CHAMPCAR/CART: Adrian Fernandez Enjoys the Fast Life

Fernandez Enjoys the Fast Life - by Robin Miller The two-time Motegi winner celebrates his win in low-key style. A few hours after chewing up the competition at Twin Ring Motegi, Adrian Fernandez was munching on a hamburger at a Japanese ...

Fernandez Enjoys the Fast Life - by Robin Miller

The two-time Motegi winner celebrates his win in low-key style. A few hours after chewing up the competition at Twin Ring Motegi, Adrian Fernandez was munching on a hamburger at a Japanese fast-food restaurant while he waited on the bullet train to take him back to Tokyo. "Aye, muchacho, this is the glamorous part of racing isn't it?" he chuckled while downing a double cheesburger.

The victory dinner wasn't glamorous and, other than his buddies Mark Blundell and teammate P.J. Jones, nobody in the busy Utsunomiya Station had any idea who this happy guy in the Tecate hat was. And that's pretty much been the storyline of Fernandez's CART career.

You know--part of the scenery. He's not an eye-opener like Greg Moore, a breath-taker like Robby Gordon or even a controversial charger like Paul Tracy.

No, from his even-keeled personality to his steady driving, Fernandez had done little to distinguish himself from the pack in the FedEx Championship.

That changed in 1998, when he got hooked up with Jim McGee, John Ward and Patrick Racing.

Since then, Fernandez has become one of the F words in CART. As in factor. Be it super speedways, road courses, short ovals and street circuits ..... not only is Fernandez usually in the hunt, many times he's been on point. "The kid made it to a new plateau last year," said McGee, one of the oldest and wisest mechanical men in CART's paddock. Fernandez's victory last Sunday was McGee's 85th and pulled him even with George Bignotti for the all-time lead. He doesn't crack under pressure and he knows how to win.

"Lots of guys can drive fast, but it's those ingredients that set a driver apart."

McGee wasn't taking credit for teaching Fernandez how to drive or even how to get up front. The 32-year-old Mexican showed he had the capability when he won four Indy Lights races in 1992 and when he held off Alex Zanardi for his first CART win in 1996 at Toronto.

But, between driving for a team that didn't believe in him (Galles Racing) and being saddled with the uncompetitive Lola in 1997, Fernandez struggled for the right stuff. It's called chemistry.

"It's so important, more than anybody can realize," said Fernandez, who held off Al Unser Jr. to win the inagural show at Motegi in '98, kicked butt at Mid-Ohio in August last season and wound up fourth in the PPG point standings, "I've learned so much from Jim and John and we work so well together."

"The team is so solid, our pits stops are excellent and everybody is just clicking. It's a great feeling."

Ward, another road warrior who spent some good years with Dan Gurney, admits he didn't have any preconceived opinion of Fernandez when they were coupled in '98.

"I try never to do that," said Ward. "But I can say that I've never seen a driver who works harder or who is faster than Adrian. He's got a tremendous work ethic and I think it shows."

Whether it's driving his shifter kart between races to stay sharp, working out, studying films or trying to eat the right foods, Fernandez leaves nothing to chance until the green flag drops.

"He's so dedicated to the sport," said McGee, who helped kick start Mario Andretti's career. "He's a detail guy and he's very talented ... it's a great combination."

Fernandez adds, "I've worked very hard to prepare myself, mentally and physically."

The old preparation meets opportunity formula has never been more evident than the first two races of '99. Abandoning the Swift chassis just before the Homestead opener, Fernandez found himself in a '98 Reynard and on the outside of the front row after qualifying. An oil leak sent him into the wall in the race. He came to Japan with a '97 Reynard tub, '98 sidepods and '99 suspension.

He was fastest in every practice session, didn't have the right gear for qualifying and wound up fourth but blew everybody away in the race--leading 153 of the 201 laps.

When asked in the post-race press conference if the fast 1.5-mile Twin Ring oval suited his style, Fernandez smiled and replied, "Well, as a driver I'd like to think my style should be good anywhere."

Which is exactly what's happened. The kid with the Tecate Beer money might be labeled a ride buyer by some, but you can't buy a victory in CART's ultra-competitive atmosphere. There's no price tag on running 200 mph for two hours, dodging traffic, fending off Andretti, Moore, Franchitti, de Ferran, Vasser and remaining cool under fire.

"Adrian is his own guy and he's under control," said McGee. "You can see that in the fact that he doesn't make a mistake near the end. He knows how to finish."

And he's starting to get pretty good at this celebration stuff too.

Robin Miller

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Robby Gordon , Al Unser Jr. , Adrian Fernandez , Alex Zanardi , Dan Gurney , P.J. Jones , Greg Moore , Robin Miller