New American Le Mans Series driver and team owner Gil de Ferran spoke with the media regarding the debut of the de Ferran Motorsports Acura ARX-01b. De Ferran, a two-time CART champion and former Indy 500 winner, will team with Simon Pagenaud at Miller Motorsports Park in the Larry H. Miller Dealerships Utah Grand Prix presented by the Grand and Little America Hotels.
The formation of the de Ferran Motorsports program?
“In a way, it’s a little bit of a long story. I have been associated with the Honda motorsports program literally for over a decade. That association took a wide variety of forms throughout the years. I worked very closely with HPD (Honda Performance Development) engineers, who now are in charge of the Acura sports car program, as a development driver. I played that role until I stopped racing CART. More recently I was the Sporting Director for the Honda F1 team and fulfilled that role for two years.
“Over that time, I managed to cement a lot of relationships with Honda and Acura, which made me aware of their plans for this program. It was one of those things where opportunity meets desire. There always been a desire on my part to expand my involvement in motorsports into team ownership. This seemed like a perfect opportunity to join a group that I know very well.”
Starting this effort in midseason?
“We started really having conversations about this late last year. Really from that moment we decided to go, there was not enough time to make it to the 12 Hours of Sebring. Frankly, we’ve been really pushing hard to make it to this race. The guys have been putting in many hours. We’ve been pushing our suppliers very hard to get things ready on time.
“From my standpoint, our program has a long-term view. Sometimes that’s the way ideas come about and business happens. On the other hand, I’m excited to be starting this weekend. I guess I’m just looking at the positives.”
Impressions of Miller Motorsports Park?
“It’s one of the best circuits I’ve been to. It’s very much a world-class facility. In my previous role as an up-and-coming driver, then as IndyCar driver and then as Sporting Director of a Formula 1 team, I have had my share of experiences at tracks around the world. But Miller Motorsports Park is one of the nicest venues I have been to. The facilities are great but the layout is a nice challenging mixture of high- and slow-speed turns. Everything is done really well there. This is a good opportunity to congratulate the folks who put this fantastic venue together.
“This track has a very European flavor. The sequence of Turn 1, Turn 2 and Turn 3 are very challenging and remind me of Silverstone. There is an up-and-down section on the back at Turn 8 and Turn 9; it is an uphill chicane that reminds me a lot of Mid-Ohio where you get a lot of elevation changes.”
Getting back into the cockpit?
“I certainly wasn’t looking for a job solely as a driver. I wasn’t knocking on Roger Penske’s door or anyone else’s door for that matter to get a job as a driver. I certainly missed driving. It’s very hard to find something that replaces that sensation and emotions you have when driving a race car to the limit. There is really nothing else in life that will quite match that. I always was particularly fond of qualifying where you put on a new set of tires and explore new limits. Qualifying is a very pure part of what we do where all that matters is speed. Having said all that, I guess I was so focused on my different roles since I got out of the car that I was managing my withdrawal symptoms fairly well. But when this opportunity came along, it fit my ambitions to go into team ownership. This is a role where I can add some value. I believe that it is a role that I will enjoy. The HPD engineers are people who I have worked a lot with in the past.
Another aspect that I have recently found out is that I am certainly enjoying a new aspect, which is a mentoring role to my teammate Simon.
“From a driving standpoint, it is a great challenge. Lap-time wise, they are not dissimilar to an IndyCar. We are pulling incredible Gs everywhere. Miller Motorsports Park is a very physical racetrack and we are pulling three to four Gs under braking and cornering. But what attracted me to sports car racing is the fascination I had with machines. If you look at the cars, you can’t help but thinking they are mega-cool. The technology involved with them is leading-edge. The teams involved are world-class and certainly there are some great manufacturers involved. And if you know a little about me I have a soft spot for sophisticated cars and machinery. That’s how I got into the sport as a kid.”
Walking away from racing in 2003?
“I was looking for different challenges. I felt that I had been a professional racing car driver for more than 20 years. I was driving for one of the best teams in the world and enjoying a fair amount of success. But at the end of the day I was looking for another mountain to climb. The way I run my life is that I am throwing myself in the deep end of the pool because I enjoy the process of getting back to the surface. Through those struggles you always learn and you always grow.
“I certainly feel like a rookie again. There are so many aspects to this type of racing that we have been trying to get acquainted with. Team ownership and everything else that goes along with this program has been a big challenge and something I am enjoying very much.”
The Utah and Salt Lake City area?
“I’m not unfamiliar to Utah and Salt Lake City. I started coming here in 1999 to go skiing, and every winter I’m here either for Christmas and New Year’s or one or the other. We usually go up to Deer Valley. It is becoming a family tradition. The snow is good and fortunately my kids already are skiing better than I am. But I still have a good time.”
LMP1 vs. LMP2 at Miller?
“I haven’t yet raced against any of the P1 cars and certainly haven’t raced against the Audis. But from what I have seen they do enjoy quite a bit of a straight-line speed advantage due to the rules, which is fine. This configuration of the track in terms of proportions between twisty bits and straight lines has changed to increase the amount of straight-line sections. However there are still a significant amount of corners to get around and a very interesting and varied combination of turns. I don’t think it’s a purely straight-line speed track.”
Choosing Simon Pagenaud?
“Before I became a driver and certainly now an owner, I always have been a racing fan. And as a racing fan, I have followed most forms of motorsport around the world. Simon caught my attention because he became the Formula Atlantic champion in his first year racing in America. That’s an impressive feat. You arrive here and you don’t know the competition, you don’t know the teams, you don’t know the track, you don’t know anything. It is a hard thing to do in your first year, particularly in some of these series where you don’t have a lot of testing. That put his name on the list. Certainly I knew about his feats in Champ Car. My old friends at Walker Racing had a very high opinion of him both as a person and a driver. Frankly when I met with him, I really liked the guy. He’s very professional and very serious about what he does. He shows a high degree of maturity for such a young guy. For a team like ourselves that is young and growing with a lot to learn, Simon is a perfect fit.”