T.E. McHALE: With Sunday's victory moved Adrian Fernandez, driver of the Number 40 Patrick Racing Ford Reynard from fifth to second place in the FedEx Championship Series. He trails championship leader Gil de Ferran of Marlboro Team...
T.E. McHALE: With Sunday's victory moved Adrian Fernandez, driver of the Number 40 Patrick Racing Ford Reynard from fifth to second place in the FedEx Championship Series. He trails championship leader Gil de Ferran of Marlboro Team Penske by only five points, 153 to 148, heading into the season-ending 500 presented by Toyota, October 29 at California Speedway in Fontana, California, where Adrian is the defending champion. Adrian and Gil are only two of five drivers who remain in contention for the championship, with just one of 20 events remaining in the FedEx Championship Series. Third place Paul Tracy of Team KOOL Green and fourth place Kenny Breck of Team Rahal with 134 points each and fifth place, Roberto Moreno, teammate at Patrick Racing, 131, are all within reach of the title heading into next weekend's season finale. Sunday's victory was his second of the season following an early victory at Rio. He has scored championship points in 16 of his past 17 starts with podium finishes of second at Toronto at Road America and third at Vancouver, in addition to his two victories. He is the FedEx Championship Series leader in laps completed with 2,351 of the possible 2,580 and in miles completed with 3,849.922 of a possible 4,272.446. It is as an interesting side note Sunday's victory: Adrian the only CART driver to have one a race in each of the five countries where the FedEx Championship Series currently competes. He won in Toronto in 1996, Japan in '98 and '99, Mid-Ohio in '98 and Fontana in '99 prior to his triumphs at Rio de Janeiro in Australia early this season. The 500 presented by Toyota is the final round of the FedEx Championship Series. It will be televised live on ESPN on Sunday, October 29 beginning at 2:30 Eastern time. With that, we will open it to questions.
Q. Did you think you would have a chance to win the Championship when you went to Australia?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Absolutely not. I tell you, it's better than a dream. You know, we never think of -- I never think like into a race all of these things, especially coming into the last two races. I never thought that, you know, something like that could happen, and you always are going to the race, trying to do your best. But as the race unfolds, it was pretty clear that, you know, most of the leaders that were fighting for the championship were out. And to be honest, the last few laps, up to a point where Kenny Breck was behind me, you know I was a little bit too conservative maybe to stay on the track and trying to make no mistakes, but I realized that I had a big opportunity ahead of me, and, you know, I just wanted to make sure that I didn't make any mistakes because, you know, people are going to be one of the best opportunities of my -- you know, of this year's championship to be able to get very close to Gil to the last race. I tell you, I'm ecstatic and it is a great opportunity. I just saw the race last night, and I can't believe the amount of crashes and things like that happening. I think Parker Jones mentioned in the telecast, like nobody wants to win the championship, and that's the way I saw it, also, when I saw the race.
Q. Can you give us an update on what your plans are for next season? Obviously you are concentrating on everything now, but what is the status with you? ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: We are going to make the announcement on Saturday. We are finalizing the details of that on Saturday, the final race, and most of the details of everything that you guys want to know will be -- will be able to do it right there. We are very close and that's why we are ready to make the announcement there. I will announce exactly what I am doing, either staying with Patrick, doing my own team or going somewhere else, and that's where we will make the announcement of exactly what we are doing.
Q. Can you talk about just how you've been able to keep your focus as a driver in the hunt for the championship, and then thinking about possibly owning a team, possibly staying put what your plans are? ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Well, I've been very busy, to be honest, maybe more this year than any other year, trying to work on what we are doing next year, not just that, but also renewing my contract with my sponsors, with Quaker State, and that has taken a lot of time from me. But at the same time, I've been just trying to focus on what I'm doing, and that's working out and taking time also to relax and focus on the championship. And that's what I've done. That's why I went to Australia like a week and a few days beforehand; so I knew that was the only time I could have to really relax and not be on the phone or dealing with the sponsors or this or the other. It is amazing, but everything is just coming together. I mean, there are so many things that are happening this year for me, not just the contract but what are we doing next year, and now the championship, and now being so close, I just can't believe that everything is just happening this way, and I'm just so happy.
Q. You were out here earlier testing, but at that particular point, they did not have the new safety improvements in place. What do you think of the new improvements to the speedway since you've been out here? ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: There were some points to make at that testing and we thought the pavement needed to be moved a little bit more ahead, on half of the track and I think that's what they have done; and also some curves on the inside practice, the infield track. I haven't seen it lately, but speaking with Kirk Russell (phonetic) and Patrick Jones, the safety team for us, we understand that everything is done. We trust in the analysis that Patrick has done, and he should be very good for everybody.
