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Gil de Ferran, Indy 500 Winner and Brazilian Racing Star, Dies at 56

De Ferran, who most recently served as sporting director at McLaren, won the 2003 Indy 500 and held the closed-course land speed record.

The racing community is in mourning after the sudden passing of racing star Gil de Ferran. News of de Ferran’s passing emerged late Friday night when friends and colleagues began sharing their memories of the popular Brazilian on social media. The AP reports that the 56-year-old racer died while racing with his son at The Concourse Club in Opa-Locka, Florida, a private racing club popular among the IndyCar community.

The report cites longtime friend and fellow Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan, who claims de Ferran simply pulled his vehicle over and said he wasn’t feeling well. No other details about his death have been shared, but it is alleged that he suffered a heart attack and could not be revived.


“We are terribly saddened to hear about today’s tragic passing of Gil de Ferran. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Angela, Anna, Luke and the entire de Ferran family,” said Roger Penske in a statement Friday night. “Gil defined class as a driver and as a gentleman. As an IndyCar Champion and an Indianapolis 500 winner, Gil accomplished so much during his career, both on and off the track.”

De Ferran grew up in Brazil racing alongside Kanaan and other racing legends such as Helio Castroneves and Rubens Barrichello. His karting career took him to Europe where challenged some of the biggest names at the time, ultimately losing the British Formula Three title to Barrichello and and David Coulthard. He won the championship a year later in 1992.


During the CART days, de Ferran set the closed-course land speed record with a qualifying speed of 241.428 mph at California Speedway. Later on the Brazilian piloted some of the most iconic Indy cars to date, winning the 2000 and 2001 IndyCar championships for Penske. His open-wheel career peaked in 2003 when he won the Indy 500 also with Penske, driving the famous red-and-white Marlboro livery. He found success as a drive-owner in 2009 in the now-defunct American Le Mans racing series, where he drove an Acura prototype under de Ferran Motorsports.

“I’ve raced with Gil all over the world and watched him win some of the biggest races,” said McLaren CEO Zak Brown on social media. “He’s been a great friend for over 20 years and will be greatly missed and never forgotten. My deepest condolences to his family. RIP Gil. The next win is for you! Godspeed.”

De Ferran is survived by his wife and two kids.

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