CART Online (October 3) -- Adrian Fernandez ended a frustrating PPG Cup season with an emotional third-place finish in last weekend's Marlboro 500 Presented By Toyota. The popular Tasman Motorsports Group driver kept his Tecate/Quaker...
CART Online (October 3) -- Adrian Fernandez ended a frustrating PPG Cup season with an emotional third-place finish in last weekend's Marlboro 500 Presented By Toyota.
The popular Tasman Motorsports Group driver kept his Tecate/Quaker State Lola Honda HRR near the front of the field all day and ended up with his best result of the season. It was also Lola's best showing of 1997 and matched the Tasman Motorsports Group's top finish earlier in the season when teammate Andre Ribeiro (LCI Reynard Honda HRR) came home third at Toronto.
Ribeiro, however, had the benefit of a proven Reynard Honda on Firestone tires after he and the Tasman team were able to make a mid-season switch from the faltering Lola. Fernandez had no such option available, though, and soldiered on with the Lola chassis to the end of the 17-race PPG CART World Series season. At the California Speedway finale, some last minute modifications to the Lola chassis - including a revised undertray - finally provided the stability the race car lacked all season. After crossing the line one lap behind winner Mark Blundell and second place finisher Jimmy Vasser, the mixed emotions of a frustrating season and the great Fontana result brought Fernandez to tears as he was interviewed on the CART Radio Network.
"It was a very hard year for us mentally, but we worked hard all year and never gave up," Fernandez said. The car worked well all weekend, and the new undertray made it stable in traffic. We had been coming to the track with a lot of pieces and nothing seemed to work until now. I am real happy with the finish. We did not have the car this year, but the Lola came through for the last race. To be able to finish like this with the problems we have had, is really a great result for everyone."
Fernandez also credited Tasman owner Steve Horne's pit stop strategy as another key to the strong performance.
"When I was running behind Andre (Ribeiro), the car started getting really loose and Steve made a good call to bring me in," Fernandez said.
"I am extremely pleased for Adrian and Lola," said Horne. "This proves no one is a quitter. Lola finally got the car close to being in the window, but unfortunately it's the last race."
Prior to Fontana, Lola's best 1997 finish was sixth by Ribeiro at Australia early in the season. The Lola failed to show significant progress, however, and Tasman acquired a Reynard for Ribeiro by July's race in Cleveland. One race earlier in Portland, Payton/Coyne Racing made a similar switch for driver Michel Jourdain, Jr., and showed up with a second Reynard for Charlie Nearburg by August's Mid-Ohio race. Prior to the season, the Brahma Sports Team and Player's Forsythe Racing also switched from Lolas to Reynards.
Fernandez played the Lola card he was dealt for the entire season, but still managed to end the year on a high note. Although he has yet to announce his plans for the 1998, the Fontana finish will give him some momentum heading into next year's PPG CART World Series season.