CHAMPCAR/CART: Adrian Fernandez Interview

CART TELECONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT WITH ADRIAN FERNANDEZ Adrian, driver of the No. 40 Tecate Quaker State Labatts Reynard Ford earned the second victory of his FedEx Championship Series career last Saturday in the inaugural Budweiser...

CART TELECONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT WITH ADRIAN FERNANDEZ Adrian, driver of the No. 40 Tecate Quaker State Labatts Reynard Ford earned the second victory of his FedEx Championship Series career last Saturday in the inaugural Budweiser 500 at the new Twin Ring Motegi Motorsports complex in Japan. It was his first victory since winning at Toronto in 1996 and it gave him the PPG Cup points lead for the first time in his six-year career. Is your Reynard that much better than the Lola you were so dissatisfied with last year? "Definitely. This is a much more consistent car. It reacts to change. It is a real race car. Last year -- basically the car was a pig. I mean, that was not reacting for anything, and it was just a very bad car. That car, as I always said was born bad and he was never cured until the end of the year which was a little bit too late where, you know, they changed the under wing (sic) and we managed to finish third in Fontana. "For us it was a very devastating year and with this new change, with the Patrick Organization, with the new equipment that we have with Reynard, with Ford, with Firestone, you know, new engineer, new teammate, Scott and everything, it is a brand new life for me. I am so excited that everything has started so good this year. It is -- now, I think that everything that happened last year was for a reason. I am glad that my future has changed." How do you expect this car to perform on the road course? "Well, that is a big question that we have. But we feel pretty confident that this testing that we have done in winter tests has been very good. Either Scott and myself, we have been testing very quick in some of these tracks. We feel confident we will have a good car." "But, as you know, the series is very competitive. There is a lot of good drivers and good teams out there that are going to be very strong. The Patrick Team, I think, Scott finished third or fourth last year and I think Raul Boesel finished in the top 10. So, at this point, we are trying. "It is a long Championship. We need to finish the races in the points every time, and hopefully week can finish them in the top 6, 7. If we can achieve that type of performance through the whole year, that will put us in a very good position at the end of the year." You are a product of the Indy Lights series. What do you think about it? "Indy Lights gave me a lot of experience and knowledge about the CART circuits and racing in ovals and as you may remember, we won three ovals with John (Martin), and basically he was my teacher on the ovals. We did very well and this is -- this is actually my first time since Indy Lights that I have a good car on the ovals again. "After I went to IndyCars after Indy Lights I have a pretty good appearance on the oval when I was teammate of Al Unser, Jr. and Danny Sullivan in Milwaukee where I qualified in front of them and I was running ahead until I crashed. "But, after that, I really never have had a good, good car on small ovals. I always had good ones on the super speedways but never in the small ovals. I am so happy to go back to those performances and to be honest, when I was living in Japan I sort of remember when I was -- I used to live in Indy Lights and the ovals, and there was just sort of the same feel that I used to have in those days."

This year seems to be something special. Can you talk about that a bit and how this team is maybe different from others you have been with? "Well, I think the Patrick Organization is a very complete team and the way Mr. Pat Patrick has the organization..., the whole team is working so good because everybody is doing their job and everybody really knows which direction to take. And, the whole ambiance of the team is so friendly and so good. Everybody is sort of aiming at the same direction. "I think something that also helps is that my relationship with Scott is so good. We work really well together. We have the same styles of driving. And, you know, we are a real friends and we know what it takes to win and we know that we need to help each other to be able to have good cars. We always said that it is better to fight for the 1st and 2nd than 20th and 21st. So, that, I think has been a key because in terms of teammates, I think this is the best I ever had. "In other situations, I feel that the package is very good, you know, the Reynard Ford Firestone is a very good combination. "But, also, I think one of the most important things is that my engineer John Ward and I definitely click straight-a-way. We communicate very well. He knows what I am talking about. We are still learning. But, still, he is just a very well -- even if it's a Mexican-style talking, he understands what I am saying and he knows what to move on the car. So I am really, really excited that this has clicked, as you say, so quickly. I didn't expect it to be so soon. "But, as you saw in Homestead, we were very fast in Homestead also. We had problems with the pit spots there. We lost a lot of positions, like four, five position in my first pit spot. The car wasn't as good on the race. What I was very impressed with the team is