Laguna Seca: Series spotlight - Gil de Ferran

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DE FERRAN'S DRIVES: THE BEST OF THE BEST Gil de Ferran's illustrious career comes to an end this weekend with the four-hour Monterey Sports Car Championships presented by Patron. De Ferran Motorsports' team owner hopes to end his run on a high...

DE FERRAN'S DRIVES: THE BEST OF THE BEST

Gil de Ferran's illustrious career comes to an end this weekend with the four-hour Monterey Sports Car Championships presented by Patron. De Ferran Motorsports' team owner hopes to end his run on a high note with a victory at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, the site where he scored his first IndyCar victory in the 1995 season.

That victory came with Jim Hall, who gave de Ferran his big break by signing him to drive that season. It's fitting that de Ferran and Simon Pagenaud will drive an all-white XM Acura ARX-02a this weekend as a tribute to Hall's influence in the Brazilian legend's career. Speaking of that, de Ferran recently ticked down a list of his greatest racing highlights as he heads into retirement.

"Usually events kind of stick in your mind because either they are huge events or because they meant a lot to you for a particular reason," de Ferran said. "Looking back through time, ultimately the events that meant a lot to me were typically events that helped cement my career on the right path as a driver."

So let's get started...

1. His first victory in the UK in Formula Ford. "It came at Oulton Park in 1989 after a horrendous year in 1988. There was an important event in my life."

2. A test that gave him his first ride with Jackie Stewart. "At the end of 1989, I was invited to drive their Formula Ford 2000 car at Donington Park. Jackie had a lot of drivers there that he was testing with a view to take them on. He had already signed (David) Coulthard and was looking for someone to partner with David. The test went very well. I broke the lap record and on the same day as the test, he offered me a job. It was a very proud moment. He told me, 'You drove beautifully.' Coming from Jackie, that was a very meaningful compliment."

3. A 1991 F3 victory on the British GP weekend at Silverstone. "A Reynard car had not won a F3 race in a couple of years. The 1991 car was quite a good car but I was the only one to win a race. I got pole position, fastest race lap in the first race and cruised to both wins. It meant a lot to do that in front of the F1 crowd."

4. The first test for Jim Hall. "I tested for Jim in 1994. It was in Big Springs, Texas and was something like 104 degrees ambient. It was a small little test track near the workshop. The circumstances were interesting because I was testing at Monza the weekend before and hurt my neck. I was feeling sorry for myself with a neck brace when I received this call out the blue from Jim, asking if I would be able to test the car. I was leading the F3 championship and had to check with Jackie, which I did. I also had to check with the doctor! This was on a Wednesday and the test came on the weekend. I got there, made a seat the next day, and the test went really well. He made an offer to me a few months later."

5. His first North American win at Laguna Seca in 1995. "That was a huge moment. It was then that I was in the big time. Indy cars were so big at the time. The sponsor (Pennzoil) was big, and I was driving for a famous team. By winning that last round, we clinched the Rookie of the Year honors. It was a double-whammy there. It helped cement my career and gave us a pretty important landmark."

6. The move to Penske in 2000. "I had just signed a deal to drive a deal for 'America's Ferrari', and that would be Team Penske. The very first time out at Homestead, I stuck the car on pole position. That was something really; Penske had been going through a drought, at least in their standards. 2000 was a breakthrough. It was the first time they were running Reynards and Hondas. It was all different that year.

7. The first win with Penske. "A couple of races after the first round, which I did not win (Ed. Note: Although he did take pole at Homestead and Long Beach), we ended up getting Penske's 100th IndyCar win at Nazareth. That was a memorable moment. To be the one that brought the 100th win was something that stuck in my memory. Later in the year we were fighting for the championship and put in the qualifying record (a 241.426 mph blast that set a world record for a closed circuit) at Fontana for the race. Funny enough at the time, the most important thing then was the point for the championship. But as time as gone on, the significance of having the world record grew."

8. A duel with Kenny Brack at Rockingham in 2001. "I still had a lot of fans in the UK during my early days but what marked this for me were the events leading up the race. It was the week after 9/11, we were in Germany the week before where Alex (Zanardi) lost his legs and we didn't know if he was going to live at the time. My family was supposed to join me in England but no one could fly and there was a lot of uncertainty. Being separated from them was not so nice. We didn't have any practice because it was raining. I think we had a 20-lap session before the race. The race is still on YouTube if you want to watch! I led most of the race and got caught up in traffic and Kenny Brack passed me with two laps to go and I passed him on the last corner."

9. Winning the Indy 500 in 2003. "I think I remember that for a bunch of reasons. I came back after a near-career ending accident in Phoenix and missed a couple of rounds. Indy was my first race back. I remember having conversations with Roger (Penske) and Tim Cindric), and them asking me if I was going to be ready. I drove the car for the first time on opening day, and I didn't feel good at all. It just wasn't working. I stuck with it and over the next few days I felt more comfortable in the car and of course managed to win. That was probably one of the greatest accomplishments of my career. The prior two years I was as close to winning the race as you can come without actually doing it."

10. Winning at Texas in 2003 to close his open-wheel career. "Texas was a place where we had not gone well. But things came together. I'll never forget the gut-wrenching feelings with the Kenny Brack accident. We had raced in Europe probably 10 years prior. At that time, we didn't know his status. I knew the accident was horrendous. It was a lot of different emotions going through my head. It was the last time I strapped myself in the car and winning, but also the chance that we had lost one of my colleagues.

11. First race with Acura at Salt Lake City, 2008. "I was determined to get on pole and made a strategic error that cost us. I hadn't driven a road course for seven years and no car in five years. We had to change tires and start from the back, and we drove to second place by the driver change. There really were a lot of things going on there but it was extremely rewarding and satisfying."

12. This year's victory at Salt Lake City. "A year on from that very near miss in 2008, which could have been a debut victory, we dominated the weekend. It was a great weekend for us. It was nice to have an all-green race. I hadn't had one of those for a long, long time!"

The final race in the 2009 American Le Mans Series is the four-hour Monterey Sports Car Championships at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif. The green flag is scheduled for 2:45 p.m. PT on Saturday, October 10. The race will air on SPEED from 2:30 to 6:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, October 11. Live coverage will be available via American Le Mans Radio presented by Porsche via americanlemans.com, which also will feature Living Timing & Scoring on Racehub. Live coverage also can be heard on Sirius 126 and XM 242. You can follow the Series on Twitter (almsnotes) and on our Facebook page.

The race will also mark the 10th and final round of the 2009 MICHELIN® GREEN X® Challenge. Tickets are available at americanlemans.com and mazdaraceway.com.

-credit: alms

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