May 15, 2013, 1:30 PM EDT
This is the first in a series of posts stemming from a Tuesday interview with Gil de Ferran. Be sure to check back each day for a new installment.
Gil de Ferran can’t help but laugh over the fact that it’s been 10 years since his victory at the Indianapolis 500.
“I will tell you something – it really does not feel like 10 years,” he said with a chuckle on Tuesday afternoon from England. “I guess it’s the harsh reality of life, we’re all getting old. But I don’t feel like it’s been 10 years. It’s kind of weird to speak of an event that seems like only yesterday on very historical terms.”
The two-time CART champion, known as “The Professor” for his studious approach to the sport, accomplished one of his greatest feats in 2003 when he stopped Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves from becoming the first driver to win three consecutive “500s.” De Ferran passed Castroneves for the lead on Lap 169 but still had to withstand multiple restarts within the final 25 laps before holding off Castroneves by two-tenths of a second for the win.
After arriving at Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s Victory Lane, he got out of his car and let out a yell of joy with his fists outstretched toward the sky – a moment that’s been replayed time and again ever since.
“It’s a memory that’s extremely alive in my head,” said De Ferran of the entire afternoon. “I can almost recall the planning of the whole thing to pass Helio…I can recall getting ready for what seemed to be a thousand restarts at the end of the race. It’s almost like muscle memory – I can remember my feet and the way they moved in the car, which is a weird feeling.
“That’s why I say it doesn’t feel like it was 10 years, and obviously, feeling-wise, it’s just something I’m extremely proud of. Every time I remember what happened that day, it brings strong emotions to me and it remains probably, if not the greatest achievement of my career, then certainly one that’s truly at the very top. It’s a day I’ll always remember with great fondness.”
And it’s a day that almost didn’t happen.
In the second round of the 2003 season at Phoenix International Raceway, De Ferran and Michael Andretti were fighting late for fifth place when the two made contact going into Turn 1. Both cars slammed into the wall, and De Ferran sustained a concussion as well as cracks to two vertebrae.
He was forced to miss the next race in Japan, and when he returned to prepare for that year’s “500,” things initially didn’t go well.
“The opening day [of practice], I’ll never forget it — I mean, it was a disaster,” De Ferran recalled. “My timing was wrong, I was aching, the car was surprising me all the time and I’m like, ‘What the hell’s going on? I can’t drive anymore!'”
De Ferran momentarily wondered if the end of his career had finally arrived, but then decided to, in his words, “calm down a little bit” and see what the next day would bring him. Sure enough, it all started to slowly return to him and he began to find comfort in the cockpit once again.
“Wind the clock forward to Race Day, and it was such a shift from ‘That’s it, my career is over’ to the greatest achievement in my racing life – from the lowest of the low to the highest of the high,” he said. “It was an amazing feeling.”
Oct 30, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT
F1 is booming in the United States, but could the arrival of an American team and an American driver send its popularity off the charts?
Oct 30, 2014, 2:48 PM EDT
Ahead of the premiere of Road to Mercedes on NBCSN at 10p ET, here is one final teaser for the show that will see NBCSN’s Will Buxton and Jason Swales travel to Germany to visit the Mercedes museum in Stuttgart.
Oct 30, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
Frenchman thinks he would be the best choice for Toro Rosso in 2015 alongside Max Verstappen.
Oct 30, 2014, 1:12 PM EDT
Sergio Perez closing on in contract extension with Force India.
Oct 30, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
The F1 community loves coming to Austin and COTA, but why?
Oct 30, 2014, 12:56 PM EDT
This weekend’s race at Texas will mark the official debut of Tony Gibson and Daniel Knost as crew chiefs for Kurt Busch and Danica Patrick, respectively. How will they and their drivers fare together?
Oct 30, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
Felipe Massa, Sergio Perez and Esteban Gutierrez appear at the event in Austin ahead of this weekend’s United States Grand Prix.
Oct 30, 2014, 11:05 AM EDT
Get your calendars out and start marking up which series run where, when.
Oct 30, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
The team’s planned entry to F1 in 2016 takes another step forwards as the factory is completed.
Oct 30, 2014, 10:41 AM EDT
Kevin Harvick makes his 500th career Sprint Cup start this Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.
Oct 30, 2014, 10:29 AM EDT
IndyCar takes the wraps off its 2015 schedule, with 17 races and a heavy jockeying of dates in the second half.
Oct 30, 2014, 10:16 AM EDT
The Bianchi family issues a new statement over three weeks on from Jules’ accident in Japan.
Oct 30, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT
The MST writing team makes its picks ahead of the race in Austin, Texas.
Oct 30, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT
The difficulties faced by Formula 1 in the United States seem to be long gone, with a great home in Austin, Texas and a booming fan base. Has the problem child of a market finally been righted?
Oct 29, 2014, 11:37 PM EDT
Behind the scenes of Lewis Hamilton’s day at the TODAY Show.
Oct 29, 2014, 7:20 PM EDT
When it comes to this weekend’s Toyota NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, John Force is taking his effort to win his record-extending 17th Funny Car championship to a high power. As in 16X.
Oct 29, 2014, 6:55 PM EDT
On Wednesday’s edition of NASCAR America, Kelli Stavast talked with Jeff Gordon about the difficulties of advancing to the final round of the Chase.
Oct 29, 2014, 6:51 PM EDT
It was just a matter of time for NHRA Top Fuel drag racer Bob Vandergriff Jr., and now that time has come.
Oct 29, 2014, 6:45 PM EDT
With some of the things he says or does on the racetrack, Kyle Busch might seem like he’s all wet at times.
Oct 29, 2014, 6:30 PM EDT
Hawksworth: “We’re here to win, to give 120 percent.”
Video from NASCAR America
- Road To: Mercedes teaser – The very first Mercedes-Benz car (VIDEO) 0
- 2015 IndyCar schedule officially revealed; 17 races including 12 on NBCSN (VIDEO) 1
- Bianchi remains “critical but stable” but continues to fight, says family 1
- Has Formula 1 cracked the U.S. market in Austin? 3
- Behind the scenes: Lewis Hamilton on TODAY (VIDEO) 0
- Krista Voda to become host for NASCAR on NBC coverage next year 2
- VIDEO: Lewis Hamilton on TODAY Show, talks about F1 in the U.S. 2