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. Hulkenberg confirmed for Porsche LMP1 at Spa and Le Mans

    Nov 27, 2014, 10:45 AM EST

    Canadian F1 Grand Prix - Previews Getty Images

    Hulkenberg gets an LMP1 opportunity with Porsche at Spa and Le Mans next season.

  2. What we’re thankful for in the motorsports world, 2014

    Nov 27, 2014, 9:00 AM EST

    Irwin Tools Night Race Getty Images

    What we’re thankful across the wide spectrum of motorsports in 2014.

  3. Spend Black Friday doing a few laps on Charlotte Motor Speedway

    Nov 26, 2014, 11:01 PM EST

    (AP Photo/Terry Renna) AP

    If you’re in the Charlotte area and want to have a great Black Friday experience, head on over to Charlotte Motor Speedway, where for a donation, you can drive on the actual racetrack.

  4. Sam Hornish Jr. has much to be thankful for: new home, renewed Sprint Cup hopes with Richard Petty Motorsports

    Nov 26, 2014, 8:56 PM EST

    (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall) AP

    Sam Hornish Jr. has a lot to give thanks for this Thanksgiving, most notably a new ride and a new lease on his Sprint Cup driving life with Richard Petty Motorsports.

  5. NBCSN presents 14-hour ‘MECUM MARATHON’ on Thanksgiving Day

    Nov 26, 2014, 4:40 PM EST

    mecum dealmakers

    NBCSN will present a 14-hour ‘Mecum Marathon’ starting Thursday, Thanksgiving Day.

  6. Simon Pagenaud’s Ayrton Senna tribute helmet to be auctioned off

    Nov 26, 2014, 2:30 PM EST

    98th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race Getty Images

    Simon Pagenaud’s Indy 500 Senna tribute helmet to be auctioned for Ayrton Senna Foundation.

  7. Report of Cole Whitt in for David Ragan at Front Row Racing ‘not true’

    Nov 26, 2014, 2:29 PM EST

    David Ragan (Todd Warshaw/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Front Row Racing officials on Wednesday denied rumors of Cole Whitt replacing David Ragan in the No. 34 Ford for 2015.

  8. F1 notes and quotes: Abu Dhabi Test Day 2

    Nov 26, 2014, 1:00 PM EST

    ADwrap Getty Images

    A rundown through the field after the final day of on-track running for F1 2014.

  9. Several NASCAR AMERICA specials to run over next month

    Nov 26, 2014, 12:30 PM EST

    nascar america

    Some NASCAR AMERICA specials are on tap before the end of the year.

  10. “Dream come true” for Italian Raffaele Marciello in Ferrari test

    Nov 26, 2014, 12:00 PM EST

    MarcielloAD1 Getty Images

    Marciello gracious for opportunity, and was thinking of Jules Bianchi throughout the day.

  11. A.J. Foyt still hospitalized but recovering after triple bypass

    Nov 26, 2014, 11:30 AM EST

    Foyt112614 AP

    A.J. Foyt with post-operative complication, but resolved.

  12. Mercedes reserve Wehrlein leads final Abu Dhabi test day to end 2014

    Nov 26, 2014, 11:13 AM EST

    WehrleinAD1 Getty Images

    New Mercedes driver, same place on the charts to close out 2014 F1 season.

  13. Life after Red Bull now beckons for JEV, where a new world awaits

    Nov 26, 2014, 10:31 AM EST

    Vergne 17-11 AP

    What’s next for Jean-Eric Vergne? An analysis of his time in F1, and where to from here.

  14. Jean-Eric Vergne confirms Toro Rosso exit

    Nov 26, 2014, 9:28 AM EST

    Canadian F1 Grand Prix - Practice Getty Images

    JEV out, and likely another rookie in at Toro Rosso for 2015.

  15. NASCAR: Reddit users provide snapshot of fan reaction to this year’s Chase

    Nov 25, 2014, 8:07 PM EST

    O'Reilly Auto Parts Challenge Getty Images

    A post-season exit survey provides some very interesting fan data on NASCAR’s latest version of its post-season format.

  16. Steve Letarte: Greg Ives’ familiarity with Hendrick will help Dale Jr., 88 team prosper (VIDEO)

    Nov 25, 2014, 7:00 PM EST

    Iowa Speedway - Day 1 Getty Images

    The outgoing crew chief for Dale Earnhardt Jr. also talks about his successor needing to make his own mark.

  17. Delaware court commissioner delays Kurt Busch hearing to Dec. 16

    Nov 25, 2014, 5:45 PM EST

    Ford EcoBoost 400 Getty Images

    The Delaware family court hearing is a separate matter from the ongoing police investigation into allegations of assault against Busch by his ex-girlfriend.

  18. NASCAR: Mike Hillman Jr. named crew chief for Brian Scott’s XFINITY program

    Nov 25, 2014, 5:15 PM EST

    Chicagoland Speedway - Day 1 Getty Images

    Brian Scott gets a new crew chief for 2015’s XFINITY campaign.

  19. WATCH: NASCAR AMERICA Tuesday night at 5 p.m. ET

    Nov 25, 2014, 4:44 PM EST

    nascar america

    It may be Thanksgiving week but NASCAR AMERICA is still on tonight at 5 p.m. ET.

Video from NASCAR America

Kevin Harvick's well deserved Sprint Cup
Top 10 NASCAR Driver Searches
  1. J. McMurray (1644)
  2. J. Gordon (1640)
  3. T. Stewart (1562)
  4. J. Johnson (1249)
  5. J. Logano (1194)