Indy 500 winner Gil de Ferran dies suddenly at 56

2003 Indy 500 winner Gil de Ferran. © IndyCar
© XPB 

The world of motorsport was shocked by the news of the sudden death of former Indianapolis 500 champion Gil de Ferran, who has passed away at the age of just 56.

The Brazilian Automobile Confederation (CBA) said de Ferran had suffered a heart attack on Friday while at a private motor racing club in Florida and had been "promptly taken to a local hospital, but did not survive".

"On behalf of myself and the entire CBA family, we pray to God to receive our brother with all glory and to support his family, friends and millions of fans around the world," CBA president Giovanni Guerra said.

As well as his racing career in the US open-wheel IndyCar Series, de Ferran had worked in F1 as McLaren sporting director from 2018 to 2021, and had remained with the squad in a consultant advisory role.

In a statement issued on Saturday, the team said: "Everyone at McLaren Racing is shocked and deeply saddened to learn we have lost a beloved member of our McLaren family.

"Gil was an important and integral part of our Racing team. He was a formidable force on and off track and made a lasting impact on everyone racing and working alongside him."

De Ferran's time with McLaren was credited for helping them bounce back from a terrible spell with their worst season on record in 2018 quickly followed by finishing third in the 2020 constructors' championship.

Gil de Ferran (BRA) McLaren Sporting Director.

As a driver, de Ferran started in karting in Brazil. He won the British Formula Three championship in 1992 with Paul Stewart Racing, where he met his future wife Angela who survives him along with their children Anna and Luke.

De Ferrari soon headed to the US and won the 2000 and 2001 Champ Car World Series with Team Penske, and picked up his prestigious Indy 500 victory in 2003.

After departing IndyCar, de Ferran mixed driving in sports cars and his budding career in team management, joining the BAR-Honda F1 team as sporting director from 2005 until 2007.

That was followed by a spell back in the cockpit in a factory-backed Acura LMP2 prototype in the American Le Mans Series, as the owner-driver of de Ferran Motorsports which claimed five victories and seven poles in 2009.

After learning about Friday's news, his compatriot and fellow former F1 driver Felipe Massa said: "What sad news today. We lost a brother! Wonderful person and a legend in our motorsport world. Go in peace Gil."

“Gil was beloved by so many," said IndyCar team orner Roger Penske. "He was a great friend to the Team Penske IndyCar family, as well as the entire international motorsports community. Gil’s passing is a terrible loss. He will be deeply missed.”

(L to R): Gil de Ferran (BRA) McLaren Consultant with Felipe Massa (BRA) FIA Drivers' Commission President. 05.11.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 21, Brazilian Grand Prix, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Race Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Coates / XPB Images

“It is heartbreaking to learn of the loss of Gil de Ferran," added Mark Miles, president and CEO of the Penske Group. "His accomplishments on the racetrack were significant.

"But I, along with so many in our paddock, were fortunate to know how wonderful he was as a person. Gil was a true IndyCar ambassador whose charm and wit were second to none. Our condolences are with the de Ferran family."

“Gil de Ferran was an Indianapolis 500 winner who has always represented the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing’ with pure class," said Indianapolis Motor Speedway president J. Douglas Boles.

(L to R): Gil de Ferran (BRA) McLaren Sporting Director with Fernando Alonso (ESP) McLaren. 29.03.2019. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 2, Bahrain Grand Prix, Sakhir, Bahrain, Practice Day -, EMail: - copy of publication required for printed pictures. Every used picture is fee-liable. © Copyright: Batchelor / XPB Images

A true champion in open-wheel racing, Gil's thrilling win at Indianapolis put an exclamation point on his tremendous career.

"It was always a highlight every May when Gil would return to the Speedway, where he always spent time with fans and friends. We were fortunate to honor him and celebrate the 20th anniversary of his win this past May.

"Our hearts and deepest sympathies go to Angela, their children and all his family and friends.”

As tributes for Gil de Ferran pour in on social media, all of us at F1i also wish to send our sincere condolences to Gil's friends and family at this time.

Keep up to date with all the F1 news via Facebook and Twitter