Last Friday Gil de Ferran announced his plan to retire from driving at the end of this year. He then went out and won the following day’s American Le Mans Series race at Mid-Ohio.
Co-driving his de Ferran Motorsports Acura ARX-02a LMP1 with Simon Pagenaud, the 41-year-old scored his fourth straight win as David Brabham/Scott Sharp made it another Acura one-two sweep. De Ferran now has four more ALMS races to run before finally stepping out of the cockpit for good.
In this month’s Motor Sport we tell the story of Gil’s 241.428mph world closed course record lap at the California Speedway in 2000 aboard a 1000bhp Reynard-Honda Indycar which he describes as “a beast”.
Educated as an engineer, de Ferran is an intelligent, funny, self-deprecating guy who was renowned by Honda’s engineers as the best test driver the company has ever enjoyed.
Born in Paris to Brazilian parents and raised in São Paulo, de Ferran moved to England in 1988, won the 1992 British F3 championship and raced F3000 cars in ’93-94, winning three races.
He moved to America in ’95 to race in CART for Jim Hall’s team, won the year’s final race and was named rookie of the year. Driving for Derrick Walker he finished second in the ’97 CART series, then joined Roger Penske’s team in 2000. De Ferran won the 2000-01 CART championships with Penske before the team switched to the IRL. In two years in the IRL he won five races, including the 2003 Indy 500 and his last event at Texas in ’03.
After that Gil became sporting director of Honda’s F1 team from 2005-07. But near the end of ’07 he announced he was starting his own ALMS team and would return to driving for a couple of years, selecting the promising Pagenaud as his team-mate. True to his word, de Ferran has now confirmed his retirement to enable him to concentrate on expanding and running his team.
“We’ve set ourselves some lofty goals by declaring we would like to run two Indycars and two sports cars,” he admits. “That’s our dream, and we’re working flat out towards that target. We believe that if we achieve this dream we’ll have the base for our future direction. Right now, we’re focused on the commercial aspects of making the dream a reality.”
Pagenaud has shown a lot of ability this year and is likely to continue with de Ferran, depending on the opportunities open to him in Europe. Gil is also talking to Scott Dixon who was the third driver in his Acura car at Sebring this year. Hideki Mutoh and Takuma Sato are also among the possible drivers for de Ferran’s IRL team.
“Our philosophy when it comes to drivers is simple,” says Gil. “We always go for the best available. In Simon we’ve seen a guy who’s shown a lot of speed on track. What I saw on the other side of the table was a kid who is very intelligent and mature.
To me, he’s a key ingredient. In the year and a half he’s been with us he’s delivered in every way. Not only do I believe that he’s one of the top sports car drivers out there, but he could do other things apart from driving sports cars.
“When we were looking for a guy for the long-distance races we drew up a list and said, ‘Who’s the best driver out there today?’ Scott was at the top of that list and we were delighted when he said yes. I make no bones about the fact that I consider Scott to be one of the best drivers in the world.
“It’s important to have the right driver pushing the pedals and it’s important to get the mix right for the team, because the driver always plays an important leadership role in the team.
“Frankly, there’s a lot we need to do if we want to be competitive by next year. There’s a lot of homework that needs to be done, particularly in Indycars. But there’s no secret to the sport. It’s all about preparation, and to prepare well, you need time. We know the clock is our biggest enemy.”
It’s tough to launch a new team in this day and age, but Gil de Ferran has made the first step and plans to be around for the long haul. We wish him the best of luck on the next phase of his racing life.