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Former Indy 500 champion and F1 sporting director, Gil de Ferran, passes away at the age of 56.
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Former Indy 500 champion and F1 sporting director, Gil de Ferran, passes away at the age of 56.

After passing away at the age of 56 from a heart attack, former Indianapolis 500 champion Gil de Ferran has been honored and remembered by many.

De Ferran was a highly popular and esteemed driver who also achieved success in Formula One by serving as a sporting director for the BAR/Honda and McLaren teams.

The Brazilian who was born in Paris did not compete in F1, but he had a remarkable career in the United States. He raced in the IndyCar/Cart series from 1995 to 2003 and achieved back-to-back Cart championships in 2000 and 2001. He also won the Indy 500 for Penske Racing in 2003.

On Saturday, the Brazilian automobile confederation announced De Ferran had suffered a heart attack while competing at a private motor racing club in Florida on Friday. He was taken to hospital but did not survive.

The former F1 world champions Jenson Button and Damon Hill both expressed their sadness at his death. “Still in shock that we lost one of the good ones so young,” Button wrote on Instagram. “One of the best behind the wheel and all round great guy Gil De Ferran. I will miss that wonderful smile, rest in peace my friend.”

Hill expressed his sadness at the recent loss in the motor racing community. On a social media platform known as X (previously known as Twitter), he shared fond memories of the individual as being one of the most pleasant people he had encountered. He also extended his sympathies to the individual’s family, friends, and colleagues at McLaren. He admired the individual’s determination and successes in the racing world and feels his passing is a significant loss.

De Ferran was highly regarded for his skills as a driver and his likable and charismatic personality. He gained recognition while racing in the UK in single-seater cars, participating in Formula Ford, Opel Lotus, and the Formula Three series. In F3, he placed third behind Rubens Barrichello and David Coulthard, both of whom later moved on to compete in F1. In 1991, he won the championship title with Paul Stewart Racing.

In 1993 and 1994, he participated in Formula 3000 with the goal of joining F1. He also conducted trials for the Williams and Arrows F1 teams. Despite being a skilled and intelligent driver, De Ferran did not secure a spot in F1 due to the prevalence of pay drivers during that time. He was considered for various seats, but ultimately was not chosen.

Instead, De Ferran bravely decided to venture into racing in the US, even though he had no prior experience on oval tracks. It took him some time to adjust to the new set of skills needed, but he ultimately excelled and became recognized as one of the top drivers on the super-speedways of Cart and IndyCar.

Gil De Ferran (centre) celebrates his victory in Indianapolis back in 2003

In 2003, his triumph at the Brickyard was a standout moment. Despite enduring a severe injury and concussion during the previous race in Phoenix, which resulted in neck and back fractures, he displayed incredible determination to continue competing. Despite still experiencing discomfort, he managed to qualify in 10th position.

During the race, he overtook his Penske teammate, Hélio Castroneves, with 31 laps left, gaining the lead and ultimately securing an unforgettable win.

After retiring in the following year, De Ferran returned to the racing world by creating his own team. This team was able to compete in sports car events in the American Le Mans series in 2008 and 2009, winning five out of ten races in the latter year. However, he eventually decided to permanently retire from racing and instead took on management roles. This included managing his own IndyCar team in 2010.

During his tenure as the sporting director at McLaren from 2018 to 2021, he played a crucial role in the team’s turnaround from their worst performance in the late 2010s to achieving third place in the constructors’ championship in 2020.

The team brought him back again as a consultant this year and paid tribute to their colleague on Saturday. “Gil was an important and integral part of our racing team,” McLaren said in a statement.

“He was a powerful presence both on and off the track, leaving a lasting impression on all who raced or worked alongside him. His absence will be deeply felt by the entire McLaren Racing team.”

Source: theguardian.com