the way they reacted so quickly to for Japan. I mean, we were the fastest in the pits. We have the fastest single pit spot of the day. And also our average street stops were the fastest of the day and that talks about the commitment of the team and every individual of the team that works in Patrick Racing. And, you know, it doesn't happen that often, but I am very glad it has happened to us." Is it strong management that starts this off? Do you look right up to Pat Patrick? "Oh, yeah. Pat Patrick is our boss. This comes from the top. At the end he makes the call, but at the same time, he let's us, Jim McGee and Steve Newey do their job. But when we need testing, developing, and help, Mr. Patrick is the guy who gives the direction of the team. And, you know, he has been very right on the way that he wants to have his team for the future. And Jim McGee, you know, he is the best, I think, in my opinion in the business. And, Steve Newey, he is also one of the best team managers out there. So, the whole team structure is very, very good. And, I say also, as I say, I think Scott and I work very, very well and that puts a good situation for everybody on the team." When do you know as a racer that you have clicked with an engineer? Can it happen that you think you are talking and understanding each other, but the bottom line is you never really know until you go through race weekends? "To be honest, with John Ward this is the most complete engineer I have ever had, in terms of knowledge, in terms of explaining things. John, I say from the beginning, 'you know, say, I am coming from different teams, different engineers, different stops.' I say, 'I may have some bad habits that I want to get rid of and let's start from zero.' That is what we did. "He started explaining it from ground zero what it is all about, what we wanted to achieve; what he wanted from a race car; what I wanted from a race car; the way we were going to talk about the car. And, he is just very good. He is very detailed. He goes through every single thing of the car. These days, everybody has the package. Everybody has a good car, good engine, good tires, so it is now -- these days, now it is just about the little things, little details. So, paying attention to details these days is the most important thing and I think John is one of the best in the business in that respect." The winter between your final Indy Lights season and your rookie season in the PPG Cup Championship and you said: "I know it is going to take some time, but one of these days I will be up front and they will be chasing me." Has it now happened? "Yeah, it is. Unfortunately it took a little bit of time, but it doesn't matter. It just came. I am very happy about it because, you know, in Indy Lights we were very strong and even though we didn't have a new car and all that, I mean, we have very good time on the ovals and we won a road course in Detroit. But, unfortunately, my steps towards the next teams, they were not very good in, terms of Galles Racing was just basically going down in a lot of ways and the structure of the team wasn't very well done and Danny Sullivan and Al Unser Jr. were fighting so I was a little bit in the middle of the war there. So that wasn't the team to be on at that time. But it was good to start my career at IndyCar, but I never got the break after that. "Then when I joined Tasman my first year was very good. We won our first race, but still, that took a long time. Steve Horn is very good, but it was his first full season with two-car teams and I don't think we didn't have enough experienced people on the team to be able to have two top drivers there. Even though we won races, we didn't have the consistency that we needed to have. "At the same time, I don't think -- we didn't have the best car. I think the Lola was starting to fade that year and I think the Reynard was a very strong car that year. And then the following year, as you know, with the Lola chassis basically was just a devastating year for us and the worst thing was that we just didn't change the chassis the whole year. "We were the only drivers to finish with the same car so I wasn't very happy about the whole situation. It was very obvious that we needed to change grounds and find a new home where I could, you know, I could get the attention as we should deserve. "Now I am so happy to be able to join Patrick because I was talking to Pat Patrick for two, three years, we were friends even before we were talking to be part of his own team. Now, being able to give him this win so early in the season, it is just so exciting and he just has a very, very good team. "The future looks very bright because if we are starting like this, even though the Championship is very strong, I think this team has the strength to fight all the way to the end." With all the off-seasons that you had that had big question marks on them, I am wondering this past off-season, knowing that you were going to be with a new package, knowing that you were going to be with Pat Patrick, what kind of off-season was it emotionally for you? "I have always believed in myself. And, I think, for a driver that is the most important thing that you have to keep always because there is always going to be people and media people they are going to tell: Well, he is not that good, or -- you know? Or he is not aggressive or -- you know, all these type of things. "But, the most important thing for the driver is to believe