Gil de Ferran, the 2003 Indianapolis 500 winner and holder of the closed-course land speed record, died Friday while racing with his son at The Concourse Club in Florida, multiple former colleagues confirmed to The Associated Press. He was 56.
Fellow Brazilian driver Tony Kanaan said de Ferran was with his son, Luke, at the private course in Opa-Locka, Florida, when he pulled over and said he wasn’t feeling well. Kanaan said de Ferran apparently suffered a heart attack and could not be revived.
When de Ferran won the 2003 Indy 500 for Roger Penske, it was the third-consecutive win in the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” for Penske, who has now amassed a record 19 victories in the iconic Memorial Day weekend race.
“We are terribly saddened to hear about today’s tragic passing of Gil de Ferran. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Angela, Anna, Luke and the entire de Ferran family,” Roger Penske said in a statement. “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.”
Kanaan said he was “devastated” at the loss of the Brazilian icon.
“He was one of my best friends and we grew up together and lately and we worked together at McLaren,” Kanaan told The Associated Press. “In the beginning of this year he was a mentor, helping me out. I lost a dear friend. I am devastated. I have to say, he went in Gil style, driving a racecar. If I could choose a way to go, that’s what I could do.”
The Brazilian Motorsports Confederation confirmed de Ferran suffered a fatal heart attack in a statement issued by president Giovanni Guerra.
“Gil de Ferran shone in Brazilian and foreign tracks, having as highlights his English Formula 3 title, his two IndyCar championships, and the victory at Indy 500 in 2003. In my name and in the name of our confederation, we pray to God so He welcomes our brother in all glory and comforts his family, friends and millions of fans all over the world.”
Juan Pablo Montoya, the 2000 and 2015 IndyCar champion said: “Crazy sad news. Amazing guy and great racer.” Montoya won the 2015 Indy 500 for Penske.
The French-born Brazilian was rehired at McLaren as a consultant in May. He had been sporting director of McLaren’s failed effort to qualify Fernando Alonso for the 2019 Indy 500.
“Everyone at McLaren Racing is shocked and deeply saddened to learn we have lost a beloved member of our or McLaren family,” the team posted on social media. “We sent our deepest condolences to Gil de Ferran’s family, friends and loved ones.
Added McLaren CEO Zak Brown, a longtime close friend of de Ferran’s, “I am shocked and devastated to hear of the loss of a great friend and he teammate,” he wrote on social media. “I’ve raced with Gil all over the world and watched him win some of the biggest races.
“He’s been a great friend for over 20 years and will be greatly missed and never forgotten,” Brown said. “ My deepest condolences to his family. RIP Gil. The next win is for you! Goodspeed.”
De Ferran won the 2000 and 2001 Champ Car titles driving for Penske, and the 2003 Indy 500 with Penske, as well. He was runner-up in LMP1 class of the American Le Mans Series in 2009 driving for his self-owned de Ferran Motorsports.
In 2000 at California Speedway, de Ferran set the closed-course land speed record during CART qualifying with a lap of 241.428 mph — a mark that stands today.
Marco Andretti was one of dozens of drivers to post their respects on on social media. His included a photo of de Ferran that said “My friend. One of the real ones. One of the reasons for my F1 tests. Loved your passion and love for our sport, Thank you for what you contributed to my life.”
De Ferran was inspired to race by fellow Brazilian Emerson Fittipaldi and started his career in karting before embarking on a career in the European ladder system. He lost the British Formula Three title to countryman Rubens Barrichello and David Coulthard in 1991, but won the title the next season.
He won seven CART races and five IndyCar races, finishing second in the 2003 standings. He joined Team Penske with its iconic Marlboro sponsorship in 2000.
De Ferran is survived by his wife, Angela, daughter Anna, and son, Luke. Anna has become a DJ at Formula One races around the world and the entire family had been posting festive Christmas photos over the last week.
AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing