2003 Indy 500 winner Gil de Ferran dead at 56

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2003 Indy 500 winner Gil de Ferran dead at 56

According to the Associated Press, de Ferran appeared to suffer a heart attack while competing with his son at The Concours Club in Opa-locka, Florida on Friday.

The open-wheel legend began his racing career in British Formula Ford, Opel Lotus and then Formula 3, finishing third in the 1991 British F3 title race behind Rubens Barrichello and David Coulthard. He came back stronger in 1992, taking the title for himself with Paul Stewart Racing.

He went on to win three races in FIA Formula 3000 across 1993 and ’94, and tested for the Williams and Arrows F1 teams.

Eventually, he made his way to America where he would create a remarkable career for himself. He won back-to-back CART titles in 2000 and 2001. De Ferran earned 12 total race victories between IndyCar/CART in a career spanning from 1995 to 2003.

But his crowning achievement came in 2003. He won the Indianapolis 500 while driving for Roger Penske, beating teammate Helio Castroneves to the finish line. It was his fourth and final start in the 500.

Race winner Gil de Ferran

Photo by: Earl Ma

Race winner Gil de Ferran

His motorsports career included a stint in what was known then as the American Le Mans Series, winning five of ten races in 2009 with his de Ferran Motorsports Acura ARX-01b entry and co-driver Simon Pagenaud. They ended the year as the championship runners-up.

De Ferran also holds the record for the fastest closed circuit qualifying speed ever in his Penske IndyCar, lapping California Speedway at 241.428mph in October of 2000. 

Roger Penske released the following statement on his passing: “We are terribly saddened to hear about today’s tragic passing of Gil de Ferran. Our thoughts and prayers go out to [his wife] Angela, [daughter] Anna, [son] Luke, and the entire de Ferran family.

“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.”

de Ferran spent some time working as the Sporting Director for the BAR-Honda Formula 1 team from 2005 to 2007. He would fill a similar role at McLaren from 2018 to 2021, and returned to become a consultant to the team earlier this year.

McLaren released the following statement on Friday evening: “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.”

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