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Remembering Gil de Ferran

It was a cold wet September afternoon. It was freezing, an icy wind was blowing through the Northamptonshire countryside, and an old well had just broken through the surface of the brand new oval Rockingham Speedway, causing carnage as the first Rockingham 500 was due to start. 


It was a nightmare for the organisers, it left only a shortened race able to be run, as all major practise and qualifying was cancelled due to the water seeping through the track.


However, none of this mattered for me, a young seven-year-old in the stands, as I was about to watch my first ever race, and was relatively unphased by the issues playing out in front of me, such was my excitement for the race to start.  


I had always been an oval racing fan, unusual for someone from England, however I was well aware of who was on the front row, points leader Kenny Brack was joined by the legendary reigning CART Champion Gil de Ferran.


I was totally star struck, I vividly remember seeing the Penske colours flash past for the first time, with de Ferran and compatriot Helio Castroneves taking centre stage. But that day, de Ferran was on a mission, he and Brack were neck and neck as the season drew to its conclusion and every point counted.


Despite its limited run, it was an excellent race, with de Ferran and Brack lapping sometimes seconds faster than anyone else on track, as they vied for the win, de Ferran holding off the Swede with momentous skill.


The way he drove was a joy to watch, you could see how smooth he was behind the wheel, eking out a gap while navigating backmarkers.


But, with two laps to go, de Ferran lost his momentum as he was blocked by a backmarker and Brack was through, a huge swing in the title race was on.


The moment the switch happened, de Ferran changed, it was incredible to watch the whole body language of the car change as the hunted became the hunter.


Despite this, it looked as though it was all over, however with one corner to go, de Ferran, in my mind anyway, completed one of the great overtakes of all time. With Brack online, defending expertly into Turn 4, de Ferran saw a gap round the outside and squeezed passed with little more than inches to spare, to take the win in the final corner. The crowd went wild, as did I. I had such respect for the duo as they put on one of the best races I have ever seen, and what I loved most, was the respect they had for each other. 


Gil spoke with such admiration of Kenny following their dual, which Kenny reciprocated. It showed what Gil was all about, a feared driver on the track, but a wonderful person off it.

When I first started writing for Gripping, I created multiple articles looking at each driver who competed in my first ever race, and Gil was the first driver being the winner. Despite my love of writing, and Gil, I was nervous, I wanted the reader to share my passion for these drivers but more importantly I wanted to do each driver proud, and for them to, if they ever saw it, like my work.


I remember posting Gil’s article for the first time and within hours he had liked and retweeted my work, something no driver had done before. I appreciated it was a five second action for him, and I highly doubt he ever got anywhere near to even looking into what it was, but the confidence he gave me was huge.


We all woke up on the 30th December to the news, and I, like many others were filled with great sadness, the motorsport world has lost a true great and will certainly be lesser for it.



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