Skip to content

A decade later, De Ferran’s Indy 500 win still ‘brings strong emotions’

May 15, 2013, 1:30 PM EST

DE FERRRAN AP

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.”

Latest Posts
  1. NHRA: Brittany Force set for 2015 to be her year in Top Fuel

    Dec 19, 2014, 9:45 PM EST

    Brittany Force. (Photos courtesy of Ron Lewis Photography) Brittany Force. (Photos courtesy of Ron Lewis Photography)

    Daughter of legendary Funny Car champ John Force, Brittany Force is out to prove that 2015 will be her year in NHRA Top Fuel racing.

  2. Michael Schumacher’s son, Mick Jr., has ‘secret’ F4 test

    Dec 19, 2014, 6:55 PM EST

    mick schumacher jr.

    Michael Schumacher’s son, Mick Jr., spent a recent testing day in a Formula 4 car, a possible prelude to following in his famous father’s footsteps.

  3. Ganassi places faith in youngsters Kimball, Karam by putting them in No. 01 car

    Dec 19, 2014, 4:00 PM EST

    CGRdaytona Getty Images

    Rare, intriguing call for CGR to put two lesser-experienced drivers in No. 01 car.

  4. Williams recaps incredible 2014 campaign (VIDEO)

    Dec 19, 2014, 3:00 PM EST

    AUTO-PRIX-F1-ABU-DHABI-PODIUM Getty Images

    Williams’ stellar 2014 season, recapped in pictures and words.

  5. Top NASCAR stories of 2014: No. 12 – Newman, Kenseth winless but still successful

    Dec 19, 2014, 2:15 PM EST

    Hollywood Casino 400 - Practice Getty Images

    Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth proved that consistency still pays.

  6. Report: The Sprint Experience will not return in 2015

    Dec 19, 2014, 1:49 PM EST

    sprint cup logo

    The fan-favorite Sprint Experience at NASCAR tracks across the country is apparently no longer, according to a media report.

  7. NASCAR: Top drivers of 2014 – No. 18 Jamie McMurray

    Dec 19, 2014, 1:30 PM EST

    NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race Getty Images

    McMurray shined at the All-Star Race in May but missed out on a 2014 Chase berth.

  8. NASCAR: Top drivers of 2014 – No. 17 Kyle Larson

    Dec 19, 2014, 12:57 PM EST

    (David Becker/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Kyle Larson had a tremendous rookie season in 2014. If he was that good this season, imagine how much better he’ll be next season and seasons to come.

  9. Felipe Nasr goes with 12 for his F1 car number

    Dec 19, 2014, 12:30 PM EST

    F1 Grand Prix of Brazil - Previews Getty Images

    Felipe Nasr’s No. 12 rounds out the F1 grid number choices for 2015.

  10. Vergne joins Ferrari as a test driver

    Dec 19, 2014, 12:00 PM EST

    Canadian F1 Grand Prix - Previews Getty Images

    Jean-Eric Vergne signs with Ferrari as a test and development driver, which means a bunch of simulator work.

  11. RC Enerson confirmed for Indy Lights with Schmidt Peterson

    Dec 19, 2014, 11:17 AM EST

    IndyLights

    RC Enerson moves up from USF2000 to Indy Lights.

  12. NASCAR: Kid Rock to perform pre-race show at 2015 Daytona 500

    Dec 19, 2014, 11:00 AM EST

    2014 Louder Than Life Festival - Day 2 Getty Images

    Multiplatinum artist to rock out before 2015 running of the Great American Race.

  13. NASCAR Canadian Tire Series 2015 schedule released

    Dec 18, 2014, 9:51 PM EST

    Canadian tire series logo

    It lasts only four months, but there’ll be lots of action on the schedule for the 2015 NASCAR Canadian Tire Series.

  14. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to do a little pre-Christmas dirt tracking Saturday in Illinois

    Dec 18, 2014, 9:26 PM EST

    (Tom Pennington/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will be slinging some pre-Christmas dirt this Saturday in an all-star sprint car race in DuQuoin, Ill.

  15. Kurt Busch sponsor supports him ‘110 percent’ in dispute with ex-girlfriend

    Dec 18, 2014, 8:50 PM EST

    (Jerry Markland/Getty Images) Getty Images

    One of Kurt Busch’s sponsors has joined team owner Gene Haas in backing the driver in his ongoing dispute with ex-girlfriend Patricia Driscoll.

  16. Have a good laugh: Check out NASCAR America’s 2014 blooper reel (video)

    Dec 18, 2014, 6:31 PM EST

    NASCAR America

    Want to have a good laugh or two? Check out all of the bloopers and behind-the-scenes fun from NASCAR America over this past year.

  17. NASCAR suspends Camping World Truck Series crew member

    Dec 18, 2014, 6:18 PM EST

    nascar logo 2014

    NASCAR announced that a Camping World Truck Series crew member has been suspended for violating the sanctioning body’s substance abuse policy.

  18. WATCH: Race of Champions at 7 p.m. ET kicks off motors evening on NBCSN

    Dec 18, 2014, 6:00 PM EST

    ROA_Twitter_Promo

    RoC, Mecum, and two F1 “Road To:” specials make for motors block on NBCSN tonight starting at 7 p.m. ET.

Video from NASCAR America

NASCAR America's 2014 blooper reel
Top 10 NASCAR Driver Searches
  1. C. Coughlin (1789)
  2. A. Self (1628)
  3. K. Busch (1591)
  4. B. Vickers (1586)
  5. D. Suarez (1403)
  1. M. Tifft (1366)
  2. J. Boston (1333)
  3. D. Armstrong (1255)
  4. K. Busch (1249)
  5. L. Cassill (1065)