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IndyCar Series: Indianapolis 500

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Indianapolis 500

IndyCar Series: Indianapolis 500

Gil de Ferran
May 25, 2003


Q. Gil, you have won championships, yet this month their press conferences here, there were a few questions that were asked if you the focus is on Helio. One of the ones where pockets of people gathered around him, and not you. The tears after the race, would you just share your feelings on what it means to win this and just put it all in perspective?

GIL DE FERRAN: Well, thank you. First of all, just wanted to say that I always saw what was going on during the month, particularly with Helio, was something very natural. And let me tell you, I have no bitterness towards him or no jealousy. I mean to me, Helio is a great driver and he deserves all the attention that he's getting because he's certainly one of the best in the business and he has accomplished a lot, particularly here. And for me, it was just about staying focused. And I tell you when I crossed that line, I don't know, it was a lot of things going on in my head. Then you try not to think about it beforehand because I think that really gets your eye off the ball. So whenever something like this happens, it always comes as a surprise. Never know how I am going to feel, and it was an unbelievable feeling, certainly coming back from the accident, and again, I had a great feeling of pride for belonging and I say this not just because Roger and Tim are here, but belonging to this organization. You have no idea what went on behind the scenes. I could speak here all day and you still won't understand what went on behind the scenes for this month of May to turn out the way it was, and really I was overflowing, I guess, with emotion. And for me, you know, I always dreamed of winning this race. Certainly I have won championships and all that, but this is one of the most prestigious prizes in international racing. To cross the checkered flag, I am like, it is really happening (laughs). Because you don't -- I don't allow myself to get carried away. And certainly those last few laps there was very difficult, very difficult to stay focused.

Q. Gil, when you look at history, this race and the names that have won the race, some of the greatest drivers ever that have won this race and even in Michael Andretti's case, drivers that haven't won this race. Now the fact that your name is going to be permanently part of the history of this race. How does that all sink in to you?

GIL DE FERRAN: I don't know if it has really. I had a very fortunate career to have been able to win many races and many championships. Mostly fortunate to be working with some great teams and, you know, suddenly have accomplished more than I could -- when I started racing as a 14-year-old boy, I didn't know how far I was going to get. And I guess it hasn't really sunk in. The very fact that you are asking me that question sometimes, like takes me aback. I guess I will tell you next week when I consider the question a little bit more (laughs).

Q. Gil, when you were getting out of the car after winning the race, you looked like you hesitated there a bit. Your eyes were sort of tightly shut there. Were you in pain or just overcome by the emotion of --

GIL DE FERRAN: I was in pain, I have to admit. My shoulders, halfway through the race, started cramping, and I really had a hard time putting my hands, especially the left hand, and it was getting more and more and more and more painful, really getting more and more difficult to work it out. So I really couldn't lift it to kind of rest a little bit there before I could, you know, on my arms.

Q. Does that mean your back wasn't hurting?

GIL DE FERRAN: My back wasn't hurting, but I don't know, I have got to find out what happened. Maybe it was something to do with the neck. But both here, behind my shoulders is really painful.

Q. You said that you weren't going to get carried away. What is the closest thing you will come to getting carried away, I guess, no fence-climbing?

GIL DE FERRAN: Yeah, I climbed the fence with my friend, yeah, they missed it. (Laughs). No, I will tell you I don't know, maybe never been carried away, but maybe it is going to happen tonight when the cameras are not on.

Q. Gil, what concerns did you have about being here this month following Phoenix, and did you think that you would be here in this position?

GIL DE FERRAN: I pride myself on focusing on the moment. Taking one step at a time, you know, not carrying anything with me from behind; certainly I use things as experience, you know, and that forces my knowledge but I am very focused at the moment and the job that I have to do at that point in time. Throughout this moment -- first week was all about qualifying, not any big psychological thing about what is going on here and there and everywhere. It was just about getting the job done for qualifying. And then the next week was getting the job done for the race and throughout the race I was focused. First of all, not to get into trouble, and then when the strategy and the good stops and everything propelled me forward, then I said, okay, now I am in good position and try to take opportunities; just focus on the job more than anything else.

