CHAMPCAR/CART: Adrian Fernandez interview (excerpts)

Ford Racing driver Adrian Fernandez, in his eighth season in the FedEx Championship Series, claimed his sixth career Champ Car victory in last Sunday's Rio 200. Fernandez, who started the Rio 200 from the 16th position, became the third driver...

Ford Racing driver Adrian Fernandez, in his eighth season in the FedEx Championship Series, claimed his sixth career Champ Car victory in last Sunday's Rio 200. Fernandez, who started the Rio 200 from the 16th position, became the third driver in as many races to claim a victory from a starting position in the back of the grid. Fellow Ford Racing driver Max Papis claimed victory from the 13th position and Paul Tracy came from the 17th position to claim victory in Long Beach. Sunday's victory also gives Fernandez wins in four of the five countries the CART series competes in (Brazil - Rio in 2000, Canada - Toronto in 1996, United States -Mid-Ohio in 1997 and California in 1999, and Japan - Motegi in 1998,99).

CAN YOU DESCRIBE A LAP AT MOTEGI?

ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: "Motegi is basically a very simple track. When you go into Turn one you take it flat out. I like to keep my car tight on the inside. It's a bit bumpy in the exit of turn two and I let the car drift out to the wall. Into turn three you begin to brake. The braking isn't too hard, and then you downshift one time. Then basically you put the power down as soon as you can into the exit coming into the main straight. That's very important to keep the momentum. The most important thing is to have your car balanced which we have had over the last two years."

HOW HARD IS IT TO PASS PEOPLE ON THE TRACK?

AF: "With the new wing package we have this year, I think it's better. The passing, I think, was similar to what it was the last two years. But watching the race last night it was quite an exciting race. There were quite few passes. The long straight allows you to draft behind people and pass. There were some opportunities but it is never easy to pass but that goes with every single track. The only problem at (Rio) is that the track is a bit dirty because they don't use it throughout the year. If that track was used the whole year I think it would be even more exciting because you could use different lines. If you were to go off line it was really difficult because you lost your grip."

THE SERIES HAS BECOME SO COMPETITIVE AND EVERYONE TALKS ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF QUALIFYING ON THE FRONT THREE ROWS. THIS YEAR, ALL THE WINNERS HAVE COME FROM SO FAR BACK. DO YOU HAVE ANY EXPLANATION FOR THAT?

AF: "In the first race we had a lot of attrition and that helped the winner. In the second race there was some of that too. Some of the top drivers running strong had problems. If the luck runs with you, you have the right strategy and the yellow come at the right time for you can make it happen. And that's what makes this series exciting. In Long Beach for instance, if the drivers who have qualified up front don't brake, then it's very hard to do that. In Rio, we gained a lot of positions by staying out in the track during the first round of pit stops. We stretched our fuel window and conserved a lot of fuel. So when we came into the pits we were 13th and when we came out we were seventh because I could go two to three laps more than the guys who pitted earlier. That's the key to those type of tracks."

DOES THE ATTRITION HAVE TO DO ANYTHING WITH THE NEW MOTORS?

AF: "Rio is a very hard track on the gearboxes because it is very rough. The back straight is very hard and it hard on equipment. It's just so early in the season that some of the manufacturers are having engine and chassis problems which always happens a little bit in the beginning of the season, but as the season goes on, I think you will see less of that. At the moment the important things is to finish. You see Montoya now who hasn't finished three races in a row. I had two races in a row I didn't finish so I know his frustration. We just have to keep going because it's long season."

WHAT'S IT LIKE TO WIN A RACE UNDER A YELLOW FLAG? IS IT A BIT OF A DISAPPOINTMENT?

AF: "It is and it isn't. The last restart I had a good start and I put a decent gap between me and Jimmy (Vasser) and I don't think it would have been a problem for me to keep the lead until the end of the race. When the yellow came at the end for Tagliani, I would have preferred to keep rolling because it is always easier than having to restart with one lap left. It's much more difficult to restart with one or two laps to do, especially at Rio because the tires are so dirty it's so much easier to make mistakes. Once you get rolling it's so much easier to keep rolling."

AT THE END OF THE RACE WHEN TAGLIANI SPUN AND KEPT HIS FOOT IN THE THROTTLE HE CREATED A LOT OF TIRE SMOKE AND CREATED A BIT OF A SITUATION FOR THE OTHER DRIVERS .

