CHAMPCAR/CART: Gil de Ferran pre-season interview

Gil de Ferran was interviewed on the weekly CART teleconference. T. E. McHale: We are now pleased to welcome the 2000 FedEx Championship Series champion Gil de Ferran of Marlboro Team Penske. Thanks for joining us today. Gil de Ferran: ...

Gil de Ferran was interviewed on the weekly CART teleconference.

T. E. McHale: We are now pleased to welcome the 2000 FedEx Championship Series champion Gil de Ferran of Marlboro Team Penske. Thanks for joining us today.

Gil de Ferran: Good afternoon, everybody. It's my pleasure to be out of the cage and talking again.

T. E. McHale: Our pleasure to have you.

Gil, the driver of the No. 1 Marlboro Honda/Reynard is entering his seventh year in the FedEx Championship Series and his second with Marlboro Team Penske. He became the eighth CART champion in Team Penske history last season, joining Rick Mears who won in 1979, '81 and '82; Al Unser who won in 1983 and '85; Danny Sullivan who won in 1988; and Al Unser, Jr. who won in 1984.

Gil's season included victories at Nazareth and Portland, the former of which was the 100th champ car win in Team Penske history. He also recorded five pole positions at Homestead, Long Beach, Mid-Ohio, Houston and California Speedway. Gil's pole for the FedEx Championship Series season finale at California Speedway established a world closed-course speed record of 241.428 miles per hour. That pole also grouped him in the sole position of tenth place in CART career history with 11 pole positions. He qualified among the Top 5 drivers for 16 of 20 starts and scored championship points in 15 of 20 starts. Gil won the FedEx Championship Series championship with 168 points.

With that we will begin taking questions for Gil.

If you could maybe talk about how testing has gone for you this winter and obviously you had some setbacks at Phoenix and Homestead, and really do you think that set you back any? I'm not talking so much about physically, but just on the learning curve with the new car.

Gil de Ferran: Well, I mean, if I was going to describe my season, I would call it brief. I really didn't do a lot of running at all. Obviously, since the last accident in Homestead transpired, my injuries were worse than they first appeared, so I haven't been running at all.

You know, I did not spend as much time as I would have liked driving the car. But, you know, hopefully that's not going to be too much of a setback since, you know, there's very little change in the equipment for this year. Basically the car is a minor development on the car that we used last year, you know. The tires are no much different. The engine, you know, obviously there's a new spec with the lower boost thing. Helio has been working on getting that working properly with Honda.

You know, there's not that much to - how can I say - to develop or do. I'm hoping that that's going to not -- that that's not going to set me back too much in the beginning of the season. It's not an ideal situation, but it's a reality that I've got to deal with.

Maybe I've been AWOL, but can you explain what you mean when you say the extent of your injuries was greater than it first appeared? What are you dealing with now?

Gil de Ferran: I guess after the Homestead accident, I was in so much pain in my foot, that was the worst pain I had. My foot is still not a hundred percent. I cannot run or do any high-impact training on my foot. But that wasn't really what was holding me back and my driving, you know. My shoulder and my -- my left shoulder and my rib cage on the left started hurting as soon as I got back in the car. You know, that was putting me back quite a bit in the car. That's why we decided to call it off.

I've been basically doing physio for about ten days now.

I assume that the prognosis is that you'll be in pretty good shape for Monterey?

Gil de Ferran: That's what I'm hoping for. I'm starting to step up my training program, you know. I can't even remember when the date was of the Laguna test, but I think it was about 12 days ago or something like that, you know, on the five or six day after that, I couldn't do much. I had to do very slow physiotherapy, and I can't run, as well, which is unfortunate, which is what I like to do a lot to stay in good shape.

But this last week I started to accelerate the intensity of my training program, you know, as my injuries are getting better. I'm hoping to be in good shape there when I get to Mexico. That's for sure.

I asked Roberto Moreno this same question, but I just wanted to get your thoughts on the cancellation of the Rio race. How important was that race to you? How much of a disappointment is it going to be not being able to race down there?

Gil de Ferran: I think it's going to be a great disappointment not to be able to race over there. From a personal standpoint, it was a very, very important race. You know, I thoroughly enjoyed, you know, racing at home. I was very, very happy to go there in the first time I think it was in '96, it was the first race. You know, from an emotional standpoint, was a very important race. So I'm very, very disappointed that the race was canceled.

However, you know, those sort of races, you can't go against the wind, you know? I mean, a race is supposed to be something that everybody wants for it to happen, all the sponsors involved, including the government of Rio and the people of Rio. You know, is supposed to be a big party, supposed to be an event that everybody enjoys. If you have any sort of disputes or bad feelings or anything like that going on, it's really not ideal.

You know, I suppose whenever I was starting to see that things were not going so well there, it was like, "Okay, well, you know, it's clear that somebody does not want the race to happen." So from that standpoint, I think it was probably the right decision.

Do you envision the FedEx series returning to Brazil? In what way do you think that could happen?

Gil de Ferran: I do envision it returning to Brazil. The only way I see it happening, like I said, if it's in a situation where everybody wants the race to happen, you know, including the city that hosts it. I don't really understand exactly what went on, what went wrong in Rio. You know, to me, you know, I know a lot has been said, a lot has been written about it. To me, the situation is far too complicated. I did not make myself -- I did not, you know, see it as my job to make myself acquainted with all the details.

So I just have to say, you know, I hope we can race again in Brazil. There is a lot of Brazilian drivers, there is a lot of interest there on the Brazilian fans, and there is a lot of Brazilian investment in the series. I think on those three counts, you know, when you weigh everything up, it does warrant having a race over there.