Q. Gil, what do you think Helio's emotions are right now? What he lost and happiness for you -- where do you think he's at?

GIL DE FERRAN: I don't know. All I can tell you when I finished second to him in 2001, for me it was a mixture of happiness and sadness because you are so close and yet so far. And you are happy for him because, you know, certainly, I consider him to be my friend and I have a lot of respect for him. You are happy for the team because they finished one, two, and with the feelings that I have for those people on the team are very true and sincere. So when you finish one and two it's a joy for everybody. But from very deep down inside, from your own personal standpoint, you are like, eh, and maybe he's feeling that way, I don't know. You have to ask him.

Q. Gil, how did the fence-climbing thing come about; was it spontaneous?

GIL DE FERRAN: It was very spontaneous because we were sitting there and okay, catch the brakes, catch the brakes, thought it was appropriate. Then I thought, Helio was just here a minute ago, and the crowd was -- they were screaming. I am like, I know what I am going to do. (Laughs). But I couldn't do that all by myself. I had to have him there with me.

Q. Can you express -- at the moment you must be happy, how happy are you? What feelings are running through you right now to have achieved this great accomplishment?

GIL DE FERRAN: From a scale of one to 10. Probably a 9.99999999. I mean, all joking aside, it's overwhelmed me, it really has overwhelmed me. You always think, oh, man, if that ever happens to me, it would be a great opportunity for me to say something interesting and intelligent, and (laughs) I am afraid it kind of shuts off and you are like, duh. It is really difficult to put into words what you feel. My memory goes back to when I was a kid, you know, and everything that went on recently, just shifts backwards and forwards, and my family and friends and these two gentlemen next to me, I don't know, all my desires really to me it seems happening at once, that's why -- when it comes time to say something, it just doesn't come out.

Q. Are you going to invite us to your party so we can get the real you?

GIL DE FERRAN: You have got to talk to Tim. He's the guard dog.

Q. I know you said you have no bitterness towards Helio, obviously, we know you don't. He said two things when you were out of the room, now we can talk behind his back. He said when you get wound up, you can really get going. And then he called you an old man. He and Tony together. Let us get you wound up going with that raw old man in this young crowd?

GIL DE FERRAN: It's a mental perspective, isn't it? From his perspective, I am an old man. But there is a lot of people in the room here that would call me a young man. So (laughs) it depends where you look from. Hey, look, I am 35, now from a personal standpoint, I don't feel I am driving any worse than I was driving when I was 18. In fact, I feel I am driving better. I don't feel like I am any slower, I don't feel like I take any less chances than I did when I was 18. I am probably, you know, my judgment is probably more polished than it was when I was 18. But I still do stupid things like I did in the first lap in Phoenix. (Laughs). But what can you do?

Q. Talk about passing of Helio for the lead .

GIL DE FERRAN: Sure. Whenever Helio was catching traffic, I was trying to get closer to him. I was not trying to follow him too close because I was having difficulty just staying behind him all the time because he was running on the right front all the time. I am like, okay, let him go a little bit, try not to use up my right front too much. And then when I saw traffic in the horizon, I am like, okay, time to get close to him again. Certainly, they had a good stop there and he was a little distance ahead of me, and I was flat out trying to catch him. I was sure there was a lot of cars, you know, that we were going to end up catching. So I felt, okay, this may be an opportunity, and certainly he got bogged down there in Turn 2, real bad, actually, and he came out of there really slowly. And when I saw that developing, I was coming down Turn 1 and Turn 2 really fast, had a full head of steam coming down the back straight and it was just a matter of picking -- the difference in speed between us at that point was so great that I could pass him. Once I was in the lead, I am like, okay, now concentrate, and you know, you got to do your job.

