De Ferran beats pain barrier

Gil de Ferran lowered himself into the driving seat of his Penske IRL car knowing that the next 500 miles of driving would be among the toughest of his life. His shoulders throbbed with pain, and the Brazilian knew that it was only going to get worse once he started hurtling around the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway at over 230mph

De Ferran beats pain barrier

Just over three hours later, de Ferran gingerly climbed out of his car, with the pain now joined by a very different set of sensations: relief, pleasure, joy, triumph. With no evidence of his suffering visible in his driving, de Ferran had won the biggest race of them all, the Indianapolis 500. It was a quite remarkable turnaround.

It began in the closing laps of the IRL IndyCar Series race at Phoenix, when Michael Andretti made contact with de Ferran. Once both drivers had touched, contact with the wall was inevitable, and at the speed IRL cars travel at guaranteed that it was never going to be pleasant. When his car struck the wall, de Ferran suffered a concussion and serious back injuries.

The Brazilian, who in his head had already decided to retire at the end of the season, sat out of the next race in Motegi, but returned to the car in time to practice for Indy. "I've always dreamed of winning this race," explained de Ferran after the event. "This is one of the most prestigious prizes in motorsports."

De Ferran was in contention for most of the day, displaying the same coolness and consistency that drove him to two CART titles. But the pain was ever-present. "My shoulders started cramping halfway through the race," he said. "It was getting more and more painful and more and more difficult to block it out."

It may have been difficult, but de Ferran did an amazing job of fighting through the pain barrier. 30 laps from the finish, the Brazilian passed his friend and team-mate Helio Castroneves for the lead, and then withstood intense pressure over the closing laps.

In victory lane, de Ferran showed his true emotions to the wider world for the first time in the whole month of May. After slowly regaining his composure, he then enjoyed the traditional post-race swig of milk before joining Castroneves on a climb up the Indy fence.

De Ferran retired at the end of the season, closing his career with victory in his final race at Texas, and finishing second in the IRL points race. It was a remarkable end to a remarkable career.

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