In a somber turn of events, the motorsport world has bid farewell to a true racing icon. Gil de Ferran, renowned for his illustrious career that included two CART championships and a remarkable victory at the 2003 Indianapolis 500, has passed away at the age of 56.
Tragedy struck while he was competing alongside his son at The Concours Club in Opa-locka, Florida, as Gil de Ferran appeared to suffer a heart attack, as reported by the Associated Press.
De Ferran's journey in the world of motorsport began in British Formula Ford, where he cut his teeth in the racing world. He then moved on to Opel Lotus and Formula 3, finishing third in the 1991 British F3 championship, standing alongside the likes of Rubens Barrichello and David Coulthard. In the following year, his determination paid off as he clinched the title with Paul Stewart Racing.
His racing prowess extended beyond the British shores, as he secured three victories in FIA Formula 3000 during the 1993 and '94 seasons, all while testing for the Williams and Arrows Formula 1 teams.
However, it was in the United States that Gil de Ferran would etch his name in motorsport history. He clinched back-to-back CART championships in 2000 and 2001, accumulating a total of 12 race victories between IndyCar and CART during his career from 1995 to 2003.
Yet, the pinnacle of his career came in 2003 when he triumphed at the prestigious Indianapolis 500, driving under the banner of Roger Penske's team and narrowly beating his teammate Helio Castroneves to the finish line. Remarkably, this victory marked his fourth and final appearance at the iconic race.
Gil de Ferran's impressive motorsport resume also included a successful stint in what was then known as the American Le Mans Series. In 2009, he secured five out of ten races with his de Ferran Motorsports Acura ARX-01b entry, alongside co-driver Simon Pagenaud, ultimately finishing the year as championship runners-up.
Notably, de Ferran holds a record for the fastest closed circuit qualifying speed in his Penske IndyCar, reaching a blistering 241.428 mph at California Speedway in October of 2000.
The motorsport community is mourning the loss of a true gentleman and champion. Roger Penske, in a heartfelt statement, expressed his sorrow, saying, "Gil defined class as a driver and as a gentleman. As an IndyCar champion and an Indianapolis 500 winner, Gil accomplished so much during his career, both on and off the track. Gil was beloved by so many. He was a great friend to the Team Penske and IndyCar family, as well as the entire international motorsports community. Gil’s passing is a terrible loss, and he will be deeply missed.”
Beyond his racing career, de Ferran also made significant contributions as Sporting Director for the BAR-Honda Formula 1 team from 2005 to 2007. He later assumed a similar role at McLaren from 2018 to 2021 and returned to the team as a consultant earlier this year.
McLaren Racing, in a poignant statement, mourned his loss and remembered his impact: "Everyone at McLaren Racing is shocked and deeply saddened to learn we have lost a beloved member of our McLaren family. We send our deepest condolences to Gil de Ferran’s family, friends, and loved ones. Gil was an important and integral part of our Racing team. He was a formidable force on and off track and made a lasting impact on everyone racing and working alongside him. He will be missed by everyone at McLaren Racing."
Gil de Ferran's legacy in motorsport will endure as a testament to his skill, sportsmanship, and the indelible mark he left on the racing world. His memory will live on in the hearts of fans and fellow competitors alike, forever cherished for his contributions to the sport.