in what, you know what you can do because you know you, as a driver, know exactly what you have, your package, your possibilities and everything. And, I knew I didn't have the package and the opportunity to be able to prove myself. And, I just needed to be patient. "I have won in every single series -- in every single series that I have competed in in my entire career and I knew I could do it. It was just a matter of being with the right team, with a team that will support you 100%. And, you know, that faith so I never lost it. "So, winter testing was very important for me. I was very open-minded and I am a person that I can understand -- I can accept mistakes and I can accept when I am doing things wrong so I can fix them straight-a-way. I think I have the ability to do that pretty quickly. So at the beginning I spoke a lot with Scott and we saw a lot of style of driving. We tried to get all the bad habits and we did a good job on that. "And then the car was so good, the car reacts to change and all that. It is like Zanardi last year and the last two years, he came into the series from Formula 1 where he didn't have the opportunity to be -- to prove himself because he didn't have the car. He knew he was good but he didn't have the team or the car to prove himself. Then he came to America in a very good opportunity with Ganassi and, you know, he had a good package straight-a-way. "Having that all the time, you see Zanardi has been changing the way he has been driving because he gets more confident and confident with himself and with his driving because all the time you keep driving a good car and you keep winning races, your confident levels keep growing. So that is what happened with me a little bit in testing having a good car, having a good engineer, having a good teammate and all that. You go testing and testing and you become more and more confident. "It is like Japan, some of the moves that I did and some of the things I did, maybe I wouldn't have done it with a Lola because I didn't trust the car. "Now, I trust the team. I trust the car. Your confidence level keeps growing. And if this keeps going, you will see a different Adrian Fernandez, but that is obvious because that is the progress what you have seen with Zanardi and, you know, all the top drivers." Your relationship with your fellow countrymen in Mexico has always been very strong. What has been the response since the win? "Oh, it is unbelievable. I actually am reviewing most of the newspapers right now and we are in the front cover of every single newspaper in Mexico, not just Mexico City but the whole Republic. And, yesterday I wake up like at seven in the morning and I didn't stop on the phone until 9 o'clock. Everybody called me, from the president, from every media, from -- I mean, everybody, my sponsors. "It has just been a very pleasant surprise - a surprise, I mean, that it came so quickly and in Mexico everybody is so excited. So this is like a national win for them. I am very proud to give this to my country because we are in need of success and I am very proud to be able to bring this type of win to Mexico because it makes me very proud and it makes me even more hungry to succeed. Hopefully we can do this many more times more. It is crazy in Mexico. We are in every single newspaper. I think now the pressure is on." At the restart at the end of the race there, everybody knew what was going to happen, including you and Al, or what Al was going to try and do. And, you were on top of the situation and Al gave you a compliment after the race that you did exactly what you needed to do to win the race. From such, if you will, a legend in his own time Al Jr., what does it feel like when he says: "Hey, that-a-boy." "It is a great feeling. He was my teammate. I always have respect for him. He is a great, great race car driver and he is always going to be strong. He knows -- if he has a good car, looks like this year he is having a good car, he is going to be strong in the case. "I knew that I couldn't make any mistakes in the restarts, and I wasn't as strong in Turn 3 and 4 as I was in 1 and 2. We didn't have the gears, the proper gears that we needed for the race and one of the reasons was that we were just limited to one test day. We didn't go testing in December, I think, when everybody went there. So our time on the racetrack was very limited. So I have a little bit long year there, so I didn't have the power to get out of the corner as much as we wanted. So, I needed to really concentrate on making the best I could from what I had without making any mistakes and pay attention where Al was all the time. So I knew where he was. "And, I just went into Turn 1 without lifting and just hoping for the best. I was glad I got ahead of him. But at the end with his comments, is he a gentleman and he is a very fair race car driver. He is a driver that he will not rub your nose when you are coming to a corner, he will not cut you off or, things like that. He is very professional. "We went side by side for two laps in this racetrack and he always gives you space. I mean, he is a class driver, and he is a guy that he will not block you in a bad way. He will fight you fair and square. And, if he beats you, it was because he was the best that day and if you beat him, it was because you were the best that day. He accepts that. "And, it was a pleasure to really win and be with Al, well, in his first podium, I think for a long time."

