Gil de Ferran, the 2003 Indianapolis 500 winner and closed-course land speed record holder, died Friday while racing with his son at the Concours Club in Florida, several former teammates confirmed to The Associated Press. He was 56 years old.
Fellow Brazilian driver Tony Kanaan said that De Ferran was with his son Luke on a private course in Opa Locka, Florida, when he stopped and said he was not feeling well. Kanaan said De Ferran appeared to have suffered a heart attack and could not be revived.
When de Ferran won the 2003 Indy 500 for Roger Penske, it was the third straight victory in “the greatest spectacle in racing” for Penske, who now has a record 19 victories in the iconic Memorial Day weekend race.
“We are deeply saddened to hear of the tragic passing of Gil de Ferran today. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Angela, Anna, Luke and the entire de Ferran family,” Roger Penske said in a statement. “Gail defined class as a driver and a gentleman. As an IndyCar champion and Indianapolis 500 winner, Gale accomplished a lot during his career, both on and off the track.
“Gile was loved by so many. He was a great friend to Team Penske and IndyCar, as well as the entire international motorsports community. Gil's passing is a tremendous loss and he will be greatly missed.”
Kanaan said he was “shocked” by the loss of the Brazilian icon.
“He was one of my best friends and we grew up together and most recently worked together at McLaren,” Kanaan told the Associated Press. “At the beginning of this year he was a mentor to me, he helped me. I lost a dear friend. I'm devastated. I have to say he went the style of a generation, driving a race car. If I could choose a path to take, this is what I can do.”
The Brazilian Motor Sports Federation confirmed that De Ferran had suffered a fatal heart attack in a statement issued by its president, Giovanni Guerra.
“Gil de Ferran has shined on Brazilian and foreign tracks, and the most notable of these achievements are his title in English Formula 3, two IndyCar championships, and victory in the Indy 500 in 2003. In my name and in the name of our federation, we pray to God to forgive him.” He welcomes our brother in all glory and offers his condolences to his family, friends and millions of fans around the world.”
“Sad and crazy news,” said Juan Pablo Montoya, the 2000 and 2015 IndyCar champion. “Amazing man and a great racer.” Montoya won the 2015 Indy 500 for Penske.
The French-born Brazilian was reappointed to McLaren as a consultant in May. He was 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 that we have lost a dear member of our family or the McLaren family.” The team posted on social media. “We send our deepest condolences to Gil de Ferran’s family, friends and loved ones.
McLaren CEO Zak Brown, a close and long-time friend of De Ferran, added: “I am shocked and deeply saddened to learn of the loss of a great friend and 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 was a great friend for over 20 years and we will miss him greatly and never forget him,” Brown said. “My deepest condolences to his family. RIP Jill. Next win is yours! Good speed.
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 the LMP1 class of the American Le Mans Series in 2009 driving his de Ferran Motorsports-owned car.
In 2000 at California Speedway, de Ferran set the closed track land speed record during CART qualifying with a lap of 241.428 mph – a mark that still stands today.
Marco Andretti was one of dozens of drivers who paid their respects On social media. It included a picture of De Ferran with the caption: “My friend. One of the real ones. One of the reasons for my F1 tests. I loved your passion and love for our sport. Thank you for what you have contributed to my life.”
De Ferran was inspired to race by fellow Brazilian Emerson Fittipaldi and began his career in karting before embarking on a career in the European ladder system. He lost the British Formula 3 title to compatriots Rubens Barrichello and David Coulthard in 1991, but won the title the following season.
He won seven CART races and five IndyCar races, finishing second in the 2003 standings. He joined Team Penske with its famous Marlboro sponsorship in 2000.
De Ferran is survived by his wife, Angela, his daughter, Anna, and his son, Luke. Anna has become a DJ at Formula 1 races around the world, and the whole family has been posting festive Christmas photos over the past week.
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