Q. What about the 500-mile race? Last year you guys were able to win on fuel consumption and a real conservative start and a frantic finish, kind of. What is the situation, same strategy for this year? ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: It's a 500-miles race. I'm not going to race it like a five-mile race. Sometimes drivers, that's the way they like to race. Everybody picks the way they want to race their races. If I have a 500-mile race, I'm not going to race it like a five-mile race. There's a lot of things that can happen. You have to get to the end to be able to win, and if you don't get -- you may be very impressive for the first 200 miles; and being impressive for the first 200 miles, that's not going to take you -- put you on the wall or damage the car or do a mistake. So you have to be in contention all of the time. You have to be there. You have been in touch with the group. You have to be reading your car, how it is working. You have to make the necessary changes to the car to make sure that you have a fast car at the end of the race, which is that's what really matters, the last 50 to 80 miles; that's when you have to really take chances and concentrate on what you are doing. And there's a lot of possible mistakes like I did, for example, in Michigan coming out of the pits on cold tires; I put too much power and spun and hit the wall; and we were two laps down. And even with two laps down we recovered the laps and finished, I think, sixth or something like that. These races a lot of things can happen. There is maybe a lot of drivers that they like to win it from the first lap. And I have my own style and it has worked a lot of the times. Of course, this year, it is a different scenario because we have a championship to win, and there is -- just a few drivers that we are competing against. You know, of course, all of that has got to be in consideration through the race. As we are going through the race, we will see where our competitors are and the strategy that we apply, depending on where we are. We are at that stage on the race, and so that's how we will play it.
Q. So you would rather -- it's not about winning the race so much, but it's about winning the championship? ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Well, of course we want to win the race. You cannot -- you cannot take that out of the possibilities for us, and we want to do it. But, of course, there is other situations, and you have to consider that. If there is a chance of winning the race -- but you have to take a very big chance on maybe losing the championship things like that. That's when you have to make a decision. But, of course, we want to win it like last year, and of course, the pay is not too bad and it would be a good thing to win the race and win the championship. But you have to consider all the aspects, and that's how we are going to present it, but, of course we will try to go out there. And I think we have the capabilities to do it, to be able to win the race, and hopefully that will help us to also win the championship.
Q. How is it to have a guy like Jim in your pits for a race like this? ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Actually Jim is not in my pits. He is always with Roberto Moreno. John, my engineer, and Matt who is working with us, and Pat Patrick is always -- he is always in Roberto Moreno's pit, also. But he always comes back to us and we discuss where before the race, what's the plan. But before the race, Pat comes to our pit and makes suggestions to John and all that. But at the end of the day, my pit is run by John, and Roberto's is run by Jim McGee. A lot of the decisions that have happened, even though we have an agreement is done my John, on either side, but it's a lot to do with the team , of the decisions we make; and pretty much they always make the same decisions. T.E. McHALE: Just to let you all know, that that race will pay $1 million to the winner, and in addition to that, there's a $ 1 million bonus at stake for the winner of the championship. So were Adrian to repeat and win the championship in the process it would be a $2 million payday. And I'm sure you could find some things to do with that money, Muchacho.
Q. This whole championship, you've got all of these guys, nobody really want to go win in championship, that's been going on, I know there's been a lot of car breakage and things like that. What's your take on the season and why this is such a tight race this year, yet again? ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Personally, I think there is a lot of rough driving out there. There are some drivers that, you know, they maybe run a little bit over their heads and maybe some new drivers getting a will little bit too confident. Like Jimmy Vasser was saying, that is not going to win championships. We need to think about what we're doing and what's the -- how to win championships, and that's what we're trying to do. The championship is very tight because I think has very good equipment, very good engines, very good engineers, the drivers level is very good; there's good talent. And everybody has had the same amount of mechanical problems and things like that, which have sort of leveled the amount of problems that everybody has had. So everybody is out there. It's like last year, coming into Fontana the last two years, I really didn't have much chance of winning the championship, and now it's more than just me; there's more drivers. And I think it is due to all of those things. Everybody has their own style of driving, of approaching races and things like that, and I hope the way that we have done it this year, even though we have had very competitive cars in terms of qualifying, we have raced very well, me and my teammate, Roberto, but for some reason we have not been able to qualify well. But let's hope that we can do well on racing because we have done it just not once, but many times, and that's the approach that we always go into racing, the Patrick Racing Team. So I'm pretty happy with the results and I think that we proven a point.
Q. You said that you still might announce that you might stay with Patrick or you might announce a new team with Fontana. Are you still considering the Patrick option? ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Yeah. Patrick has been a good thing for us. We have made some -- there has been some issues that we need to finalize; and these issues, they are going to be finalized this week. We are very close, and then you guys will find out exactly what I'm doing next year at Fontana. But Patrick Team has been very good to me, has give me my best, my career, the best opportunities, and I will never discount continuing with them for the future. It has been a tremendous association between them and myself and I am very grateful for that.