Ford has come on really good this year with Andretti's win in Homestead and it looked like before he ran out of gas was going to duplicate it in Japan. You are running Ford. Can you talk about the development of the XD-Engine. But, what has been done to it for this year? "Well, it is a development of last year's engine. It is basically the same structure from the outside but has some internal new parts. "I think one of the advantages for Ford this year is that they are not starting with a completely new package. The package is more reliable in that respect. "The engine is -- still doesn't have the driveability that we want to have, but the engineers are working very hard and we have a lot of new developments that are coming. But the engine is strong from the first test I tested, it is very a strong engine. And, they have been making it even better. "So, the Ford people are very excited about the first two races, of course, and they are working really hard. They know that Honda and Mercedes are going to be very strong the whole year and the key thing here is just to try to keep the momentum and try to keep the development all year and so as far as I spoke -- when I spoke with them, that is what their intentions are. So, we kept our faith with Ford and hopefully we can come up, you know, with the wins through the year. "In respect with Michael, I think to be honest, Michael said that he could have lapped the whole field. With all my respect, I think, this race, I don't think it would be that easy for him because when he pass us and all that, we were pacing ourselves. The pace was very, very strong. My car was starting to get a little bit loose. And, you know, we wanted to conserve a little bit the tires. And, after my second pit spot and after he run out of fuel, when he was in the racetrack, we were faster than him. "One of the reasons we couldn't make the pass even though we were -- he was four laps down was that -- we have this problem with the gears that were a little bit long. "But, I don't think he would be -- it would that be easy for him this time to win the race as he thought he could be because there were very strong competition and also Al Unser Jr. also was very strong. As you can see in the race, he was not running away with the race." Going into Long Beach this weekend, it is going to be very difficult to pass, qualifying is going to be very important. What is your race strategy or are you just going to take it as it comes? "Well, yeah, it is very important to do a lot of runs with full tanks these days because at the end also even though you cannot pass, it is important to keep a good consistent car through the whole run because if your cars start fading too quickly, then it is impossible to really run on the race. "But, as you say, it is very important to qualify well and we are going to concentrate on that and trying to qualify the best we can. I believe the team has a good setup from last year and we are going to do every effort to be in front. And, my aim is, of course, if the car is good, try to win the race. And, if it is not as good as we think, then we should try to just accumulate some good points and try accumulating points because it is a very long season." How close did you come to losing sponsors through the bad, horrible year you had last year? "Oh, very close. You know, Tecate was very -- he had a lot of pressure from a lot of people and the management -- I mean, the top people were supporting, but they have a lot of pressure from the bottom. And, it was a big fight, I have to go there and, you know, prove what we can do. But, they did a huge research from Mexico and what has been the problem all about in Mexico and the benefits, all that, and the results were very strong. That is what really saved me the year. "Now, of course, it is another story. It was very close. I lost some sponsorship. Even though we are in a better shape this year, we are not making as much money as we did last year. But I am rebuilding my career, I say from this year on, and I think the future looks even brighter."" Will this victory by you speed along the chances of a CART race going to Mexico? "Yes, I think this will help, for sure to get the opportunity to go to Mexico. I spoke with Andrew Craig and he thinks the chances are very high for 1999. I think this is going to help it more; especially because he is going to make the possibility of getting the money and the sponsors to support the Grand Prix for many years in Mexico will be even more important now. "So, I think we are very close to be able to do this thing and to race in Mexico. And, I tell you, everybody that will go there, they will have a great time because Mexico is very excited about this and it will be a completely full house, that is for sure." You spoke in the past about the inspiration Tania has been to you. I guess she is still every bit of an inspiration to your career? "Oh, yes, as I always say, she was the first one -- she wasn't in my race in Toronto when I won it, and so it was beautiful to have her there in this win. Inspiration has always been because I never -- when I was in Indy Lights, all that, I was alone for quite a few years, just working really hard on my career and all that. When you get success, you don't have anybody to share it with. "So, basically my life wasn't complete. Since I met her and since we got married and we have been living together, my life has been more complete and much more happier. We are a team in all aspects and we share every moment, the good, the bad and we support each other in all the ways. And, we just fight all the way together. It was beautiful to be together for this win in Japan."

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Al Unser Jr. , Raul Boesel , Adrian Fernandez , Danny Sullivan , Al Unser