The story of Jesus Saves Racing is born from the life of racing driver Alex Ribeiro and his Christian faith.
As a young man in Brazil who started racing with a home built car in 1967, his story speaks of how faith helped him to find success, winning championships at home before moving to Europe and subsequently earning his place in Formula One.
After winning the Brazilian Karting Championship for two consecutive years Alex launched into his single seater racing career. He entered the Brazilian Formula Ford championship after impressing the manager of the Hollywood team, sponsored by the country’s largest manufacturer of cigarettes and the best racing team in Brazil at that time. The decision to join the team however gave Alex a dilemma knowing there were Christians who opposed smoking, after praying about the situation the doors to two other options closed and he accepted the Hollywood offer. He subsequently won his first race for Hollywood driving a Porsche 910 sports car and was runner-up in the 1972 Formula Ford Championship.
Tasting success enabled Alex to move to Sao Paulo where he became Hollywood’s Formula Ford supervisor, driving and directing the preparation of the cars. It was a hugely successful year with Alex taking the chequered flag in seven Formula Ford races and winning the championship, being ranked the top overall racing driver in Brazil that year. He continued racing with the Jesus Saves message in prominent place by way of the ‘Cristo Salva’ logo on his helmet and after winning the championship was featured by Brazil’s largest newspaper in an interview headlined Jesus Saves.
As the reigning Brazilian Formula Ford Champion Alex now made the move across to Europe to race in the British Formula 3 Championship, driving a GRD 374 sponsored again by Hollywood and carrying the Jesus Saves message. His natural talent soon showed in this competitive series as he took three wins and seven second place finishes. A challenging year battling all the way with his competitor Brian Henton he claimed the runner-up spot in the championship with Brian taking the title.
The following year gave Alex the opportunity to compete again in Formula 3, this time driving for the work’s March team partnering with Gunnar Nielson. As a factory driver he was able to compete in both the British and European Championships, it was another challenging year with a series of crashes but he managed to finish the season being runner-up in both championships. Alex proved himself ahead of some great competitors that year including Sullivan, Neve, Perkins, Hoffman, Cheever and Zorzi, all of who went on to drive in Formula 1.
A pivotal point in the career of any aspiring racing driver who wants to reach the top is Formula 2, the place where you prove yourself worthy of Formula 1, Alex moved up again driving a British March car. That year the series was dominated by the faster Renault-Elf teams who claimed the top four places in the European Championship, Alex finished an impressive 5th and put himself in centre stage gaining recognition as a very highly rated driver. As a result he was given his first taste of F1 by the Hesketh Ford team, driving at the Watkins Glen round in October finishing 12th.
The year that Alex reached Formula 1 was to be the fulfilment of the ambition he’d had since the age of 11, promoted by March to drive alongside teammate Ian Scheckter. Unfortunately the March 771 car had some drawbacks in the design and development which meant it was almost impossible to be competitive. Alex didn’t give up and achieved 8th place in both the German and Canadian Grand Prix along with some other reasonable finishes but was forced to retire in four races and failed to qualify in the remainder of the season. A devasting blow to his career which meant there were no options for him to drive in F1 for the following year.
Alex was determined to keep racing and it was suggested that he should form his own Christian racing team, running a Formula 2 car with the Jesus Saves message. His previous sponsor Hollywood offered a quarter of the budget he would need, enough to do three races and at least make a start, so 1978 was the year the team officially launched. By the third race they were in desperate need of new sponsorship and prayed Alex would win at the famous Nürburgring, only the prize money would be enough to keep going. From a field of 44 cars including F1 drivers Rosberg, Patrese, Mass and de Angelis among others, Alex pulled out one of his best performances to win by a tenth of a second! God provided exactly what was needed enabling the team to compete for the rest of the season.
