Gil de Ferran, a former winner of the Indy 500 and F1 sporting director, passes away at the age of 56.

Tributes have been paid to the former Indianapolis 500 winner Gil de Ferran, after his untimely passing at the age of 56 due to a heart attack.

De Ferran, who was widely admired and respected, had a successful career in Formula One, serving as a sporting director for the BAR/Honda and McLaren teams.

Although he did not compete in F1, the Paris-born Brazilian excelled in the United States, racing in the IndyCar/Cart series from 1995 to 2003. He clinched consecutive Cart titles in 2000 and 2001, and triumphed at the Indy 500 for Penske Racing in 2003.

The Brazilian automobile confederation announced that De Ferran suffered a heart attack while participating in a private motor racing club in Florida on Friday. Despite being taken to the hospital, he could not be saved.

The former F1 world champions Jenson Button and Damon Hill expressed their sorrow over his passing. “Still in shock that we lost one of the good ones so young,” Button wrote on Instagram. “One of the best behind the wheel and an all-round great guy, Gil De Ferran. I will miss that wonderful smile, rest in peace my friend.”

De Ferran was not only celebrated as a skilled driver but also as a thoughtful, personable, and engaging individual. He gained recognition while racing in Britain, competing in Formula Ford, Opel Lotus, and later the Formula Three series. In 1991, he finished third in F3, behind Rubens Barrichello and David Coulthard, both of whom went on to join F1. The following year, De Ferran secured the championship title with Paul Stewart Racing.

In his pursuit of entering F1, De Ferran participated in Formula 3000 in 1993 and 1994, conducting tests for the Williams and Arrows F1 teams. Despite his impressive skills as a fast and cerebral driver, he struggled to secure a spot in F1 during a period when pay drivers were dominating the field.

Instead, De Ferran took a bold step to race in the US, despite lacking experience in oval circuits. Although it took him time to adapt to the different skill set required, he eventually became renowned as one of the best drivers on the super-speedways of the Cart and IndyCar circuits.

The pinnacle of his career came in 2003 with his triumph at the Brickyard. Overcoming severe injuries sustained in a previous accident, including neck and back fractures and a concussion, De Ferran displayed remarkable resilience. Despite enduring pain, he secured 10th place in qualifying.

In the race, he surpassed his Penske teammate, Hélio Castroneves, with 31 laps remaining to claim the lead, ultimately sealing a memorable victory.

De Ferran retired the following year, but returned to form his own team and achieve success in sports car racing in the American Le Mans series in 2008 and 2009. In the latter, he won five out of ten races. Subsequently, he permanently hung up his helmet to delve into management roles, including fielding his own IndyCar team in 2010.

During his tenure as sporting director at McLaren from 2018 to 2021, De Ferran played a crucial role in the team’s resurgence. McLaren, which had endured its worst period in history, managed to claim third place in the constructors’ championship in 2020.

This year, the team brought him back as a consultant and expressed their condolences on Saturday. “Gil was an important and integral part of our racing team,” McLaren stated. “He was a formidable force on and off the track and made a lasting impact on everyone racing and working alongside him. He will be missed by everyone at McLaren Racing.”

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