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October 12, 2003

Gil de Ferran


MODERATOR: We have the winner today of the Chevy 500, Gil de Ferran with us. Gil, is there any way that the weekend could have been more memorable for you to end an outstanding career on the pole and to win the race.

GIL DE FERRAN: Well, I guess certainly to win the championship would have been like the best thing that could have happened to me. I guess not having that unfortunate accident there with Kenny and Tomas right at the end, there's a lot of concern on my part there. But for me talking about my four years with Team Penske and I guess eight or nine years here in America, it's just been an amazing time. And closing out with a victory is really incredible. I feel very grateful and very fortunate to be able to do what I do and experience the emotions that I have been able to experience over the years. It's really been a wonderful journey, I have to say. And finishing this way with a pole position and a victory and nearly a championship is something that I will carry with me for many years to come.

MODERATOR: This is your fifth career win and you did end up finishing in second place in the final point standings. In the middle part of the race it looked like for any chance of victory might be dashed. Just talk about that and what was going through your mind then.

GIL DE FERRAN: I had a couple of very close calls. One with Tora, which he kind of swerved in front of me, and we nearly touched, and he was nearly a huge mess coming off of there, too. But thankfully nothing happened either to him or to me. And then when Scott and Felipe touched with Felipe on the outside wall there, I was trying to avoid him while he was sliding down the racetrack, we ended up his nose I think touched my left rear and nearly spun me around. So I was going down the grass at 200 miles an hour thinking, "Okay, this is not much fun". I have to say at one point I was concerned I was going to end up in pit lane. Thankfully none of that happened. There was no damage to the car, but a few square tires. At first I was concerned that there might have been suspension damage because the car was feeling funny, but I guess it was too much shudder on the rear tires. We stopped and the guys looked over the car very carefully, and they found out that everything was fine. And from there on really I fell to the back of the pack because of all that. So I really concentrated hard on saving fuel. I was trying to take as few risks as I could and save as much fuel as I could at that point during the race because I knew if I did that, then my last stop was going to be very short and that could have made the difference in the race. As the lead guys started to come into the pits for fuel, I turned the heat back on, put the car back to full fuel and started turning 2:20, 2:21 laps again and went for the lead and had a fantastically fast pit stop and came out in the lead there. So it all worked out just great. I think it was another great strategy by Roger, certainly triggered by the incident. It was a very well called race and the pit stops were just right. And the car was very fast.

Q. When you felt the vibration and you had the broken wheel, did you really think at that point you were toast, that you weren't going to be able to win?

GIL DE FERRAN: I did because I actually thought it was a toe link, a rear toe link because the car felt like it was grabbing a little bit, something is not real quite right here. In that situation for them to change toe link, you get probably about four to five laps down. And by that point your race is done. I thought that was it. But I came in twice, and twice they looked at everything and they said, "Nope, everything is okay". It's just the tires and that wheel. From there on we just continued.

Q. And also when you saw the scene of Kenny Brack's crash, did you think in the back of your mind, "I'm making the right decision to leave this sport."?

GIL DE FERRAN: Well, no. To be honest most of my concern was with Kenny at that point. Certainly you didn't have to look too closely to realize there was no catch fencing. The catch fencing was gone on the outside. It was a horrific scene. Accidents are an unfortunate side of our sport. Unfortunately I've been in the middle of some myself. I have witnessed some very bad accidents during my lifetime in auto racing. And unfortunately this wasn't the first one, and it's not going to be the last one. But on another note, I've known Kenny for many many years. We used to race together in Europe back in the late '80s, early '90s. So I know him very well and I really -- really my thoughts and my prayers are with him that he makes a full recovery. Certainly it turns your stomach to see a scene like that. That's for sure.

Q. Do you really have kind of mixed emotions going through there thinking, "Wow, I'm going to win this race, my last one", and what was just going through your mind at that point?

GIL DE FERRAN: Yeah. For sure. My heart was being pulled every sort of different direction. To be honest I should be a lot more jubilant and smiling than I am right now, but it's hard to be that way when you have one of your colleagues involved in an accident like that. Like I said, from an emotional standpoint it's hard because I'm sort of being pulled every single different direction here. It's the last race. I won. It was a big crash. So I apologize, I guess, for being a little somber.

Q. Other than the Indy 500, can you now look back a little and pick out a highlight in your career?

GIL DE FERRAN: I guess the highlights of my career as I see it, they are not really the results. The highlights of my career as I see it is the people that I have worked with and the people that came into my life over the years. I would say that that's the highlight of not only my career, but of my life. I've been very fortunate that some very nice and great people have come into my life and have helped me shape into what I am. And have helped me as a professional and as a person. So I would say that that's really the highlight of my career.

Q. I'm curious, what did you guys find? You haven't been great on the mile and a half track. What did you guys find that made you so strong this weekend?

GIL DE FERRAN: Well, I have to give most of the credit for that to Helio. We've been sort of gaining a feel for how to make these cars fast. In this type of track, we did a three day test in Kansas earlier this year. As you recall I was really competitive in Kansas. To be honest we seemed to have lost our way a little bit, but I felt he was kind of making a little bit of progress. He was a little more competitive than me the last couple of races on this type of racetrack. That's certainly because he had a much higher mathematical chance for me to win in the championship, we decided to concentrate on him for this race. So he came here for a two-day test and came out with a great setup. And I simply bolted on his setup on my car, and that's when I did about three laps and the found that I was able to go wide open, very fast. I came out of the car after that first practice session and said, "Helio, you really did a great job, the car was that good, easy to drive, fast". From there on it was really just polishing it a little bit to suit my driving style a little bit more and my engineering, Tom did a really good job choosing the gears for the qualifying and also for the race. It was very much a team effort. I hope, I really hope that the team can carry their form on this type of track going forward because Helio was also competitive.

Q. When you woke up this morning, is that when it finally hit you that this is it? Or is it more so now?

GIL DE FERRAN: I guess it's hitting me right now actually more than any other time. Coming out of the car -- and I'm sure it's going to hit me even stronger tonight when I take these overalls off and -- I might wear it again just for photographs, but to wear it again as a driver, I guess this will be the last time. I think it's slowly dawning on me here because I have to tell you that this morning I was still focused on the race. In fact, I should apologize to Gary, because he came on to interview me just before the race started. I must have sounded awful because, it was, "Yeah, okay, yeah, thank you very much". With the interview, I said nothing, I just want to race. But that's very much what I've been -- it's been hard to exercise that sort of control. I think one has to do that to be able to race well. It's not a good thing, I think, to race as an emotional wreck. But now I can allow myself to be an emotional wreck.

End of FastScripts...

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