Rookie driver Mario Dominguez earned a milestone first victory for Herdez Competition in Round 17 of the 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series, following a wet and wild day on the streets of Surfers Paradise.
Dominguez's victory places him in the lead for the Jim Truman Rookie of the Year Award, and makes him the second ever rookie to win at Surfers Paradise, alongside 1993's winner Nigel Mansell.
A successful strategic decision by the Herdez Competition crew saw Dominguez make his final pit stop on lap 22, allowing him to complete 40 laps without re-entering the pit lane, unlike many other of the remaining competitors.
Regardless of the conditions for the win, Dominguez was overjoyed with the results, stating, "It's not the best way to win, but a win is a win. I am elated because the team did a great job. I think they all deserve it. They put the car back together after the first-lap accident (and subsequent red flag)."
"I just feel like the luckiest man alive right now," the winner continued. "All the bad luck we've had this year just turned around at this moment. It's almost unbelievable, I really think it will be the first of many wins for this team."
With a devastating first-lap accident due to heavy rain contributing to an hour-long delay, only six laps of the race were run under green flag conditions. In the interest of safety, CART Race Control mandated a single-file start with no passing until the exit of Turn 2, with the threat of a drive-through penalty imposed on any driver that conceded to make a pass before that point.
Two drivers were transported to the Gold Coast Hospital for precautionary measures after the incident on the front-stretch involving nine competitors left Tora Takagi of Walker Racing and Fernandez Racing's Adrian Fernandez with minor injuries. Jimmy Vasser, Michel Jourdain Jr., Patrick Carpentier, Alex Tagliani, Michael Andretti, Dario Franchitti and Dominguez were also involved in the pile-up caused by narrow visibility and water build-up on the track.
CART Director of Medical Affairs, Dr. Steve Olvey said "Adrian Fernandez had a CT scan on his neck that came back negative and he will be released from the Gold Coast Hospital tonight. Tora Takagi has a minor fracture of the right side of the pelvis and a bruised right hip."
In a medical update later in the evening, it was announced that Fernandez would not be racing in Fontana next week, but may be available to race in the final race of the season in Mexico City.
It was a disappointing finish for series champion Cristiano da Matta of Newman/Haas Racing, who led most of the race, but finished eighth after spinning his vehicle in the back of the circuit.
"When there was a race, I was leading it and pulling away. I led all the laps when it was a race. Afterwards it wasn't a race anymore," said da Matta after the race. "It's a big, big disappointment that the race went the way it did. I really love racing here and it's a shame that we didn't get to put on a good show for all of the great fans here because we had a good car."
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