Tony Kanaan Gil de Ferran

Today’s question: What is your fondest memory of two-time INDYCAR SERIES champion and 2003 Indianapolis 500 winner Gil de Ferran, who died Dec. 29 at age 56?

Curt Cavin: As I prepared stories in advance of the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 in 2016, I visited de Ferran at the Fort Lauderdale home he had designed and recently moved into. We talked for a couple of hours that morning, enjoying the magnificent smoothies that were his staple. Similarly, he had poured himself into the details of the home. He had studied the sun’s angles as they changed through the seasons and noted the different ways the wind blew over the canal out back. He thought about how the family liked to entertain and what the needs of future grandchildren might be. Remarkably, the three floors and 10,000 square feet had no air of ostentatiousness. Rooms were comfortably large without distractions because he abhorred clutter. While the home with exceptionally clean lines was a showplace, it wasn’t a showroom for his career. Only the miniature Borg-Warner Trophy for winning the 2003 “500” and a half-sized Vanderbilt Cup for being CART’s 2000 champion were in the entry room. The third racing piece there was more art than achievement – race car parts welded in the shape of helmet assembled by crew members when De Ferran Motorsports disbanded after the 2010 season. Mostly, it was his pride in the home that was on full display. “I wanted a place where we could socialize, both inside and out, in a way that invited spontaneity and created a welcoming feeling,” he said. “The home had to be naturally inviting and hopefully beautiful, like a girl with no makeup. It had to pass the no-makeup test if you follow me.” I did.

Eric Smith: There are so many memories of Gil de Ferran that could easily fill a book. The top two that came to my mind are his Indianapolis 500 triumph in 2003 and his speed record (241.428 mph) at Fontana, that to this day still stands. However, my mind also goes to an underrated memory as my lasting impression of him. I know cliches are at times worn out, but one in sports that comes to my mind is fitting for the person de Ferran was. That cliché is that athletes and/or teams are only as good as your last game or in this case, race. For de Ferran’s INDYCAR SERIES career, his last race inside of the cockpit was a win, on Oct. 12, 2003, at Texas Motor Speedway. He left the series as a racer, a winner. Most athletes would love to retire on top. De Ferran did just that, leaving the 2003 season as an Indianapolis 500 winner and took a trip to victory lane in his 160th and final start. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Paul Kelly: They say the measure of a person is not how they react in victory but in defeat, right? Well, the full measure of Gil de Ferran’s class, grace and humanity was on display at one of the lowest points of his incredible career, when Fernando Alonso was bumped from the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge field with minutes to go on Bump Day in 2019. It was a massive shock for two-time F1 World Champion Alonso, McLaren and, most of all, de Ferran, who was hired to oversee the Indianapolis effort as McLaren sporting director. Some team officials might not have wanted to face media scrutiny immediately after such crushing and public failure, but that wasn’t Gil’s style. He and Alonso came promptly to the fourth floor of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Media Center to answer questions about this gutting disappointment. I could cite many examples, but perhaps the best way to grasp de Ferran’s team-first, selfless perspective in which he took blame and shielded Alonso is to read the full transcript. But to give a sneak peek before you dive in, one of the first things de Ferran did in his opening statement was to apologize to McLaren fans around the world. What racing executive does that? And if they do offer thanks in such trying times, who really means it? Gil did. Every word. To me, that early evening on May 19, 2019, was more of a measure of Gil de Ferran as a human than his Indy 500 win in 2003, his two CART titles in 2000 and 2001 and his closed-course speed record of 241.428 mph that he achieved in 2000 at Fontana. Godspeed, racer.