Gil de Ferran - Release questions
When did you first start formulating this American Le Mans Series program?
Since leaving my role as Sporting Director at Honda F1 in the UK last summer, I've taken some time out to consider various options and to plan what I want to do with my life and my professional career. I went back to America a few times to refresh my memory on the racing scene in the States. Notably, I went to the IndyCar and American Le Mans Series race at Detroit, saw a lot of old friends and stirred up some old emotions. During the later part of last year, I started talking to Robert Clarke, then president of Honda Performance Development, about some potential opportunities. But it was after exhaustive consideration by both sides, exploring various possible scenarios that I'm very happy to say we were able to conclude this long-term deal for me to set up a team in the American Le Mans Series with Acura's support. I find the series and the technology in this type of racing very appealing, relevant and exciting. In 2008, we will contest the American Le Mans Series with Acura in the LMP2 class.
How confident are you of creating a new team to compete successfully against proven American Le Mans Series winners such as Penske Racing and Andretti Green Racing?
I gained considerable management experience while working as Sporting Director at Honda F1, and always had an active interest in how a successful team operates when driving for top outfits such as Penske. As in most other companies, a racing team is all about the people you hire. I don't pretend to know everything. There's always a lot to learn and, unquestionably, I will be relying on the skills of those around me to make our team fully competitive. I'm confident, though, that we can create an environment where people feel comfortable and motivated, where they can flourish and, as a consequence, produce results.
How advanced are your plans and when can we expect to see De Ferran Motorsport on the American Le Mans Series grid?
We are certainly under the gun. I've already employed a general manager, John Anderson. Those familiar with motor racing in the States will know his pedigree. He has a wealth of experience and last year was an integral part of the group that took Dario Franchitti to the IndyCar driving title and victory at the Indianapolis 500 with Andretti Green Racing. John and I are now working flat-out to get the right people in place. It's going to be a huge challenge, but one that we are relishing. We will take delivery of the car soon after the 12 Hours of Sebring (March 15) and we are hoping to race sometime before mid-season, as soon as we are fully prepared.
How many people are you recruiting and where will the team be based?
Our business model is for a number that will hover around 15 to 20 people and we are looking for premises in Indianapolis. It's the perfect location, as the city has a very well-developed motor sport community, with a lot of skilled and experienced personnel living in the area, which will help us to recruit the right people. The suppliers' network is also very well developed and, frankly, Indianapolis is a city that really supports racing, so it will be a great place to be.
Is this a learning year in preparation for a full-scale title challenge in 2009?
Clearly, we are on a big push to put the team together so that we can hit the ground running as soon as possible. I don't want to make any predictions and I don't have any specific timelines in my head. I know the competition is very strong and it is going to be a tough year, but whenever I enter a race it is with the intention of winning, which, unfortunately, doesn't always happen! However, we have to be realistic and it is sure to take a little time to find our feet.
How hard will it be to combine team management with racing the car?
In the past I have said it would be difficult to do both, so I recognize it's going to be a major challenge. However, I'm confident that, having had several discussions with Acura and thought about it carefully, I can set the team up with right infrastructure to allow me to perform both roles to the maximum of my ability.
Having retired from driving at the end of 2003, what makes you want to return to the cockpit in 2008 and was that part of deal with Honda?
There have been moments when I missed driving, and those moments have come with different frequency. I certainly missed the thrill of pushing myself and a car to the limit - that is something that is hard to replace. Even though I've been out of the cockpit for four years, I'm doing my very best to regain my form and fitness. If I'm able to do that, then hopefully, I'll be competitive. These prototypes are high-downforce, high-grip machines, and not unlike the cars I was accustomed to racing. I'm fully focused and confident I'll be competitive. As always, my aim is to be the fastest guy out there.
Do you have a short-list of potential drivers and have you started talking to anyone?
I have some ideas, but I am not going to share them yet. But I can tell you that I'm looking for the fastest possible driver I can lay my hands on! It's important for the team to have someone who's super-quick, and that's true for me, too. Having been away from the cockpit, it's important to know I'm on the pace.
These must be exciting times for you.
Yes, in many ways it's a dream come true. This is a fantastic opportunity - moreso as it's in partnership with Acura, a company I know so well and which has such an unrivalled motorsport pedigree in so many different disciplines worldwide. The challenge is enormous, but that makes it all the more exciting and, hopefully, rewarding.