Andre Ribeiro, the Brazilian open-wheel racer who worked primarily with Tasman Motorsports in his CART career, succumbed to cancer on May 22 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. He was 55 years old.
Ribeiro came to the United States in 1994 after winning races at home in Brazil and later in Europe. He drove for Ohio-based Tasman Motorsports in the Indy Lights Championship and notched four victories, coming second in the title chase to Briton Steve Robertson by a scant nine points. Two years later, fellow Brazilians Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan would come to the US in the same fashion; Kanaan helped Tasman to the 1997 Lights championship and, essentially took over Ribeiro’s ride when the latter moved to Team Penske.
Both Ribeiro and Tasman moved to the CART championship in 1995, following their Indy Lights successes, where Ribeiro would earn the first win for Honda Performance Development (HPD) at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, a year after Bobby Rahal initially introduced the company to the Indy car ranks.
Ribeiro’s win from pole position that August would start HPD on a stellar path that found Chip Ganassi moving his team to the Japanese manufacturer’s engines the following year.
The Brazilian continued with Tasman Motorsports’ Steve and Christine Horne-led team through the 1997 season. He earned two additional checkered flags in the 1996 campaign, in his home race on the Rio oval and at Michigan International Speedway, also an oval race. He moved to Team Penske for the 1998 season, where both he and the team had a fallow year with the noncompetitive PC27 chassis and Mercedes-Benz engine. Ribeiro called it a career at the close of the year.
While his intensity behind the wheel was never questioned, Ribeiro’s kindness and warmth outside a racing car is what endeared him to the motorsports community and to fans worldwide. Even after his retirement from the sport, and his ascension to the retail automotive market – helped by his relationship with Roger Penske – Ribeiro was a beloved member of the community. His smile and love for life was infectious.
“Christine and I are very sad to hear of Andre’s death,” Steve Horne said. “Andre was a wonderful man. A delight to work without. Our condolences to his family.”
This writer will never forget that first win for Honda and how it propelled HPD – then a rather new member of the engine-building community – to the heights it celebrates today. Rahal hadn’t left Honda on the best of terms after their first, 1994 year together and HPD was grateful to have the support of Horne’s team, who rewarded the company for their trust with that initial victory.
“Everyone at Team Penske was saddened to learn of the passing of Andre Ribeiro,” said Roger Penske. “Andre raced for our team in 1998 and he became a leader in our automotive business after he retired from motorsports. Andre was a champion on and off the track and he will always be a part of Team Penske. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Ribeiro family.”