I wanted to ask you, what are you and Helio going to do for an encore? Seems like you have gotten the captain back motivated, brought a fire back to Penske Racing that they even see down in Penske Racing South?

Gil de Ferran: There's certainly a lot of fire there, I can tell you that. Everybody's really fired up, you know, including Roger. I think the mindset is not really trying, "What we going to do for an encore?" I think everybody on the team realizes it was really difficult to win one championship and to have as good a season as we had last year. It's going to be just as difficult to win a second one.

Obviously, we fancy our chances with -- I certainly think we have a chance in this championship again, but I don't think it's going to be easy at all. I'm sure Helio is in the same mindset.

You also have the 500 at the speedway. You'll be working in mid March at Phoenix, as well.

Gil de Ferran: We have a busy season ahead of us. Before those decisions were made, a lot of analysis went on, "Could we do this well? Could we not do this well?" I think the team really worked hard to put an infrastructure together that -- so we'll be able to take care of everything properly.

You know, I think one of the things that open it up was the testing rules for the season. You know, last year we were testing a lot in between races. This year we're not allowed to do that. Even though they added more races to it, I would probably say it's less busy than it was last year.

Rusty Wallace told me that Roger is like a man on a mission. He hasn't lost any of the desire to win that championship I'm hoping.

Gil de Ferran: Put it this way: After working with Roger for a year, I don't feel I ever had the right again of feeling tired (laughter). You know, "man on a mission" is and an understatement. He works unbelievable hours. He works more than everybody else. He wakes up earlier and goes to bed later than anybody else. He's got so much energy and he's totally devoted to whatever he puts himself towards.

I mean, racing is very important I think for him. I'm sure if you ask him that, he'll be able to expand on that. "A man on a mission" is an understatement when you're talking about Roger, I think (laughter).

CART is going to be racing in Montreal on the same track as the Formula 1 cars. What's your feeling of CART going to Interlagos now that Rio is out of the picture? Do you feel that track would be suitable for the Champ cars?

Gil de Ferran: Absolutely. It's just a shame that the very old track in Interlagos is not in good shape anymore. That in my mind was probably one of the best road courses ever conceived. If you can't have one thing, we'll have the other. The new one is not that bad. I mean, safety-wise it's very, very good. They had to bring the standards up to accommodate the Formula 1 cars. If it's good enough for them, it's probably will be good enough for us, too.

Now that Rio was canceled, you have the IRL race in March as well as the Mexico race. Has that taken a little bit of pressure off not having to do Rio, as well?

Gil de Ferran: Yeah, absolutely eases up on the schedule a little bit. You know, it's good in a way, but bad in another way. You know, once you start racing, you want to keep working. You know, you don't want to have big breaks like that, especially in the beginning of the season. I mean, if that month break came in July, that would be very welcome. But earlier on in the season, to be quite honest with you, I rather be running.

What is your impression of the IRL car compared to the champ car as far as driving?

Gil de Ferran: They're quite different. You know, I drove them in two configurations. I drove them at the speedway and PIR oval. At the speedway they got the super speedway configuration, which is similar -- it feels similar to ours. You know, the car has quite a bit less power, but grip-wise they feel fairly similar. On the mile oval configuration, the car has a lot more down force than what we have. You know, they put big wings on the car. The car goes around corners very, very fast. So they feel very, very different in the mile oval configuration.

The car has very little power, but then again it goes through the corners very, very quickly. Our car, you know, you go very, very fast down the stretch because you have a lot of horsepower, and even sometimes you even get wheel spin coming off the slow turns on the short ovals. But you got to really brake a lot and slow down for the turn. The mile oval is a completely different animal.

How many days were you originally going to test this season? With Helio's help, will the team get in all their test days by March the 1st?

Gil de Ferran: Well, if I'm not mistaken, we had 20 days of testing, and it was going to be ten days each. I think we'll just about be able to use all those days over there. The problem is during the winter, there's not that many tracks that you can use. Those tracks also have limited dates available. Sometimes, you know, when you have something go wrong like an accident or something like that, you've got to spend some time rebuilding stuff or rescheduling everything. It's difficult to do all the testing you think you need to do.

I know they're going to offer Fridays as open practice sessions. That may help you. Even though you haven't had that much time in the car, it is a new car, could you talk about how this car compares to last year's car?

Gil de Ferran: It doesn't feel very different at all. I mean, I think I said earlier, is a mild development over last year's car. Obviously, we're hoping that even though it's a small development, we're hoping to get quite a bit of performance out of it, but it doesn't feel that different, you know. Most of the mechanical systems are the same. Basically the biggest development has been on the aerodynamics so the car doesn't have that much of a different feel.

You had a very good season last year, but is there anything you feel you want to improve on? Do you have a strategy going into this year how you can repeat your championship?

Gil de Ferran: I think, you know, as I look back, we had a very good season, particularly in terms of speed. I mean, we had -- if you look at our qualifying average, you can see it was -- it was either first or second to Montoya. But it was very, very good. Our racing average was not quite as good as the qualifying average that we had.

It's basically trying to keep one in line with the other. I think last year was a little bit of an atypical season for a lot of people from that standpoint. You know, that would be the aim, probably get to the end of more races and trying to turn good qualifying performances into better race results.

T. E. McHale: Thank you. At this point we will let Gil go. Thanks for joining us this afternoon. Best of luck defending your FedEx Championship Series championship during the 2001 season.

Gil de Ferran: Thank you very much.

-CART-

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Rusty Wallace , Gil de Ferran , Roberto Moreno , Al Unser Sr. , Rick Mears , Danny Sullivan
Teams Team Penske , Team Penske