Q. Along the same line, how long did those last 40 laps take when you got Helio in your rearview mirror?

GIL DE FERRAN: Let me tell you, this has been a tremendous month of the year, no doubt about that, everybody tells me it is only 30 days or 31, but I guarantee you it's more. Those 40 laps, there were no way there were only 40 laps. (Laughs). There were a lot more than 40 laps. Every time -- the restart, certainly there's always an opportunity, if you are challenging and I know Helio will be all primed up for those restarts, I am like, okay, here we go again and again and again, but thankfully, it all worked out.

Q. Your first CART win at Laguna Seca you had your daughter there in Victory Lane. Today you have your whole family. What is it like to share your victories?

GIL DE FERRAN: I think that's what families are for, for you to share those precious moments with them. And they are the people that you love the most and you know, I am not a loner, so I like to share those moments with the people that I love and certainly my family is on the very top of the list.

Q. When Jim Hall brought you here in '95, you weren't even able to get through the first turn because of the Stan Fox crash. Then you weren't able to participate at all from '96 until you came back in 2001. Did you ever feel that you would never have a chance to come back here and experience this?

GIL DE FERRAN: I didn't even think about it. I mean, that may sound a little harsh but it is back to the thing to the other question earlier, it's what I am doing at the time, what do I have to do, what is my job here, you know, and focus, focus, focus. Certainly I was very grateful when I joined the team and Roger said, hey, we're going to Indy, I said, you are the man.

Q. Rolling two things into one. Starting from the premise that you have the most outstanding team in racing I think that almost goes without question, I just can't help but mention that of the top three finishers for three consecutive years now, that's nine places, Brazilians have held 7 of those 9 here at Indianapolis which is incredible. I think we all notice the tremendous camaraderie between you guys. I thought it was so appropriate that it was not just you and Helio fighting those last few laps but also Tony Kanaan. We have all enjoyed the banter between you three. Can you kind of roll those two observations together just give us a little bit of insight into the relationships and how that really helps the racing?

GIL DE FERRAN: I think if you met Tony and Helio off the track you find that it is impossible not to like them. They are really genuinely nice people, never mind they are race car drivers and stuff like that, you know, I would say that certainly all three of us have been racing for several years since we were -- Tony started when he was nine or something and Helio when he was 11 or something. Anyway, something along those lines. So you get to a point where you learn how to separate things. And Tony and Helio and I, we race hard, and but we also happen to like each other. Like I said Helio is certainly one of my best friends these days and I just like to spend time with the guy. We put the helmet on, I know what he's there for and I respect that. He's there to try to win the race for himself and I respect that. I think -- all stems from that understanding that you understand what the guy's role there is. And by trying to win the race he's going to essentially have to beat you and the same thing with Tony. As long as you have that understanding I think everything goes smoothly.

Q. In that win in '95 at Laguna Seca you seem to be the same person now that you were then. Same kind of demeanor, and could you talk about that a little bit. Also you were emotional in that '95 win, can you talk about the differences in emotion now?

GIL DE FERRAN: It's hard to say. I think the only thing that's a common thread is when I was driving for the Jackie Stewart back in Europe, Jackie was always very big on emotional control. You have got to keep yourself rational, it is much better than keeping yourself emotional. It was clear to me that that was certainly the way to go, you know, one thing is say it and the other thing is to do it. And I certainly worked very hard to keep myself as unemotional as I have to throughout when I have to perform, but on the other hand, you know, when I let go, there's all this you know, everything comes flooding in and is a real mess. So that's really, I think is the opposite of that exercise. I don't know if I made any sense or not.

MODERATOR: It did. Well, to the team congratulations again, and Gil, you came to Indy Racing League as a Champion; not just by winning titles but the way that you have handled yourself with all of this and we're delighted with your win today. Congratulations.

GIL DE FERRAN: Thank you.

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