De Ferran Motorsports' debut in the American Le Mans Series is getting closer and closer each day. The newest member of the Acura Motorsports stable will make its highly anticipated first start at next week's Larry H. Miller Dealerships Utah Grand Prix presented by the Grand and Little America Hotels. Image Credit: Acura Motorsports
Gil de Ferran Brings Open-Wheel Spirit To ALMS
The only thing constant in life is change … and this saying applies to the recent commitments made by stand-out open-wheel racing champion Gil de Ferran.
Still known for being the driver that posted the fastest qualifying lap ever recorded on a closed course at slightly over 242 mph, California Speedway; Gil wants to bring his brand of competition to the discipline of racing team management as a driver/owner.
A little over three months ago, Gil announced the formation of his own team, De Ferran Motorsports, which will campaign an Acura ARX-01b in the American Le Mans Series. De Ferran confirmed details of the program in Long Beach over Grand Prix weekend, naming Frenchman, and CCWS refugee, Simon Pagenaud as his co-driver and Panasonic as the car's primary sponsor.
Gil de Ferran will make his American Le Mans Series debut as a team owner and driver with Simon Pagenaud next week. Image Credit: ALMS website
The team will be making its race debut at the next round in Salt Lake City at the Larry H Miller Dealerships Utah Grand Prix presented by The Grand and Little America Hotels, May 16-18, 1PM MDT.
Unification in the open-wheel racing series has opened up additional opportunities for young good drivers that were not able to make the transition either because the team they were attached to couldn’t make it over to compete in the Indy Car Series, or due to the timing of the merger, just got caught out.
So where does one apply the unique talent and experience of driving really fast cars in competition and one does not have a ride at Indy? Why the American Le Mans Series, of course.
"These are really single-seaters with bodywork," Gil added. "They are high horsepower, high downforce cars. They're relatively light. The brakes have a very high capacity. For example at Sebring, we were pulling just over four Gs under braking through the hairpin, which is not dissimilar to what happens in an open-wheel car. To me, that's fascinating. To drive one of these cars quick is a huge challenge. And you can see it in the lap times. They are very close and sometimes faster than some open-wheel cars."
Here, at The EDJE, we will add the obvious ending tag to de Ferran’s statement … especially the IndyCar Series Dallara’s!
"It all came flooding back to me," de Ferran said of his first Acura test. "I ultimately had all those files stored up there and ready for retrieval." Image Credit: The Race Forums
This excerpted from The Race Forums -
De Ferran Motorsports gearing up for race debut
John Dagys, The Race Forums - 04-30-2008, 06:45 PM
Gil de Ferran has enjoyed a storied career behind the wheel of open-wheel machinery. But after retiring from driving in 2003, the two-time CART Champion and Indianapolis 500 winner sought a new challenge in sports car racing, also itching to get back in the cockpit.
De Ferran's arrival adds yet another world-class name to the arsenal of stars that have made the transition to sports car racing. The likable Brazilian began racing in go-karts at age 14 before moving to England to race professionally. There, he won the British F3 Championship title in 1992 and was on the fast track to Formula One. De Ferran stepped into Paul Stewart Racing's Formula 3000 operation for two years. But in 1995, he moved to the U.S. to race in CART.
De Ferran claimed Rookie of the Year honors that year, winning his first of seven CART races. He also went on to claim two championships in his seven-year span in the series. De Ferran then moved full-time to the IRL IndyCar Series in 2002, following team owner Roger Penske. In his two seasons there, he pocketed five wins, including the 2003 Indianapolis 500 and his final IndyCar start at Texas Motor Speedway.
After spending one year in the announcer's booth helping call IndyCar races for ABC/ESPN, de Ferran moved back to Europe to serve as the sporting director for the BAR Honda F1 team. He held that position until 2007 before taking up his new challenge in the ALMS.
"I was in the workshop last week and we had all our mechanics, engineers and technicians there.”, [said de Ferran]. We had more than 20 people working incredibly hard inside a facility, which didn’t exist a couple of months ago. The car was nearly finished, the new truck had arrived and it suddenly really hit me – wow, this is for real."
De Ferran faces a unique situation in not only making sure the car is ready for action, but also confirming the team is up to par to contend in the highly competitive LMP2 category. With relatively short notice, De Ferran has assembled a high caliber organization, led by former Andretti Green team manager John Anderson. But there's still an unknown factor given much of the crew are new to the series' unique procedures and regulations.
One of the new faces is Simon Pagenaud. While he may be a rookie to the ALMS, Pagenaud is no stranger to success. The 23-year-old Frenchman got his start in European karting series before making his mark in the open-wheel ranks. He competed in various Formula Renault championships, and then moved stateside in 2006 to compete in Champ Car Atlantics.
Pagenaud won the Atlantics championship in his rookie season and rocketed to the Champ Car World Series the following year. There, he picked up eight top-six finishes, driving for Derrick Walker's Team Australia squad. As 2008 dawned with a unified open-wheel series, Pagenaud opted to move to sports cars, joining de Ferran's squad.
"I am really delighted to get this opportunity," Pagenaud said. "It is not every day that a two-time CART Champion and Indy 500 winner calls and says he wants you to be his co-driver.
At age 23, Pagenaud becomes the youngest driver in the four-team Acura squad. He joins the likes of Adrian Fernandez, Christian Fittipaldi, Bryan Herta and Scott Sharp as ex-open-wheel stars turned Acura ALMS racers.
"I think it is going to be a fantastic combination with Gil," Pagenaud said. "His is the type of person who doesn’t do anything less than 100 percent, so I think it is going to be great."
"It is really big picture objective, but we have to keep our eye on the ball and concentrate on the issues we will have to face," de Ferran said. "We'll navigate those waters carefully. The road to nirvana is not always in a straight line. To walk that road well, you really have to be paying a lot of attention on the day-to-day and concentrating on each decision you make." Image Credit: ALMS website
"My old friends at Walker Racing spoke very highly of him," de Ferran said. "Once I met Simon, I found him to be very a very impressive young man.
Simon is also a very young guy and has already had some good results. Hopefully, however, he is yet to reach his full potential."
Another factor, as de Ferran mentioned, was age. At age 40, de Ferran knows he isn’t going to race forever and wants to develop a new crop of drivers that will grow with his team.
"As a team, we can develop together," de Ferran said. "For de Ferran Motorsports, it is also important to have some young talent on board. I am looking forward getting back behind the wheel but I won't be driving forever.
Another new element both de Ferran and Pagenaud will face is the co-driver aspect. Compromise is often the name of the game when it comes to car setup in endurance racing.
"I think it is going to be important for Gil and me to get used to the car and develop a set-up that suits us both," Pagenaud said. "We are going to have to try and not be too selfish. It is not just about our own performance – it is what we achieve together. It will be vital to develop a good consistent race car. This is more important than just the qualifying pace."
While de Ferran said he doesn’t have any specific goals for the team's first year in the series, the Brazilian is eyeing long-term success down the road. de Ferran hopes the team's debut in Salt Lake City in two weeks will only be a small part of things to come.
... notes from The EDJE