Getty Images

Gil de Ferran, one of Brazil's most accomplished racers and the 2003 Indianapolis 500 champion, died Friday afternoon after suffering a fatal heart attack at the Concours Club private course in Opa-Locka, Fla. He was 56.

Twenty years ago, when de Ferran won the Indy 500, it marked a third straight win for Team Penske at the iconic Memorial Day weekend race.

"We are terribly saddened to hear about today's tragic passing of Gil de Ferran. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Angela, Anna, Luke and the entire de Ferran family," Roger Penske said in a statement. "Gil defined class as a driver and as a gentleman. As an IndyCar Champion and an Indianapolis 500 winner, Gil accomplished so much during his career, both on and off the track."

According to the Associated Press, de Ferran had been racing with his son Luke when he pulled over and said he did not feel well. He then went into cardiac arrest and could not be revived.

Following in the footsteps of other successful countrymen in racing, namely Emerson Fittipaldi, de Ferran began his own career in pursuit of reaching Formula One, eventually winning the 1992 championship in Formula Three before reaching the International Formula 3000 level and testing for the Footwork Arrows F1 team. But with no F1 ride available to him by the mid-1990s, de Ferran instead pursued open-wheel racing in the United States, signing on to drive for Hall/VDS Racing in IndyCar starting in 1995.

de Ferran won Rookie of the Year honors in 1995 and earned his first career win at Cleveland in 1996, but it would not be until the turn of the millennium that de Ferran's career truly took off. After breaking a three-year winless streak while driving for Walker Racing in 1999, de Ferran signed with Team Penske for the 2000 season and would earn back-to-back CART Championship Series titles in 2000 and 2001.

One of de Ferran's greatest highlights came just ahead of the final race of his championship season in 2000: During qualifying for the season finale at California Speedway, de Ferran posted a lap of 241.428 MPH, setting the closed course record for the fastest lap ever recorded. As of December 2023, de Ferran's record still stands more than 20 years later.

When Team Penske switched from CART to the Indy Racing League for the 2002 season, de Ferran followed and eventually earned his greatest triumph: Despite breaking his back in a crash at Phoenix, de Ferran would win the 2003 Indianapolis 500 after passing teammate Helio Castroneves with 31 laps to go and leading a Penske 1-2 finish. de Ferran would retire from racing following the 2003 season but came out of retirement to compete in the American Le Mans Series in the late 2000s, eventually finishing second in the LMP1 class in 2009.

While he never competed in F1, de Ferran would end up serving in managerial roles for F1 teams, including as the sports director of BAR-Honda and as the sporting director for McLaren. Earlier this year, de Ferran had re-joined McLaren in a consultant advisory role.

Gil de Ferran is survived by his wife Angela, son Luke, and daughter Ana, who now works as a DJ at Formula One races.