Willy T. Ribbs and Boris Said came away the big winners in the Vintage Race of Champions presented by Chopard Watch today at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Ribbs picked off the overall win in his Duntov-prepared 1969 Corvette A Production racer — the accomplished racer’s 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 races, having won in his only other appearance at Virginia International Raceway 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 until Brabham found a shorter way around Turn 1 and made a brave pass for the lead.
Brabham, the ’93 24 Hours of Le Mans champion, slowly extended his lead and appeared on his way to the podium’s top step until a belt broke, shutting off his power steering. This rendered the car undriveable and Brabham retired it to the pits.
Ribbs shot into the lead and had the field well 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, but 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 more determined to win today than Ribbs. After finishing on the podium at the inaugural in 2014, he has competed in every other VROC Pro-Am event since, including VIR last September. Always competitive, he has always been unlucky, plagued by mechanical problems — until today. Dripping from a victory spray of series sponsor Glenora Brut Sparkling Wine on the podium, Ribbs was beaming.
NASCAR Cup Series champion Bobby Labonte, meanwhile, 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 win, 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 ’67 Corvette on only the second lap. They recovered nicely to finish seventh. Roberto Guererro spun his ’66 Mustang late in the contest, putting him eight laps down.
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, walked to the ambulance but complained of neck pain and was taken to Methodist Hospital as a precaution.
The final VROC Charity Pro-Am presented by Chopard Watch will take place at VIRginia International Raceway on Sept. 21. Chopard will present both the amateur and professional points series champions of both AP and BP with one of their luxury watches.