IRL: Gil de Ferran press conference, Part I

Teleconference with Marlboro Team Penske Driver Gil de Ferran March 31, 2003. Part 1 of 3 Coordinator: This call is being recorded. If anyone has any objections, you may disconnect at this time. I'd like to introduce our host for today's...

Teleconference with Marlboro Team Penske Driver Gil de Ferran
March 31, 2003.

Part 1 of 3

Coordinator: This call is being recorded. If anyone has any objections, you may disconnect at this time. I'd like to introduce our host for today's call, Ms. Susan Crowther. Ma'am, you may begin.

S. Crowther: Hello. I just want to thank you guys all for calling in and taking the time. As you know, we have Gil here, and you all are aware of Gil's situation. He suffered a minor fracture to his neck and lower back and a slight concussion at the race in Phoenix, and because of this will not be racing at Motegi next weekend. Alex Barron is going to substitute for him, next weekend I mean.

Gil is going to start by taking your questions and go from there. There will be a transcript available if anyone wants one after the phone call. You can just get in touch with either Lisa, myself or Jeremy. So, Lynn, if you want to explain how to take the questions.

Coordinator: Yes, ma'am. Our first question comes from Gordon Kirby of Autosport. You may ask your question.

G. Kirby: Hello, Gil. How are you? It's good to see you're on the right road here.

G. de Ferran: Hello, Gordon.

G. Kirby: Gil, the HANS device has come in for a lot of criticism in Formula One. Obviously you're a bit of a champion of it. You've spoken already about the value in your accident here. I think maybe a big aspect is that everybody over here is kind of customized to make it fit your physiology, which somehow they seem not to have been dealing with there in Formula One, which I guess they are now. Anyway, my question is could you talk a little bit about that aspect of making the HANS device fit each individual driver's physiology and the value of it in general.

G. de Ferran: Sure. First of all how are you, Gordon? Nice talking to you after such a long time.

G. Kirby: I look forward to seeing you at Indianapolis this year.

G. de Ferran: Indeed, yes. Well I think, and I spoke to Robin Miller about this last week, but my view of it is simple. I believe that a lot of people really don't focus on the right issue as far as the HANS device and all their safety devices that perform similarly. Certainly there's been a big push in the safety area, an accelerated push I would say on the safety area over the last few years not only in Formula One, in Indy Car and all over the place. I think it's a natural move. I think the HANS device is really one innovation that came along a few years ago that the more testing that has been done with it, the more convinced you become that it is at the very least slightly beneficial, and in certain accidents extremely beneficial. Do you see what I mean?

G. Kirby: Indeed.

G. de Ferran: Now, and the more data we are gathering about that would affect the HANS device in a variety of accidents, the more that conclusion is becoming clear. Certainly it's impossible to test a device like the HANS device in every single way, shape, or form. You have to have a few real-life incidents there to understand as well as a lot of laboratory controlled tests. The people that have been developing the HANS device really have been doing both: measuring real life incidents to the nth degree, and also performing more tests in laboratory conditions. The HANS device has proven to be, like I said, beneficial in a variety of accidents.

Now, I myself, when I first tried that thing on, I was like, "My God. This is going to be the worst thing ever," because it is uncomfortable, and to some people more uncomfortable than it is to others. Like you rightly said, it's easier or not depending on how you're built. I had a tremendous amount of trouble and I had to make one with the assistance of the guys in manufacturing that was custom fit for me, and still it's not as nice as not having anything, but you've got to understand that it's better in a crash. So certainly if you focus on the comfort aspect, you're going to have a negative view of it. But if you focus on the beneficial facts that it would have on an accident, then you've got to be happy with it.

G. Kirby: Indeed. Absolutely.

G. de Ferran: I don't know if I was clear or not. A bit long-winded, I guess.

G. Kirby: Again, if you would just add specifically what its value was in this most recent accident to you. How did it work for you, and what was its value? Was there any downside to it?

G. de Ferran: Well, the conclusion that the experts came to that it did reduce some of the force that my head was subject to, and perhaps reduced the extent of my injuries on my back and on my brain, so it had a dampening effect on the balance of the accident. Certainly the one in Chicago, while it was a forward impact, it probably had an even bigger effect.

G. Kirby: Yes. Well, good. You're in pretty reasonable shape all considered now, and how do you look for this next month?

