Willy T. Ribbs and Boris Said came away the big winners in the Vintage Race of Champions (VROC ) presented by Chopard Watch during SVRA’s Brickyard Invitational at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS). Ribbs picked off the overall win in his Duntov-prepared 1969 Corvette A Production racer. It was his first Sportscar Vintage Racing Association pro-am win after seven tries. Said, the winner in B Production with Jim Caudle’s 1969 Corvette, now has a perfect record in VROC Charity Pro-Am races, having won in his only other appearance at Virginia International Raceway (VIR) last year.
Ribbs and his amateur teammate Ed Sevadjian ran at the front all day long, swapping the lead with the Legendary Motor Car 1969 Corvette of Peter Klutt and Geoff Brabham. Klutt led from the start, but was eclipsed by Sevadjian just before both cars headed to the pits for their mandatory five-minute stop for driver change. The black Duntov entry continued at the front for several laps with Ribbs at the wheel. After a dozen laps, Brabham found a shorter way around turn one and made the pass for the lead.
The 1993 24 Hours of Le Mans champion extended his lead slightly and appeared on his way to the podium’s top step until a belt broke, shutting off his power steering. This rendered the car undrivable and Brabham retreated to his pit with fluid steaming off his hot engine. Ribbs shot into the lead and clearly had the field covered for the remainder of the race. In the end, it was Willy T reprising his signature 1980s Trans Am victory dance atop his car’s hood.
“We were having a great duel with Geoff, and I honestly feel for him,” Ribbs said from the podium. “We had the deal here all but closed the last two years and then something always happened. There’s no place like the Speedway. Anytime you win here, it’s a terrific day.”
There was probably no other driver with more determination to win the pro-am at IMS than Ribbs. After finishing on the podium at the event inaugural in 2014, he has competed in every other pro-am since, including VIR last September. Always competitive, he was also unlucky with mechanical problems until today.
NASCAR Cup Champion Bobby Labonte brought the second Legendary Motor Car entry home second, and was pleased with the result. Gary Klutt, who competes in NASCAR’s Pinty’s Series, was his co-driver. The two ran the entire race within shouting distance of Ribbs but couldn’t mount a serious challenge.
“This race was a lot of fun,” Labonte said. “Coming to events like this one and the Goodwood Festival of Speed is pure joy. We definitely want to come back.”
Said had a spirited duel with Mark Dismore in the Hackenson 1967 Mustang for the B Production (BP) first-place trophy, their lap times differing by just hundredths of a second. Together with their amateur co-pilots Jim Caudle and Scott Hackenson, they finished one-two in BP and third and fourth overall. Davy Jones and Shannon Ivey were next with the first Camaro across the line, scoring the final podium spot in BP. Todd Bodine and Jim Sandberg finished sixth overall and third in AP.
The race was not without incidents. Mike Skinner’s teammate Sam LeComte looped his 1967 Corvette on only the second lap. They recovered nicely to finish seventh. Roberto Guerrero spun his 1966 Mustang late in the contest, putting him eight laps down. But the biggest incident of the day was a scary crash by Lyn St. James at the head of the front stretch, in the waning minutes of the 50-minute timed contest. St. James, who was awake and alert but complaining of neck pain, was taken to Methodist Hospital as a precaution. She was kept overnight for observation at the IU Health Methodist Hospital.
The next day, St. James commented, “The care was excellent. I am grateful to everyone involved – from the time of the incident to my release from the hospital. I’m really happy to be up on my feet and feeling pretty good. I’m really thankful that all of the safety equipment that I wore and what was on the car functioned as it was designed to. I am walking away from a pretty big hit.”
The final VROC Charity Pro-Am presented by Chopard Watch will take place at Virginia International Raceway on September 21. Chopard will present both the amateur and professional points series champions of both AP and BP with one of their luxury watches.