CHAMPCAR/CART: Fernandez charges to Portland victory

CHAMPCAR/CART: Fernandez charges to Portland victory

PORTLAND, Or (June 22, 2003) -- Driver and team owner Adrian Fernandez made a late race pass on pole sitter Paul Tracy and brought his Lola Ford-Cosworth to victory Sunday in the G.I. Joes 200 at Portland International Raceway. "I'm so happy...

PORTLAND, Or (June 22, 2003) -- Driver and team owner Adrian Fernandez made a late race pass on pole sitter Paul Tracy and brought his Lola Ford-Cosworth to victory Sunday in the G.I. Joes 200 at Portland International Raceway.

"I'm so happy with the team," said the race winner. "Our pit stops were very quick and the last set of tires were fantastic."

Race winner Adrian Fernandez celebrates with his team.
Photo by Fernandez Racing.
"Paul made a mistake near the end and I said to myself it's now or never." Fernandez went on to say. "I saw him brake as late as he could and I braked a little bit later and passed him. I never would have forgiven myself if I would not have gone for the lead."

The Mexican driver took his eighth career win and first win since owning his own team in the Champ Car World Series. This was the first win for an owner/driver since CART legend Bobby Rahal accomplished the feat in 1992.

It was Canadians second and third as Alex Tagliani battled all day to work toward the front for a strong finish. "The car was slow after the pit stops but got faster and faster at the end of the race, but it was too late." Tagliani said. "We started out conservative and now I wish we would have been a little more aggressive."

Brazilian driver Bruno Junquiera, in sole possession now of second place in the championship, picked off cars one-by-one and worked his way to an excellent fourth place finish, scoring 12 points after starting 11th.

The field just couldn't get it together to start the race and it took four attempts before the green flag flew, matching the number of tries from 2002.

When the event finally began, Jourdain immediately took the lead heading into turn one's Festival Chicane, with Tracy in tow followed by Fernandez, Oriol Servia and rookie points leader Sebastian Bourdais.

Rookie Geoff Boss spun off-course on lap 16, bringing out the afternoon's first full-course yellow. With that, all the teams elected to bring their drivers in as the pit window had just opened. Everyone returned to the circuit in essentially the same position except for Bourdais who had pitted before the leaders with tire problems.

The top three cars maintained a fairly big gap over the rest of the filed, some 10 seconds ahead of the fourth place battle between Canadian Alex Tagliani and Oriol Servia.

American Spirit Team Johansson Racing's rookie driver, Ryan Hunter-Reay, who had a career best start of 7th, had his day end early when the clutch went away and he pulled off into the pits.

Michel Jourdain Jr..
Photo by John Francis.
Tracy continued to push the fight forward and would not let Jourdain get away, remaining just a second back with a third of the event completed.

When both cars came in for their second pit stop, The Player's Team got Tracy out first and Joudain had to check up a bit as he nearly ran into the back of Tracy exiting the pits. For Tracy, it was his first lead here since 1994.

One circuit later on lap 44, Jourdain pulled up along side in the chicane and the two cars touched, sending the young Mexican spinning and Tracy continued in the lead with Fernandez now in second position.

When Jourdain restarted, he found himself down a lap in 15th position. He finished in 12th position to salvage one championship point.

"I was the last one he managed to hit this weekend," Jourdain said of Tracy. "I was in front of him and he kept hitting me then I spun."

CART officials, who were reviewing the near miss between the front runners at the pit exit, later decided to assess Tracy a 5-second penalty on his next pit stop for crossing the pit lane and moving into the path of another car before getting up to speed.

"My team didn't tell me about Tracy's penalty," Fernandez mentioned. "I just continued to drive very hard, and my tires were working great."

Sunday's second caution period came out on lap 75 of 100 when Player's teammate Patrick Carpantier spun into the tires at turn 6. Carpantier was uninjured in the incident but the car was ruined and so was his day.

As the green flag flew to restart the race on lap 79, Tracy led from Fernandez, Bourdais, Tagliani and Junquiera.

S?bastien Bourdais.
Photo by John Francis.
Bourdais climbed back in the lead battle when the earlier yellows came out at just the right time as he was out of sequence with the rest of the group. His luck was short-lived though and he had to pit late in the race with a loose rear wing that ended his day and his bid for a podium finish.

Fernandez looked extremely good running in second at that time, and pressed Tracy to make a mistake. That mistake came on lap 86 when Tracy ran a bit wide at the end of the straight and gave up the lead for good.

"I made a mistake and really blew it," Tracy commented. "I ran wide approaching the turn. "I'm disappointed in myself but we've got the championship lead now."

Tracy now seems back on track scoring his fifth podium finish this year, as the series heads east to the Cleveland airport circuit in two weeks.

Fernandez moves into fifth place in the championship with 63 points, just seven behind fourth best Carpantier.

The return of "Mad Max" Papis didn't have as happy an ending as he would have liked. Papis, who drove his number 27 for PK Racing, started from 15th, and ran as high as 12th until a late-race incident with Rodolfo Lavin ended his comeback bid with a bent suspension.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Bruno Junqueira , Adrian Fernandez , Bobby Rahal , Alex Tagliani , Paul Tracy , Oriol Servia , Ryan Hunter-Reay , Rodolfo Lavin , Geoff Boss , Michel Jourdain , Patrick Carp