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DATE News (chronologically)
05/10/08
irl
Q and A with Gil de Ferran on the Indy 500
2003 Indianapolis 500 champion Gil de Ferran returned to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Friday.

GIL DE FERRAN: “It is very touching to be here today. I guess the last time I was sitting here in this chair was a very memorable day. Certainly a day that is going to be with me till the end of my days. It's very emotional to be sitting here today and getting ready for our upcoming race on May 18. I'm a little short on words today. I'm looking around and thinking, ‘Wow.’ My years at Team Penske were great years. Helio (Castroneves) and I were together there for four years that I was there. He continues on, and I believe he's now the second-longest Penske driver in history behind (Rick) Mears. Helio and I, the friendship you saw from the outside was not only for show. To this day he remains one of my best friends. Obviously, I have a soft spot for him and for the team in general. Every time I come here I'm like, ‘OK, how are you guys getting on?’ Needless to say, we enjoyed a lot of success here. We raced here three times and finished first and second twice. In '02, the year he won, we were both in contention throughout the race. It was good days. It's funny because it seems like it was yesterday, but if you think about it it's been quite a few years.

(About emotion on winning Indy): “I pride myself on being a rational guy. I try to be rational under every circumstance, no matter how desperate or elating it may be, but at the end of the day, emotion is what drives you. You have to have a good steering head, but emotion is the fuel that pushes you forward. The circumstances that led to the 500 that year and the whole buildup of the month is what I remember the most. If you recall, I had quite a large accident in Phoenix two races prior to the 500. I broke my neck and my back and had a very severe concussion. I had to miss one race, and the 500 was my first race back. All the way from the first day o f practice, opening day, where I was, frankly, not feeling w! ell I didn't think I was driving well at all, and I was thinking that my career was going to end right here and right now. To the end of the month where, frankly, I was in some pain, to winning that race. It was a long, emotionally charged journey. It was one of the great tiers of my life. When you come from a hospital bed with everything aching to winning the biggest race in the world, that feeling is going to stay with me forever.”

(About transition from road racing): “It's a funny thing. Some road racers seem to adapt very well to ovals, and in fact some road racers end up becoming better oval racers than road racers. I've seen that happen in the past, so I guess I can only speak from my own experience. In road racing, you tend not to run any high-speed corners. Most corners, particularly these days, are low-gear corners and low-to-medium speed turns. You come to a place like this, and you're wide open over 220 miles per hour, and it's a unique experience - something you haven't experienced before. It takes a while to adapt. The other thing is that in road racing, most guys run with a little more understeer because you need the traction to get out of the corners. You get used to, what we call, leaning on the front. It's a common road racing driving technique. In an oval, at the end of the day, as they say here, loose is fast. If you can keep it off the fence, people say that jokingly, but you have to learn how to run the car very, very neutral. And very, very neutral is one step below being loose. It's not easy getting comfortable and running with a car that neutral. If your heart rate starts to go up and you get a little anxious, you tend to jerk the steering wheel a little more and that makes the car even more difficult to drive, so learning how to run a very neutral car in high speeds with people around you with a low heart rate is certainly a challenge.

(About unification): “I have several comments about that. I had an experience just outside of here when the guys started running. There was a guy who came through with driving overalls on and I was like, ‘Who's that?’ Frankly, I didn't recognize the guy, and I had no idea who he was. Then I said, ‘You know, I shouldn't be prejudiced.’ The first time I was here, there were probably people who didn't know who the heck I was. You've got to start somewhere, and that's the way the sport is. New guys come in, and some will become big stars and others won't. That's the way the story is. Ultimately, we have a whole new generation of drivers who are doing the 500 this year, and several of them I don't recognize and don't know who they are, but you never know. One of these guys, a few years down the road, might turn out to be a 500 winner and capture the imagination of the public and the fans like my friend Helio did. When he showed up here, nobody knew who he was. That's just the way the sport is. There's a constant renewal of talent and so on and so forth. As far as the unification is concerned, from my standpoint, having one IndyCar Series, I know they've had different names, but having one IndyCar Series was always a key step to the success of this sport. Some teams have experienced some pain going to one series, but I think, in the long run, it's an absolutely necessary step for the success of the sport. I'm very excited about it. My friend Jay Penske, I went to see him and he was way down here. I was like, ‘Man, there's a lot of cars here.’ I had to walk all the way, nearly to Turn 4 to go see him. That's a good thing. There's no two ways about it. That's a good thing. I think that hopefully the series will be on the up and up in the years to come.”

(About rookie year): “My memories were how tough it was. I had very little oval experience. To the point that I had just run one oval, I think at Phoenix, as well. The month was long, and we had a lot of time to prepare. Johnny Rutherford was a good guiding hand when I first got here as a rookie. I think more than the competition, at that time, I just remember how difficult it was for me to feel comfortable and at one with the track to the point where I could push to my own limits. Eventually, I got there. It was difficult because one day you are comfortable, and the next day the wind shifts, and you are going, ‘What's going on here.’ Frankly, as a rookie, to take that all in - the cars are changing, the track's changing, the wind's changing, it's a big deal to try to put it all together. You put one foot in front of the other. We had a very strong field that year. I got in the field, and unfortunately we got involved in the first lap accident with Stan Fox and Eddie Cheever. It was a horrific accident, and I collected one of the tires. I was actually on the pit exit road, completely out of the accident because I saw it developing on the horizon. Again, Johnny said, ‘You've got to look forward.’ I was starting the race looking as far ahead as I could, and I saw the accident developing. I remember looking in my mirrors and thinking, ‘OK, nobody is going to collect me.’ Downshifting and getting down into the pit road, but unfortunately a wheel came down and took my front suspension off, and that was it, the end of the race. I guess the other big memory was walking out of the motor home on Race Day. I'd never been to the Indy 500 before. I got here, as most guys do, I got to the track very early to beat traffic. Very early in the morning, certainly too early in my book. It was like 6 o'clock, and we're here already. So I went into the motor home to take a rest before the race, and at 6 a.m. there's not that many people here. I can't remember, I think it was 9 or 10 o'clock when I got out and I looked outside, and I couldn't believe the amount of people and the different atmosphere, and for a young driver to try to bring your emotions in control and get your focus for the race in this great atmosphere, you can't help it, it grabs you. It's very difficult, but at the end of the day, you have to strap yourself in the car and try t! o start the race like you start any other race. One of the biggest challenges I ever had was to try to bring my emotions in control coming up to the start of the race here as a rookie.”
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