G. de Ferran: I'm certainly in some pain, but the pain has been receding over the last week or so, and my head is feeling more normal as each day goes by. I have to admit to you that the thing that I like the least about this crash is actually the head injuries. They really bother me a lot.

G. Kirby: Well, good luck to you. As I said, we'll look forward to seeing you next month and we'll pass it on to some of the other guys.

G. de Ferran: Sure.

G. Kirby: Thanks, Gil.

G. de Ferran: No problem.

Coordinator: Eric Thomas of Race Line Radio Network, you may ask your question.

E. Thomas: Thanks very much, Gil. Good to talk to you again. I'll echo Gordon's sentiments. I'm glad you're on the healing road here. Gil, you sort of touched on it with the HANS device in terms of the philosophy and testing it. You talked about research about safety, especially on all those to a certain degree. But I'd like it if you can to maybe address part of the other research that's gone on that I don't really know whether they've gone fast enough forward with, and that's the concept of what they call soft walls.

There are various ways of looking at that. They've installed some at Indianapolis and that's one system that seems to work well. While they have done a lot of work with the HANS device, and indeed it has been beneficial to lessening the severity of injuries like yours, what about this area of soft walls? Because you guys run only on ovals, do you think it should be accelerated?

G. de Ferran: Well I think, historically speaking, I guess one criticism I would make is that in comparison to the accelerated pace of safety improvement in racing cars and in driver safety gears over the years, tracks have made relatively little progress, perhaps because the investment necessary to make a significant safety improvement in race tracks, and not only ovals that is, is very substantial. But I have to say that the team owners and the people that are responsible for the technical rules of racing cars have been very, very responsive to a technological improvement in the market and making those come through and improve the racing cars and the safety gear that we use.

Having said all that, when Indianapolis Motor Speedway announced that they're studying the soft walls and the actual implementation, we shouldn't really call it soft walls, but the implementation of those walls, in my mind that was a major step forward, and I really think it showed the leadership of what could be done to improve overall safety. It remains to be seen that if more track owners will follow the example in the lead of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and I wish they would, because that's certainly one area that Indy has shown the way that it can be very improved.

E. Thomas: Yes. You talked about the HANS device in some respects, and you first reported on it being very uncomfortable. The Nascar guys work with another similar device called a Hutchins device, which is just straps as opposed to that hard yoke around your neck and then the back of your neck. We know that people like Formula One have made this kind of model that we have now mandatory, and Rubens Barrichello, who took his off in Malaysia, said it was pinching his shoulders.

Is there any other device around, Gil, that you think may be better in terms of being able to modify it for different guys' structure so the thing isn't so uncomfortable, or are we just sort of, I don't want to use the phrase, stuck with the HANS device? Or is there some other kind of device out there that may be in the wings someplace that this thing isn't just going to be so darn uncomfortable?

G. de Ferran: Well, not that I know of. But there are a million different types of HANS devices. Like I said, I started with one type and really I became comfortable by the time I had my third or fourth go at it is when I became satisfied with the comfort level of the HANS device. I mean, there are people that have been doing research on these devices, the Hutchins devices and the HANS device, incessantly. I mean, they're laboratory testing all the time, and there's data out there that I couldn't quote to you, because there's none in front of me, but there's data out there that explains what each of these devices do.

I would like to say that I think it would be wrong to focus on the HANS device or the Hutchins device as the last answer. I think what these new ideas have done is really open the door for further development into the area and opened the door to the creativity of other engineers and other organizations that perhaps new ideas and new things will come, do you see what I mean, as a result of this innovation. The same thing with the walls that Indianapolis created, there's really the first iteration of a new idea, and it's the same thing with the HANS device and some of those things that come around. I think I'm pulling a little bit of futurology here. As years go by we'll see new versions of HANS devices and Hutchins devices and stuff like that that will hopefully prove to be even more effective than what we currently have, and the same thing for those energy-absorbing walls.

E. Thomas: Okay, Gil. Thanks very much and we hope to see you at Indianapolis. Thanks very much for the opportunity to talk to you.

G. de Ferran: I hope so too. Thank you.

E. Thomas: Heal up.

G. de Ferran: No problem.

Part II


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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Rubens Barrichello , Gil de Ferran , Alex Barron , Robin Miller
Teams Team Penske