Q. NASCAR has lost another drive this past weekend and the injury was reported as being a severe neck injury which caused a fatality. What's your thoughts on that? Should NASCAR be mandating the harness device and what is your opinion of making it mandatory? ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: I think we should keep working as a group, not just NASCAR, CART, Formula 1. I think we should all work as a group together to find better ways to protect the driver's neck and any other issue that may arise, safety of the track, etc., Etc. Definitely running the device for this weekend's race. Actually, I have to go a little bit earlier to the race on Thursday so that I can -- we can make the necessary modifications to the cockpit, to be able to race with it. I know there's a few of my fellow drivers that have raced with it and they basically have no problems on the ovals. I think there's been some problems with racing on the road courses since you are bouncing much more, and Michael Andretti was saying that he was -- his respiration, so maybe there is a little more -- (inaudible) -- do in road courses, but in oval, I think it is a good thing to have. And (inaudible) run it in Japan and got in a big crash and had no problems. So it's something that we all think is a very good thing to have, and I think most of the drivers are going to have it in Fontana. I think it would help also NASCAR because it is sort of the same thing. In a way, their neck's are limited -- not are limited, but just pretty free as ours, in an angle that if you have a rear impact, your head doesn't have too much support. And I think this device can help you a lot, and it will be nice that we all can work to make this even safer.
Q. Formula 1 has mandated it for next year for all of their races. Now they are on road courses only. How could they make it work for a road course and CART can't? ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: I think we haven't done enough testing. I think for us it is mandatory for ovals. And I think you'll find out next year, that whatever is being found in Formula 1 for the drivers to be it able to race for the whole season, I think you're going to see that, also, into our series, even if it is not mandatory. I would be surprised if not all of the drivers would have the device also on the road course through the years, once the proper modifications have been done to that. Because all of the modifications between CART and Formula 1 are always -- they are always been sharing that information. So I'm sure that if they have found a way to be able to race with them, I'm sure we'll be able to do the same. And I'm sure you'll be seeing most of the drivers wearing them on the road course.
Q. Is this just a coincidence or is there something about your background that makes you feel comfortable where you are? ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: I think it's a coincidence, but to be honest, I didn't follow much of the statistics until somebody told me the only race for me to win so I can win in all the countries was Australia. But I never came into Australia thinking, okay, this is the one that I need to win. I think more about -- race by race and the championship and things like that. I think it's been a coincidence, but it's been a nice coincidence. It's nice to win in every country, and now, of course, with Mexico, Germany and England, it will be a new challenge to be able to do.
Q. Were you to win the championship this year, I assume it would make a bigger impact in marketing the Mexican race next year; have you thought about that? ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: I believe in the first week of selling the tickets for the Monterrey race, I think they sold 50,000 tickets, and that's just the first week without being announced yet or promoted, without all of the things they are going to do. So I think winning the championship is going to make a very, very big impact into the race, and, of course, there's a lot of following in Mexico into the championship. And that will be a success, not just for Mexico, but for the series, when we go to Mexico. And I think it's going to be a lot of people. It's going to be very well supported, and I think everybody is going to be very proud to have a race of that magnitude in Mexico, and I think you guys will be very impressed of the standards that Mexico will be able to provide for this type of event.
Q. This championship, what happened to your head the couple of days after winning Australia? ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: What happened, to be honest, I've just been thinking about what has happened. It's just a dream come true for us. It's been very enjoyable. After the race, we had a big party, all of the drivers together, and it was very nice. I spent a lot of time with my guys with my mechanics, with the Patrick Racing team, with my engineer. My sister was there, and I had some friends, sponsors from Quaker State was there, some friends, (inaudible). It was very nice to be able to share that big moment with him, and the last few days, I was just still trying to wake up to this reality that has put us in a very good position to win the championship. And I'm just enjoying the moment, but at the same time, I'm just trying to ease up on that and just try to go back into my training and now go to the next one, which is going to be a big race for us, which is Fontana, where hopefully we'll be able to end our work and win the championship.
Q. If you're going to be the first racer to win, the first CART racer who is going to win the first place -- (inaudible)? ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: I'll be the first Mexican, for sure. I won't be the first driver. I will be the first Mexican to be able to win in the championship in the series. That will definitely make me very proud of my country, of Mexico. I've been racing in the series for eight years. As you guys know, I've been working really hard since I started my career to get to the top, and, you know, one thing is to get to the top and the other thing is -- (inaudible), but we have been able to win races, be consistent and now we have put ourselves in contention for the championship.