AF: "I can see his frustration. I tell you I never saw so much smoke in my life. It was amazing. As you could see on TV the car was going backwards and the tires were going forward. Unfortunately it was a bit difficult situation. For me it was easy because I saw the whole thing and just came went in on the inside. For Jimmy and Paul (Tracy) and the rest of them it was a difficult situation because they couldn't see where they were going. You just need to be careful and patient. Tagliani is a very good driver and experience will come with time. That's the toughest part of racing, the last few laps. I remember my first win in Japan when Al Unser, Jr. was behind me. I was just worried about putting the power down in turn's three and four without spinning, and once you do that once you get the confidence and try to focus on doing that every time."

WHAT KIND SPEEDS WILL YOU GUYS BE DOING AT MOTEGI?

AF: "We have new wings this year. I think they are the same wings we used at Homestead and I think we reduced the top-speed by 10 mph. I can't remember the speed we did last year in Motegi, but I think it is around 210 mph and in Turn 3 I think it is a 170-mph corner. Turns one and two are flat out and I feel they are 190 to 200 mph."

APART FROM THE RACE, WHAT DO YOU IN JAPAN ASIDE FROM THE RACE?

AF: "This year I am going in on Thursday with my girlfriend and we are basically doing some tourism in Tokyo. I have friend there who is going to take us around. Tokyo is a very fascinating city - very clean. It's so different, which make it so interesting. I like to go around to different restaurants and see how Japanese people live. I also do a lot of PR and things like that with Firestone. Last year I spent some time touring the track facility it's a great place. There is a lot to see there. On Wednesday we stay at the track hotel. There is not much for us to do there. There are only two to three channels on TV and only one in English. There is no swimming pool or gym or anything like that. They do have a Karoke bar, which two years ago, all the drivers got together and that's basically all we did. Once you are at the track there isn't much to do which is why we like to go a little early and see Tokyo."

LIKE RIO, MOTEGI IS ONLY RACED ON A FEW TIMES A YEAR. HAVE YOU EXPERIENCED ANY OF THE DIRTINESS THAT YOU EXPERIENCE IN RIO?

AF: "No, I don't know why. I don't know if it is the pavement or what. There is just one bump in turn two. In Rio, they washed the track for two weeks and scraped it. The forces that the Champ Cars generate basically scrub the pavement and it becomes sand. I can't believe the amount of sand there is there. It also surprises me that we don't have more accidents than we do there."

CAN YOU DISCUSS THE IMPORTANCE OF CARRYING THE MOMENTUM AFTER A WIN THROUGHOUT THE SEASON? "I don't like to talk too much before the beginning of the season. Remember how the Lola went after testing early this season and how Michael and Christian were two seconds quicker than anybody. That stuff just goes on and on and I don't like that. I like to concentrate with my team what we are going to do. I just look back over the years and see what we have done. In 1998 I finished fourth in the championship and last year I finished sixth and I didn't race in four races, I started with a Swift, etc. etc. Do I think I am going to have a good season? Of course I do. I have been with my team for two years now and with John Ward. The whole thing looks good. In Spring Training we were not that fast and then people starts getting worried. We like to perform when we have to perform. That's the type of experience we have. In Miami we were frustrated because we were very strong. We passed Michael on lap 20 and then we inherited the lead from Montoya and then we were comfortable in the lead and them we had our problems. Then we go to Long Beach and I was very sick. I had hives and couldn't sleep but still managed to put the car on the provisional pole. The on Saturday we slipped back a bit but we were still the fastest Ford. During the race we had a problem with the engine which seized the rear wheels and put me into the wall. It was very frustrating because Roberto proved that were very strong and that was frustrating. So coming into Rio, everyone was working hard but a little down. During qualifying the team had a few problems. But, that's when we showed our strength and we managed to win the race. We should have won maybe in Long Beach and maybe in Miami. We are confident going into Japan because we know we have a strong car and we have some momentum. There are still 17 races left and now we are carrying some momentum and I feel we should be strong the rest of the year. We have a good chance of winning the championship."

YOU SAID YOU NEED A LITTLE BIT OF LUCK. HOW MUCH DOES THAT PLAY INTO IT?

AF: "Well I am talking about luck like what happened to us last weekend. If you are making a lot of mistakes, that's not luck. I try to concentrate on things I can control and I prepare myself physically, mentally and to be ready to race and not to make mistakes. Just like the rest of the guys. The last few races we just had an unfortunate situation with our engines and Ford has worked really hard on that and they came back really strong. They apologized for what happened and they responded strong. That's what we expected from them. They want to win really bad and of course they didn't like what happened and they are working really hard. That's what I mean by having a little luck - not having those types of things happen. If I finish all the races the rest of the year, I feel I can finish the top three, four or five and maybe win three to five races the rest of the year."

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Max Papis , Adrian Fernandez , Paul Tracy , Al Unser