At this time last year, five Mexican drivers expected to be on the grid for all 2004 Champ Car World Series races that included two Mexican events. By the time the first Long Beach race unfolded there were four.
Adrian Fernandez went to the Indy Racing League and won three races last year, Michel Jourdain Jr. has become a NASCAR Busch Series combatant (and finished both the events thus far in the season), and Roberto Gonzalez has, um, disappeared.
But Mario Dominguez is a survivor, a man who acknowledges he competes because of his passion for the sport of open-wheel racing.
Otherwise, why be in Long Beach more than a month prior to the season opener talking about his plans and those of the series?
He could easily have been readying himself for the NASCAR Busch Series contest in his home town of Mexico City this coming Sunday.
Dominguez, who came up through the proper ranks of karts, Russell Mazda, Mexican Formula 3, Mexican Formula 3000 and Indy Lights to get to this point has open-wheel racing on his mind and in his heart.
"I am loyal to Champ Car," he notes as he acknowledges he'll remain for a third season with the former Herdez (nee Bettenhausen) team, now known as HVM (Herdez Vive Mexico).
There's been a lot of speculation about Dominguez' future, as he's been tied to the Midland Formula One team nearly since its inception. The 29- year-old even went to Silverstone to test and intended to be its #1 driver but that scenario did not work out. Yet.
Mario still has that letter of intent in his wallet and acknowledges, "I wanted to do F1 in 2005."
Dominguez had been offered the ride for 2005; then he was offered the position as third driver for the Midland/Jordan team. HVM managing director Keith Wiggins went so far as to post a press release denying the rumors that his lead driver would abdicate the seat in favor of F1, just to clarify.
Mario is emphatic: Formula One is the goal." It has always been the goal. Jordan/Midland wanted him to stay as third driver," but it wasn't meant to be, at least this year.
When Midland first announced its intent to go F1 racing, prospective drivers held their resumes in hand, waiting for the right affiliation. When Eddie Jordan became that partner to get the Russian-based operation onto pit road, snakes came out of the woodwork with their resumes, most of them bearing funds from family and/or sponsors.
Dominguez had to wait. He had to fulfill his contract. There was no other way. But those few flying laps at Silverstone had their pull; those four flyers enforced Dominguez' will to make it to the top of the heap, to make it to F1.
"I like Champ Car better; here I have a chance to win but Formula One has been my dream and I have to get there."
When Dominguez became the driver of the #55 Herdez Lola, he had a reputation as a punk of sorts. But he worked hard within the team, retaining a residence in Indianapolis to stay tight with the crew, recognizing that a lot of hard work is what it would take to move up.
"The first year I had no teammate," yet still won the 2002 finale on the slick streets of Surfers Paradise, Australia when everyone else either crashed or washed out of the race. It wasn't pretty, but it was a victory. The following year he blitzed the field at Miami and won for a second, more aesthetic time.
There were no victories in 2004 but Dominguez notched podiums in Monterrey, Montreal and again at Australia for fifth in the title chase. Only two retirements - for contact - marred the record.
Mario Dominguez is no journeyman driver, in fact. He's one of those guys who goes for broke and fights for possession of every apex.
"My first year I had no teammate. There was no development and it wasn't done right." The second season his squadmate Roberto Moreno helped push Dominguez and last year Ryan Hunter-Reay scored the sole victory for Herdez Competition in its final year under that nomenclature.
Dominguez realizes his team is "maybe not at the level we'd like to be but we're close," even as they wait and search for the funding that will allow Dominguez a proper fourth season of Champ Car racing.
The competition for 2005 includes Newman/Haas Racing (2004 champ Sebastien Bourdais and Bruno Junqueira), Paul Tracy with Forsythe Racing and PKV Racing's dual champions, Jimmy Vasser (1996) and 2002 titleholder Cristiano da Matta.
"It's very important to have two cars so you can develop [the machinery], develop the team and, with two fast drivers" gain points for a title. "It was tough" not to win in 2004, Dominguez says. "I had my chances but something always happened," recalling his tough races at Montreal and Denver. "It just didn't play out as we wanted."
So who will line up in the second HVM Lola this April in Long Beach? "There was a possibility Michel [Jourdain Jr.] would be my teammate but he wanted the security NASCAR offers" and signed for three years in the Busch series, according to Dominguez.
Realizing he can go Cup racing when he's another 10 years older, Dominguez is still pushing for that F1 drive he believes he deserves. Even though his compatriots would not consider an F1 career with any but the top four or five teams Mario Dominguez truly believes he can make a difference driving for Jordan/Midland next year
There have only been seven Formula One drivers in the modern era and two were the brothers Rodriguez, for whom the Mexico City Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez is named. Carlos Guerrero was the most recent of the clan to compete at this highest technological level, and that was back in 1992 with March. Perhaps it's time, with or without an F1 race in his native country.
Mario Dominguez appears to be the kind of driver who can excel at his chosen craft. Tenacious and aggressive to a fault, Dominguez has made a career of coming back from spins to succeed on the Champ Car trail. En route, he has taken Rookie of the Year (2002) and was voted by his peers as Most Improved Driver the following season.
His love for the tenets of Champ Car racing continues - "I love the push-to- pass option; it gives passing opportunities and the flat-out racing we've had in Champ Car the past few years (with pit windows) suits my style."
Dominguez would even like to see standing starts in the series this year - after all, it prepares him for that dream down the road - "I think it would be awesome fun."
The market for Champ Car drivers not bringing bags full of money has fallen the past year or so in the rarefied air of Formula One. Will there be space at Jordan/Midland next season for an Hispanic with the adrenal verve any team needs to succeed? Mario Dominguez intends to spend the next 14 races showing he deserves the nod.