And winning the championship, for sure, will be one of my biggest accomplishments in my whole entire career.
Q. How do you feel after you win, after you win in Australia, and if you win this one, you'll win like $2 million, how do you feel about that? ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: To be honest, to be very honest, for me, more than the money in this respect will be winning the championship. That will be my biggest accomplishment that I have right now. As competitive as the season has been this year, winning, I think Year 2000 Championship will be a huge accomplishments; and you have to be consistent, you have to be quick, you have to be smart to be able to stay on track, you need a team behind you to be able to achieve all of these things, and I think hopefully we will prove that the Patrick organization, with myself, we've been able to have all of these elements to be able to win the championship. And I will very glad and very happy about it.
Q. Do you have any further details on how the Monterrey race is coming along, and/or support events? ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Not really much. I know it is going well. I've spoken to some of the guys. I know that they are falling into the building of the track right now and all of the things go that go beside it. I know it's been very successful, the sale of tickets right now. They are expecting a lot of people and they are working on the support races. I believe Indy Lights is going to be there, but I can't confirm that. I know they are working on it. I know there's going to be other events through the race and at night, through the day. I think it is going to be a very nice event, not just a race, but there's going to be a lot of things around it. I think it is going to be very good.
Q. What's the first thing you're going to do if you win those $2 million? ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: The first thing? I don't know. The first thing I'm going to do is just be enjoying it. The first thing that I have to do, by the rules, is that I have to do three days of press with CART. But after that I'm going to try to enjoy it and celebrate it with my sponsor, with my family, with my friends, with all of the people with Mexico, all of the people that have really helped me through my entire career, and enjoy the moment, which will be -- it will be nice to enjoy it for a long time, for a lot of days before the first race of -- which would be the next season.
Q. What's the idea of the race in Monterrey for Mexico? ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: It's not an experiment. It's got a five-year contract and it's going to be a like a race in any other country.
Q. You just mentioned to win a championship, you needed team support to go all the way. I remember a few weeks ago you mentioned you need your team to give it all just to get to this point. How do you evaluate your team's performance so far? ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: I think they are excellent. If you see the reliability of my car, it has been tremendous. I haven't had any mechanical problems since a long time that I can remember. The first couple of the season -- (inaudible), we had a lot of problems, and some of them were completely out of our control as a team. Some of them were just stupid things that, you know, other -- we could control and we couldn't control. But we, you know, he got back together and we knew the situation, we knew that things can change, and we stayed focussed, even though were like up to 11 or 12 in the championship. Actually, before I won my first race in Rio, I didn't have any points at all at that time. We just focussed on what we needed to do, and I've got a tremendous talent on my team and my guys are really good. They are very focused. They know the importance of winning. They really trained themselves. They work hard. Same with my engineers and team managers and everybody. The whole team. I'm not just talking about my team but also Roberto's team. A big group of guys that we all help each other. And I'm so happy to see everything working well, the way it is going, because we really have worked really hard to make this happen, and it's, you know, it's nice to see these guys smiling, after a hard-worked day, and all of the extra hours that they do. They put on these weeks and these long trips and these guys, sometimes they really don't have much rest. And to be able to give them this win is the first -- is the best that I can have happen when I celebrate with them.
Q. The Rio promoters have announced they are going to run next year's race on the road course down there rather than the oval. You won on the oval there this year. Have you ever driven on the road course down there before? What's your feeling now that the FIA allows CART to race on any circuit around the world? What's your feeling on the possibility of racing on some of the great road courses around the world some day? ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Well, I think it's a tremendous opportunity for all of us, and I'm glad -- I was never really happy about these rules and I never understood them, how we cannot race in those races, be in separate championships, separate things. I'm very happy that all of these things have been cleared up and we also can race on the Formula 1 circuit. I think racing in Rio on the road course will be a dream. (Inaudible) Moreno (phonetic) was my hero and I followed many of his races in Rio -- I didn't go to Rio, but I saw them on TV and I know that I have seen the track on TV many times. And to be able to run on this circuit for me would be a dream, and I think it is a great opportunity for to us race, like maybe going to race in one year or something like that, Canada, things like that. I think it is a great opportunity for us to race in those type of tracks. I don't think it is bad to race on the road course in Rio. Actually, I think it is good. The oval was a good race, but the reasons are there for us to race on the road course, and we welcome it with good things.
T.E. McHALE: Muchacho, thank you very much for being with us this afternoon. Best of luck at Fontana in your pursuit of your first FedEx Championship Series title. ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Thank you very much. I appreciate it. I'll see you soon. T.E. McHALE: Thanks to all of you who took the time to be with us this afternoon, particularly the large contingent of Hispanic media. We are very, very grateful that you guys spent some time with us today. Thanks to all of you. We'll talk to you next week.