange of pit stops, tried to slipstream his way around his teammate on the front straightaway, but when Verstappen weaved to block him, Ricciardo nosed into the back of Verstappen and both were sent crashing off the course in Turn 1.
The pivotal moment in Baku 💥
Ricciardo and Verstappen collide in dramatic fashion
Afterward, both drivers admitted fault and apologized to the team.
“For sure it was a chaotic race and I guess we caused most of that,” said a dejected Ricciardo afterward. “I have watched a few replays and the only thing we can both say is sorry to the team. This is the last thing we wanted. We want to be able to race and I’m thankful that the team let us race. We tried to keep it clean and give each other room but we were racing hard and in the end it cost us.”
Verstappen echoed the disappointment, noting that it cost them a lot of points – they were running fourth and fifth at the time.
“Today was just really disappointing for the team and we lost many points unnecessarily. I don’t think we need to speak about fault because at the end of the day we are racing for a team and representing a lot of people, so when this happens it is not good for both of us,” he explained.
Verstappen continued, “The tow was very strong and our speed was very similar, so we were then always very close to each other. Before the accident it was hard racing but fair I think and we gave each other space, we had a little brush with the wheels but I think in racing that can happen, but what happened afterwards is not good. We will learn from this and have to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Team principal Christian Horner did not put on blame on either driver specifically, but did emphasize the importance of ensuring it doesn’t happen again.
“Obviously, for the team it is hugely disappointing. We allow our drivers to race wheel-to-wheel, which they have done to great effect during the last two years. Unfortunately, today has happened and there is no blame apportioned to either side. It is hugely frustrating for the team and the drivers have apologized. The most important thing is to learn from today and ensure that we avoid a repeat situation.”
Both drivers received reprimands for their roles in the incident.
Red Bull sits third in the constructor’s championship after four races, with Ricciardo currently leading Verstappen in the driver’s championship – Ricciardo is fifth with 37 points, while Verstappen is eighth with 18 points.
France has been waiting since 1962 – the year his father, NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., brought him to his first 24 Hours of Le Mans – to hear the roar of a stock car at the most prestigious endurance race in the world.
A path finally opened when NASCAR developed its Next Gen car, which debuted last year. France worked out a deal to enter a car in a specialized “Innovative Car” class designed to showcase technology and development. The effort would be part of NASCAR’s 75th celebration and it comes as Le Mans marks its 100th.
Once he had the approval, France persuaded Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear – NASCAR’s winningest team, manufacturer and tire supplier – to build a car capable of running the twice-around-the-clock race.
The race doesn’t start until Saturday, but NASCAR’s arrival has already been wildly embraced and France could not be more thrilled.
“Dad’s vision, to be able to follow it, it took awhile to follow it up, and my goal was to outdo what he accomplished,” France told The Associated Press. “I just hope we don’t fall on our ass.”
The car is in a class of its own and not racing anyone else in the 62-car field. But the lineup of 2010 Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller, 2009 Formula One champion Jenson Button and Johnson has been fast enough; Rockenfeller put down a qualifying lap that was faster than every car in the GTE AM class by a full three seconds.
The Hendrick Motorsports crew won its class in the pit stop competition and finished fifth overall as the only team using a manual jack against teams exclusively using air jacks. Rick Hendrick said he could not be prouder of the showing his organization has made even before race day.
“When we said we’re gonna do it, I said, ‘Look, we can’t do this half-assed. I want to be as sharp as anybody out there,” Hendrick told AP. “I don’t want to be any less than any other team here. And just to see the reaction from the crowd, people are so excited about this car. My granddaughter has been sending me all these TikTok things that fans are making about NASCAR being at Le Mans.”
This isn’t NASCAR’s first attempt to run Le Mans. The late France Sr. brokered a deal in 1976, as America celebrated its bicentennial, to bring two cars to compete in the Grand International class and NASCAR selected the teams. Herschel McGriff and his son, Doug, drove a Wedge-powered, Olympia Beer-sponsored Dodge Charger, and Junie Donlavey piloted a Ford Torino shared by Richard Brooks and Dick Hutcherson.
Neither car came close to finishing the race. McGriff, now 95 and inducted into NASCAR’s Hall of Fame in January, is in Le Mans as France’s guest, clad head-to-toe in the noticeable Garage 56 uniforms.
“I threw a lot of hints that I would like to come. And I’ve been treated as royalty,” McGriff said. “This is unbelievable to me. I recognize nothing but I’m anxious to see everything. I’ve been watching and seeing pictures and I can certainly see the fans love their NASCAR.”
The goal is to finish the full race Sunday and, just maybe, beat cars from other classes. Should they pull off the feat, the driver trio wants its own podium celebration.
“I think people will talk about this car for a long, long time,” said Rockenfeller, who along with sports car driver Jordan Taylor did much of the development alongside crew chief Chad Knaus and Greg Ives, a former crew chief who stepped into a projects role at Hendrick this year.
“When we started with the Cup car, we felt already there was so much potential,” Rockenfeller said. “And then we tweaked it. And we go faster, and faster, at Le Mans on the SIM. But you never know until you hit the real track, and to be actually faster than the SIM. Everybody in the paddock, all the drivers, they come up and they are, ‘Wow, this is so cool,’ and they were impressed by the pit stops. We’ve overachieved, almost, and now of course the goal is to run for 24 hours.”
The car completed a full 24-hour test at Sebring, Florida, earlier this year, Knaus said, and is capable of finishing the race. Button believes NASCAR will leave a lasting impression no matter what happens.
“If you haven’t seen this car live yet, it’s an absolute beast,” Button said. “When you see and hear it go by, it just puts a massive smile on your face.”
For Hendrick, the effort is the first in his newfound embrace of racing outside NASCAR, the stock car series founded long ago in the American South. Aside from the Le Mans project, he will own the Indy car that Kyle Larson drives for Arrow McLaren in next year’s Indianapolis 500 and it will be sponsored by his automotive company.
“If you’d have told me I’d be racing at Le Mans and Indianapolis within the same year, I’d never have believed you,” Hendrick told AP. “But we’re doing both and we’re going to do it right.”
General Motors is celebrating the achievement with a 2024 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Garage 56 Edition and only 56 will be available to collectors later this year.
“Even though Chevrolet has been racing since its inception in 1911, we’ve never done anything quite like Garage 56,” said GM President Mark Reuss. “A NASCAR stock car running at Le Mans is something fans doubted they would see again.”
The race hasn’t even started yet, but Hendrick has enjoyed it so much that he doesn’t want the project to end.
“It’s like a shame to go through all this and do all this, and then Sunday it’s done,” Hendrick said. “It’s just really special to be here.”