IRL: A champion retires, a champion gains his seat

IRL: A champion retires, a champion gains his seat

The wait is over to learn Sam Hornish Jr.'s plans for the future. The 24-year-old from Defiance, OH has aligned himself with the most successful team in American open wheel racing, Marlboro Team Penske. Sam Hornish Jr.. Photo by ...

The wait is over to learn Sam Hornish Jr.'s plans for the future. The 24-year-old from Defiance, OH has aligned himself with the most successful team in American open wheel racing, Marlboro Team Penske.

Sam Hornish Jr..
Photo by indyracing.com/Ron McQueeney.
This opportunity has come to Hornish as 2003 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race winner Gil de Ferran, who also has two CART titles on his resume, announced his decision to retire after the close of the year.

De Ferran, who joined American road racing in 1995 with legendary Jim Hall, winning the CART season finale at Laguna Seca that year, has suffered two concussions within the space of six months, at Chicagoland last September and Phoenix in March 2003. No doubt those closed head injuries had much to do with his decision.

Accepting de Ferran's decision, Penske Racing president Tim Cindric remarked, "Everyone within our organization appreciates what we have accomplished with Gil over the years. He has been a team player in all respects. We certainly wish him well in his future endeavors."

Calling his experience with Marlboro Team Penske "without question the pinnacle of my career," de Ferran felt it was "important to stop while I was at my best." While it was the Brazilian veteran's intent to make his announcement after the close of the 2003 IndyCar Series campaign, he felt it was "in the team's best interest for me to do so at this time so they have an opportunity to hire the best possible driver. I feel they have done so with Sam."

De Ferran and Helio Castroneves have been teammates since the start of the 2000 CART FedEx Championship Series campaign, netting two titles (de Ferran) and three Indianapolis 500 victories (two for Helio and this year's win for Gil). The team joined the Indy Racing League fulltime in 2002 after Castroneves' first Indy 500 win in 2001. The duo developed a camaraderie that will be tough to beat both within and outside Team Penske.

Roger Penske and Gil de Ferran.
Photo by Earl Ma.
"Gil's commitment to the team produced two national championships, eight victories - including our 100th win (at Nazareth in 2000) - and our 13th Indianapolis 500-mile race victory," noted team owner Roger Penske. "He has certainly made a place in Penske Racing history as one of our great drivers."

Hornish finished second to Castroneves in Sunday's Firestone Indy 225 at Nazareth Speedway, just east of Team Penske's IRL headquarters in Reading. The week prior, of course, the two-time, current Indy Racing League champion earned his ninth victory in the series, becoming the winningest driver in Indy Racing League history. In addition to his historic tally of victories, Hornish also has 22 top-five finishes and a current 1767 laps led.

"I am thrilled to be joining Marlboro Team Penske," Hornish admitted. "The opportunity to drive for the most successful open-wheel team in history and to follow in the footsteps of the organization's remarkable driver lineage is an honor."

Penske added that the team is "very pleased that Sam has chosen to become a part of Marlboro Team Penske. Sam is a great fit for the team both on and off the track and we are confident we will achieve great success together," said the man whose Indy car racing squads have recorded 118 race wins, a record 13 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race victories, 11 national titles and 142 pole positions.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Roger Penske , Sam Hornish Jr.
Teams Team Penske , Team Penske