The motorsport community has been shocked by the death of former IndyCar star Gil de Ferran at the age of 56.
De Ferran, who has passed away following a heart attack, enjoyed huge success in IndyCar racing in the early noughties with Penske. He won back-to-back titles in the CART championship before switching to the rival Indy Racing League where he scored a memorable win in the Indianapolis 500.
He followed fellow Brazilian stars such as Ayrton Senna and Nelson Piquet by impressing in the British racing scene, winning its national Formula 3 championship with Paul Stewart Racing in 1992. Two seasons in Formula 3000, the top junior series of the time, yielded a win in his second start plus a victory in the Pau Grand Prix. In all De Ferran won three of his 17 starts.
Lacking a route into F1, De Ferran opted to enter the CART series, which was at the peak of its popularity. He showed consistent improvement over his rookie campaign with Hall Racing, culminating in second place in the penultimate round at Vancouver and victory in the Laguna Seca season finale, He built on that the following year with a campaign which only included a single further win but lifted him to sixth in the standings.
That improved continued into his third season, at Walker Racing, where despite not taking another win De Ferran stood on the podium seven times and finished runner-up to champion Alessandro Zanardi. Although Walker struggled to compete with the leading teams over the following two seasons, De Ferran’s form had caught the eye of top squad Penske, who hired him to join Helio Castroneves in an all-Brazilian squad for the 2000 season.
De Ferran was quick to deliver, winning his fifth start for the team at Nazareth. In an enormously competitive season De Ferran only took a single further victory, at Portland, but his consistent points-scoring lifted him into the championship lead with four races to go. Third place at Fontana behind fellow Brazilians Roberto Moreno and Christian Fittipaldi – the latter the series’ 11th different winner of the year – secured the title for De Ferran.
He successfully defended his championship the following year. Once again, over a long and competitive season De Ferran’s consistency paid off and saw him take the points lead in the latter stages. A pair of wins back in the UK at Rockingham and on the streets of Houston propelled him into a 36-point lead by the year’s end.
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