Back in Brazil it was decided that Alex’s younger brother Fernando, who had also become Brazilian Karting Champion, would join Alex in Europe to race in Formula Ford. With the backing of one of Alex’s previous sponsors and by selling the Formula 2 car the team bought a new 1600cc Van Diemen RF 79, painted in red with Jesus Saves in large white letters. Fernando was instantly competitive winning races, setting lap records and finishing runner-up in the RAC Formula Ford Championship and 5th in the European Championship. Alex was also called back into action to drive in Formula 1 alongside fellow countryman Emerson Fittipaldi for the Copersucar team, racing at the Imola, American and Canadian Grand Prix, however it was to be the last time he raced in F1.
The intention was for the team to race in Formula 3 and help Fernando progress his career but sponsorship didn’t allow it. However Fernando was in demand after his success the previous year and was sought after by various works teams to drive their car. After some negotiation it was decided he would drive in the Royale car and maintain the Jesus Saves livery with the car painted red, continuing the message of the team. Alex returned to Brazil and hoped to find new support to keep Jesus Saves Racing going but after Fernando suffered ill health which forced him to retire and sponsorship wasn’t found the team had no choice but to close the doors.
32 years later Jesus Saves Racing was re-launched by theology student and racer Alvin Davies with support from Alex and Fernando. Along with members of the original team team they prepared to race the following year, purchasing a Classic 1980 Formula Ford similar to the one Fernando had raced and welcoming Brazilian driver Adriano Medeiros to drive the car.
Competing in the Classic Formula Ford Championship brought immediate success for the resurrected team, with the engineering expertise from Richard Owen and Alastair McQueen paired with the pace of Adriano, the team quickly found their place at the front of the grid. The team secured three wins, a pole position, 6 podium finishes and two fastest laps on their way to being crowned Classic Formula Ford Champions - an amazing achievement and the first championship title for Jesus Saves Racing!
After the success with Adriano the team looked to a another Brazilian driver in the form of novice Leandro Guedes who had made the same move across to Europe like Alex had back in the 70's. Living with David Sweeney the team manager and adapting to a new country brought its challenges but Leandro found good pace in the car. The team helped develop him as a driver and together achieved 3 podium finishes to claim the novice title in the Classic Formula Ford Championship.
Leandro decided not to compete for a second year with the team and therefore another driver was sought to keep the car on the track. The main question was around funding the season without a significant sponsor onboard, a creative solution was needed. Although the team were unable to compete in every race the answer came as Adriano returned for two outings, claiming a podium finish at Silverstone.
The team looked to re-establish the position as championship contenders in the Classic Formula Ford Championship and with Adriano back in the car full time set about claiming a second title. Straight away the recipe yielded results with Adriano finishing on the top step of the podium in the first race at Silverstone. Successive podium finishes including 6 victories enabled the team to achieve the ambition and re-claim the championship title again!
Everything was in place for another season of successful competition, Adriano and the team elected to stay in the Classic Formula Ford Championship and with a proven track record set sights firmly on the hat-trick attempt. This time around the team managed to improve on previous results with 7 overall victories, 6 pole positions and 9 fastest laps, leading to a well earned third championship crown and an impressive achievement for Adriano.
After a year without competing the team found a new driver in Will Zanelli, an experienced Formula One mechanic who worked with Fernando Alonso in his championship years and also has a successful karting background. To help Will get back up to speed the team planned selected rounds of the Classic Formula Ford Championship to give him valuable track time and learn the circuits before a full campaign for 2020, including entering the Walter Hayes Trophy to pitch him against the best Formula Ford drivers around.
We entered the new decade full of hope and planned to compete in the Classic Formula Ford Championship with Will Zanelli driving the RF80 Van Diemen and Rupert Howe his Royale RP26. As the Covid-19 pandemic hit plans were put on hold and the first half of the season was lost. When we managed to return to the track things didn't go smoothly with a test day at Oulton Park highlighting a number of issues. The season ended with us competing again in the Walter Hayes Trophy and although the results didn't come our way we continue to thank God for His faithfulness and inspiration, looking to rebuild with a renewed purpose for our mission in motorsport in 2021.