Like many racers, Willy T. Ribbs’ final motorsport objective was System 1, however the record-setting Black driver solely bought so far as one take a look at behind the wheel of a Brabham in 1986. And whereas that take a look at by no means led to additional F1 alternatives for Ribbs, it was an unbelievable second for motorsport — one which helped pave the way in which for a future dominated by Lewis Hamilton.
Whereas Ribbs recounted the story of his first F1 take a look at in each F1’s Past the Grid podcast and in his documentary Uppity, his rising involvement in F1 warrants a glance again at his roots. See, Ribbs competed in nearly all the pieces, from IndyCar to NASCAR. He was a star in Trans Am racing who had desires of going worldwide — and who had, in truth, discovered his racing roots in Europe. And after a 1985 take a look at on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Bernie Ecclestone — who Ribbs nonetheless calls “Uncle Bernie” — determined Ribbs wanted a shot at F1.
In accordance with Ribbs, Ecclestone had noticed Ribbs’ expertise means again within the American racer’s System Ford days, however a take a look at simply by no means fairly occurred till Ribbs had discovered his footing in America. It wasn’t till 1986, when Ecclestone met with Don King on the Detroit Grand Prix, that the thought of a take a look at for Ribbs got here to fruition.
It was a full-on System 1 take a look at with a big grid — together with Ayrton Senna and Nelson Piquet, the latter of whom gave Ribbs recommendation on the right way to drive the BMW turbo — race director Charlie Whiting, and group house owners like Ecclestone.
Ribbs mentioned that it was truly pretty straightforward to adapt to the facility the automobile put out. What he struggled with was the braking.
“I had by no means pushed something prefer it,” he mentioned. “Convincing your self you may drive it down deep into that nook was the toughest half.”
Sadly, rain within the early half of the session meant Ribbs didn’t get a full take a look at, so he actually solely had a brief time frame to familiarize himself with the automobile and set a aggressive time. Regardless of that, he felt snug — whereas he wasn’t quickest within the session, he was solidly mid-pack and exceeded the goalpost set for him by Ecclestone and Herbie Blash.
That was, although, the one take a look at Ribbs had. At that time, Ecclestone was making the transition from group possession to operating the whole lot of the F1 circus, and it was primarily Ecclestone’s insistence that earned Ribbs a take a look at.
You may hearken to the complete story from Willy T. Ribbs himself on the F1: Past the Grid podcast. It’s price a pay attention — nobody tells a narrative higher than Willy T. himself.