By The Associated Press
Gil de Ferran is ready to embark on the new challenge he set for himself since leaving last summer as sporting director for Honda Formula One.
The 2003 Indianapolis 500 winner and two-time CART champion will get back into the cockpit this weekend, co-driving an Acura ARX-01b with Simon Pagenaud in the American Le Mans Series race at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah.
It will also mark the debut of de Ferran Motorsports.
"Considering this started as a conversation about a potential race team only a few of months ago, it is quite emotional to witness what has happened and see it evolve, develop and become reality," the 40-year-old de Ferran said.
"I was in the workshop (in Brownsburg, Ind.) last week and we had all our mechanics engineers and technicians there," the Brazilian said. "We had more than 20 people working incredibly hard inside a facility which didn't exist a couple of months ago. The car was finished, the new truck had arrived and, suddenly, it really hit me: Wow, this is for real.'
"All our guys on the team have been working extremely long hours and pulled out a superhuman effort for the Sebring test."
De Ferran watched close friend David Brabham and past open-wheel rivals Adrian Fernandez and Bryan Herta driving the Acura machines in 2007. Hearing how much fun the LMP2 cars were to drive convinced de Ferran to see about getting back behind the wheel.
He worked with Acura and Honda Performance Development officials to form his new team and announced his new operation at Sebring, Fla., in January. De Ferran then hired racing veteran John Anderson to direct his new program as general manager.
"We have been very fortunate that our program seems to have generated quite a bit of interest within the industry," said de Ferran, who found sponsorship from Panasonic ELS. "We have a very experienced group of guys who come from a variety of backgrounds. We have a lot to learn, but I feel we have a very good group together."
A test at Sebring last month was the first time de Ferran had driven a race car since he retired from Team Penske following the 2003 season.
"Obviously, getting the team set up has taken a huge amount of my time," de Ferran said. "But now I am starting to concentrate on becoming a racing driver again. I have been working very hard on my fitness -- both physical and mental fitness -- to prepare myself to get back behind the wheel."
BUSCH BEST: Kyle Busch crushed the competition on the track and in the ballots as the first quarter winner in the 2008 Driver of the Year balloting.
The 23-year-old won a total seven races in NASCAR's top-three series -- Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Craftsman Trucks -- the quarter that ended before his most recent victory last Saturday night at Darlington.
Despite his fast start to the season, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver was surprised by the honor.
"Completely unexpected," he said. "We've just been going out and driving as hard as we can every week and really having a lot of fun doing it. We go out and race for wins and race for trophies, but to also get this kind of recognition for what we've been doing is pretty special."
The award is voted on by a national panel of motorsports writers and broadcasters and Busch was listed first on 14 of the 17 ballots. He was no lower than third on the others and had a total of 142 points.
Fellow NASCAR star Carl Edwards was second with one first-place vote and 72 points, while Danica Patrick, who drives for Andretti Green Racing in the IRL IndyCar Series, had two first-place votes and 51 points after becoming the first woman to win an IndyCar race.
Ashley Force, daughter of 1996 Driver of the Year John Force, was fourth in the voting with 49 points. She beat her father two weeks ago in the finals at the NHRA weekend in Atlanta, becoming the first woman to win a Funny Car event.
A total of 17 drivers scored points in the first-quarter voting, including fifth place Jason Meyers. He won three of the first six races in the World of Outlaws.
BACK IN INDIANA: Paul Newman, Oscar-winning actor and co-owner of Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, plans to be on hand for the May 25 Indianapolis 500, the first time he has attended the big race since the rivalry between CART and the Indy Racing League began in 1996.
Newman, whose team was in CART, which later became the Champ Car World Series, refused to attend Indy, the IRL's showcase, during that period. Now that the two American open-wheel series have unified under the IRL IndyCar Series umbrella, the 83-year-old Newman is back, and happy about it.
"It (unification) was absolutely necessary for both groups," Newman said while at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last weekend for the opening of qualifications. "It's tragic that it didn't happen sooner, but it's good that it at least happened when it did.
"It's good to be back at Indianapolis," he added. "It brings back a lot of fond memories. We've won eight (CART/Champ Car) championships and come in second twice at Indianapolis, but never won The 500. It's wonderful to be running against Roger (Penske) and (Bobby) Rahal, and Michael (Andretti) and all those guys. It's comfortable."
Newman said he is hoping that, now that everyone is on the same page, that open-wheel racing can begin making a strong comeback.
"My favorite tradition (at Indy) was that it took a whole month," Newman said. "Indy started at the first of May and you had your reservation at the (speedway) motel. If you wanted (the room) for two days, you took it for the whole month or you wouldn't get it. We're going to work hard to get it back to that."
FRENCH GP: The 2008 French Grand Prix could be the last one at Magny-Cours.
Formula One chief executive Bernie Ecclestone said in an interview published Monday in L'Equipe that next year's race could move to Paris -- or won't happen at all if a new venue isn't found in time.
"The problem is Magny-Cours, it's not the French Grand Prix," Ecclestone said. "The concern is the location."
Ecclestone has previously said that Magny-Cours, located in the Burgundy region about 155 miles southeast of Paris, is not up to Formula One standards and that the French GP should be held closer to the capital.
This year will be "the last where we continue like this," he said.
Ecclestone said he was in discussion with French Prime Minister Francois Fillon about a new location for the race.
After Fillon and Ecclestone met last year, the prime minister's office said three locations -- the towns of Versailles and Evry and a site near Disneyland Paris east of the capital -- were being considered as venues.
By The Associated Press