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Ribbs finishes 13th in Indy Lights, goes back into retirement

By Don Markus and Sandra McKee, The Baltimore Sun

6:05 PM EDT, September 4, 2011

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Willy T. Ribbs is going back into retirement.

Ribbs, who became the first African-American to race in the Indianapolis 500 in 1991 and hadn't raced in an Indy car in 17 years, finished 13th out of 16 drivers in the Firestone Indy Lights event Sunday. Ribbs quit after 28 laps.

"I physically ran out of gas," said Ribbs, 56.

Ribbs said that he lost radio contact with his Willy T. Ribbs/Starting Grid, Inc. team after two laps. Had he known he only had seven laps left, "I would have found a way to push the car across the finish line," he said a few hours later.

Ribbs said "It was good to be back in the cockpit but I was far from being in condition to be competitive."

There will be no more Indy races in the future.

"I have no plans of continuing, especially in Indy car," he said.

What Ribbs enjoyed most was having his 20-year-old son, Theo, a world class trap shooter, see him compete in an Indy event.

"I've spent a lot of time watching him compete, so it was nice for him to see his daddy compete," Ribbs said. "The last time he saw me race he was 9 years old."

Chris Miles, fellow principle at Willy T. Ribbs Racing and founder of Starting Grid, Inc., said he was proud of Ribbs — his "hero."

"I saw this man get into a race car for the first time in 17 years and performed like the man I knew he was," Miles said. "At the end of the day, he completely ran out of gas. I failed him in the sense of not giving him the opportunity to prepare properly for this race. He took on the challenge and showed that he is still a champion and I love him for it."

USF 2000 season ends on high note

The podium was crowded with silver trophies and a bottle of champagne. Behind the celebratory goodies, Spencer Pigot found satisfaction in his USF 2000 Baltimore Grand Prix victory and Petri Suvanto was thrilled with his second-place run that clinched the series championship. Pigot's victory margin was 0.314 seconds.

"I can't explain the feeling going through my head to my heart right now," said Cape Motorsports driver Suvanto, 18. "Coming to America [from Finland], racing in this series was a make or break situation. I knew if I wanted to continue, I had to win the championship" that comes with a sponsorship package for next season in the Star Mazda Series, which is a step closer to the top of the IndyCar development ladder.

Pigot, 17, finished second in the overall points race, but was thrilled with his third victory of the season on the Baltimore track that he called "probably the most challenging course we've been on this year."

"I was crashed into in the first corner of our race here [Saturday], but I got through without an issue today," said Pigot, who drives the No. 8 for Andretti Autosport. "This was a great result for me and it was an amazing weekend. We're the lowest guys on the totem pole and still, I must have signed 200 autographs, people wanted to take our pictures and others just dropped by. It was very unusual for us."

Vautier close to Star Mazda title

Frenchman Tristan Vautier won the Inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix Star Mazda race by staying ahead of the mayhem. It was a good plan given the series drivers had a total of 19 practice laps on the newly minted temporary street course before the race began.

"I think it was great," said Vautier of JDC Racing. "We understand, a new venue has a lot of work to do. They did things right, making the track safe before letting anyone on it this weekend. The track was a lot of fun and no problem for me."

Andretti Autosport driver Sage Karam finished second. Preliminary calculations indicate Vautier needs only to start next week's race to clinch the Star Mazda title and the sponsorship package in the Firestone Indy Lights Series next season. The Indy Lights program is just one step away from the IZOD IndyCar Series, which Vautier said is his goal.

don.markus@baltsun.com

sandra.mckee@baltsun.com

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