It's often said that racing makes strange bedfellows and what could be more unusual than the situation facing Adrian Fernandez?
The owner of two Indy Racing League IndyCar Series teams, Super Aguri Fernandez Racing and Delphi Fernandez Racing, Adrian Fernandez had to resign from his fulltime IndyCar Series ride with the pullout of his longtime commercial partners Tecate and Telmex following the 2004 IRL season.
Fernandez will pilot a #5 Panoz/Honda/Firestone racer from the Mo Nunn Racing shops and the entrant will be named Mo Nunn Fernandez Racing. Primary sponsorship for the car comes from Investment Properties of America (IPA), the Indianapolis-based commercial property management firm owned by Edward Okun.
"I am thrilled that this program with Adrian has come to fruit," Nunn said. "We are going to one of the most prestigious races in the world with a powerhouse combination that includes the driving talents of Adrian, the proven Panoz/Honda combination and a progressive partner in Investment Properties of America."
If the name of IPA sounds somewhat familiar, that's due to Okun's previously announced commitment to sponsor a second Dreyer & Reinbold Dallara/Honda for Jeff Bucknum in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
Okun, it appears is jumping in at the deep end but relates, "I've been friends with Morris Nunn for years and I'd been talking with him, too, about an opportunity for this May. At the same time Adrian was talking with Morris about putting a quality effort together and none of us could pass up the opportunity."
Okun enlisted Hector Huerta to assist in his motorsports activities; Huerta worked for many years with Chip Ganassi's various teams.
The failure to "pass up opportunity" is a key part of this deal and one Fernandez refers to fairly regularly about his one-off race with Nunn's team. "I didn't want to detract from what we've built [at Super Aguri Fernandez and Fernandez Racing] but I knew I wanted to compete in this year's Indy 500," Fernandez said.
After all, Fernandez finished seventh last May in his first time at the Speedway since 1995 from sixth on the grid. It was the highest finish by a Mexican driver in the 88 years of Indy 500 competition.
Fernandez also won three races last season in his initial Indy Racing League foray, finishing fifth in the final points tally despite missing the first race at Homestead-Miami Speedway and failing to finish the first two contests of the 2004 season.
After his first two IRL hiccups, Fernandez went on a tear and completed every single one of the 13 contests on the calendar, leading 173 laps in the process and scoring six top-five and 12 top-10 results. The scent of victory at Indy was way too strong to stop him from competing this year.
"Morris called me to discuss my plans and, as he's been a good friend and I've witnessed his engineering skill throughout the years, I thought it was a perfect fit," Fernandez admitted. "We can build this team and join forces for this race; I'm glad this opportunity came up," he revealed. "I am more than ready to get back in the saddle.
"The competition was very strong at Indy in 2004 and will be even better this year. When I race against Kosuke [Matsuura, driver of the #55 Super Aguri Fernandez Racing Panasonic/ARTA Panoz/Honda] and Scott [Sharp in the #8 Delphi Fernandez Racing Panoz/Honda] it won't be any different. I've raced against those guys anyway," Fernandez shrugged.
Mo Nunn Racing was close to shutting its doors at the close of 2004. No longer willing to run Tora Takagi with Toyota power, Nunn spent much of the off-season looking for a superior package to keep his team intact. While most at the south-side shops were advised to look for new employment in December, team manager Peter Parrott held out hope the team could continue in the 2005 season.
"This is very exciting for all of us. The opportunity to have a driver of Adrian's caliber and the Panoz/Honda combination is one we couldn't pass up," the veteran race manager said. There will be a whole new crew for this effort with only two stalwarts still involved. "We've got some really good personnel coming with us and we've put together a great group of guys" for the Indy program.
"Of course we'd like to continue after the month of May," Parrott said. "We're always looking to continue with sufficient funding available but right now our focus is on the job at hand and we'll just go from there."
The Mo Nunn team at one time had six Indy cars in its shops that abut the Indianapolis International Airport but "only three are left. Two have gone to Panoz for updates and we expect them back in the shop by the end of the month. We won't be racing at Twin Ring Motegi (as a prelude) because we're working to get the cars updated and prepared and get the crew together for this effort. There just isn't time," Parrott advised.
Fernandez, who will have celebrated his 42nd birthday by the time practice opens at IMS has a rigid fitness program in place and recently did 600 miles of testing at Homestead for engine maker Honda and for Firestone, sole tire provider for the Indy Racing League. "I don't think there's any question about my fitness and, as we all know Indy is a place where you can get sufficient track time" to work out any rust.
Although Nunn-Fernandez Racing will operate from the Mo Nunn Racing shops, Fernandez expects to "share information with our engineers. We had very good data last year and we expect to share information. We will prepare the cars to the latest specifications using information from Super Aguri Fernandez and Fernandez Racing." Race engineer John Ward, who co-engineers the Delphi car with Chris finch will handle engineering duties for Fernandez at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this May.