Honda Racing / IZOD IndyCar Series / RacingLine
Honda Commemorates 10th Anniversary of First American Open-Wheel Victory at Pikes Peak
Andre Ribeiro flashes back to how superior his car was, Steve Horne recalls that satisfied feeling and Robert Clarke remembers not knowing the protocol for victory lane.
Those were the three key players' memories of Honda's initial open-wheel triumph when they all got together recently in Colorado Springs to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Ribeiro's run at Loudon, N.H. on Aug. 20, 1995.
To flash back, Honda Performance Development was in the midst of its second season of CART competition and coming off a character builder in 1994, when it failed to qualify for the Indianapolis 500.
After steering Bobby Rahal to a pair of CART championships, Horne had branched out and started his own Indy-car team, known as Tasman Motorsports.
Ribeiro captured the Indy Lights title for Horne in 1994 andthey moved up to the big leagues together.
"I had decided to run a Lola/Mercedes in '95 when Robert [Clarke] approached me at the CART banquet in Detroit," recalled Horne. "I didn't really know him but he asked me if I'd be interested in running a Honda engine.
"That kind of stopped me in my tracks, because we were at the bottom of the rung and had nowhere to go but up. It was a no-brainer, really, because it didn't take a soothsayer to figure out that it was only a matter of time until Honda got it right.
"It was very much a lastminute decision for both of us."
Clarke had paid attention to Tasman's efforts.
"We were looking for a team that was just starting with some potential that we could grow with," said Clarke, who had originally teamed with Bobby Rahal and Carl Hogan. "We knew we'd both be learning and we thought our expectations would be in sync."
Ribeiro remembers being excited at the news.
"It was a very nice surprise because I had grown up watching [Nelson] Piquet and [Ayrton] Senna win in F1 with Hondas," said the Brazilian about his fellow countrymen. "It would only be a matter of time until they were successful."
Parker Johnstone earned Honda's initial pole position at Michigan in July before Ribeiro recorded the second one at Loudon.
"I dropped to third early in the race, falling behind Scott Pruett and Michael Andretti," continued Ribeiro, who was only 24 years old at the time. "Even though I was a rookie, I knew right away that day Ihad a strong car.
"It was an oval but I was downshifting and that was giving me this huge gain on everybody coming off the corners. That engine was sooooo strong."
He regained the lead and began pulling away, which immediately got Horne's attention. "Andre was trying to lap Michael Andretti and I was on the radio yelling at him to slow down and stay in sixth gear," he said with a grin.
After taking the checkered flag, Ribeiro was greeted by a few hundred, wildlyscreaming Brazilians who had made the trek to New Hampshire and were now hanging on the fence and waving their country's flags.
American Honda boss Tom Elliott and Clarke were dazed, if not confused, as they made their way to the victory celebration.
"We didn't know what to do," laughed Clarke. "I mean we had never been to victory circle and we didn't know the procedure. Looking back, that was pretty funny."
Of course since that day, victory lane has become Honda's second home, as its six manufacturer titles, six CART and one IRL driver championships, two Indy wins, 91 race wins and 85 poles would support. But that day brought such emotion, since Honda had been so uncompetitive a year before and had also lost the '95 Indy 500 on an official's ruling, when Scott Goodyear passed the pace car with a huge lead late in the race while running for Tasman.
"I felt so good for all the people at HPD and my team who had worked so hard," said Horne. "Indianapolis had been such a bitter disappointment and this was so satisfying. It was also great for our main sponsor, LCI, because they were ecstatic and it did wonders for their business.
"It was such a satisfying part of my career, because our budget was only $4 million and we had so many good people on our team. Firestone gave us great support, as did Reynard, and it was just one of those special moments."
Ribeiro, who now owns Honda dealerships in Brazil, cherishes the memories.
"I watched the tape just the other day and that car still looks so fast," he said. "But you know that was a great day for many reasons. It was my first win, our team's first win, Firestone's first win with tires built in the USA and it was Honda's first win.
"I guess they've had a few more since then, haven't they?"