An interview with With 1982 Road America Winner Hector Rebaque, Mexican Cart Drivers Adrian Fernandez, Michel Jourdain Jr., Mario Dominguez and CART CEO Chris Pook The winner of the inaugural CART race at Road America back in 1982, Hector...
An interview with With 1982 Road America Winner Hector Rebaque, Mexican Cart Drivers Adrian Fernandez, Michel Jourdain Jr., Mario Dominguez and CART CEO Chris Pook
The winner of the inaugural CART race at Road America back in 1982, Hector Rebaque returned to the site of his only Champ Car triumph Saturday to meet with three of CART's Mexican drivers as well as CART CEO and President Chris Pook.
Adam Saal: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. We appreciate you taking time out of the lunch hour to join us for what's a very special moment for all of us at Championship Auto Racing Teams, and no doubt a source of pride to our friends in Mexico as we commemorate Hector Rebaque's first win here at Road America. It was the first win for an international driver in CART racing competition. It was Hector's first and only win, but he started an outstanding tradition of several great drivers recording their first wins here at Elkhart Lake: Bruno Junqueira last year, Dario Franchitti in 1998. Both Jacques Villeneuves as well as Christian Fittipaldi in the year 1999. No doubt excellent names there.
We're delighted to be joined by Hector, who is sitting next to CART president and CEO, Chris Pook, as well as the younger generation of Mexican drivers in the FedEx Championship Series, Michel Jourdain, Jr. and Adrian Fernandez. And no small feat for Adrian to be here, both with us today as well as driving. We can talk about how he's on the road to excellent recovery. Gentlemen, welcome. First of all, we'd like to ask Hector to say how he feels to come back here 20 years on from an outstanding win and how big a part racing is in his life up to this point. Are you still active in any racing?
Hector Rebaque: Well, first of all, I have to say it's good for me to be back here. Remember, it's only 20 years ago, but I still remember this race which was a great race for us. You are asking me, I'm not in motor racing anymore. I'm completely retired a long time ago. But I completely enjoy to see and be here.
Adam Saal: Talk a little bit about that win. It was one of the first that we saw in what we don't have to worry about anymore as far as fuel economy goes. Where were you on the final lap of that race when you headed into the white flag? What position were you in?
Hector Rebaque: Well, no, we had to make a stop three or four laps before the end of the race because of gas. I think I was at that moment in second or third position. It was very confusing at the end of the race because I just passed Al Unser. We came into the pits for gas, and he didn't stop. That was part of the last two laps. So if he would have made it without this stop, he would have won. We had to stop for gas. It was a big risk, but he did at the end of the lap, and that's what made us take the win that time.
Adam Saal: Moving to Chris Pook. Chris, certainly Mexico is a major part of the CART FedEx Championship Series. Talk about how that fits into what we try to do as a marketing organization at CART.
Chris Pook: Before I do that, I would like to salute Hector because his career is not only in CART. I think we have to remember he had a very stellar Formula 1 career also. He drove for Brabhams, for Mr. Ecclestone, when he was there. I just want to thank him for what he did for us. Certainly, I was running Long Beach in those days when he came and ran there. He had a big impact because we have a huge, huge Hispanic market in southern California. He carried the Mexico flag for us and he's carried the Mexican flag for Mexico. After the Rodriguez brothers, he came in and carried the motor racing flag for his country for a number of years until the new younger generation that's with us today. Although Adrian, he can be the older of the younger generation.
But I do want to acknowledge and salute him for what he's done for motor racing, his country, Mexico, but around the world and in the United States. Obviously, Mexico is incredibly important to us. Apart from the fact that we have three tremendous drivers in our series from Mexico, and we have an equal number of excellent drivers in the Atlantic series, and if you look down into the Barber Dodge series, you'll find some young Mexican drivers in that series as well. There's a huge commitment from the country of Mexico to motor racing, particularly in North America. You saw obviously in Monterrey, the huge crowds that were there. They were there to see their drivers perform. We've had a tremendous number of people in the United States racing of Hispanic origin who have come to see our drivers perform in this country.
Now, at the end of the season, we will finish up this year's FedEx Championship Series in Mexico City. I can't think of a more fabled racetrack to go to than Mexico City for this race, particularly at the end of the season when the Mexican people will be able to salute three drivers who performed so admirably and held up their country's flag throughout the season here in the CART FedEx Championship Series. Very important to us. Part of the NAFTA family of free countries, United States, Canada, Mexico, part of CART strategy. We are delighted and honored to go to Mexico City and have these three current drivers with us and indeed our great past champion, Mr. Rebaque, who won this race 20 years ago today.
Adam Saal: As Chris mentioned, we do have three drivers from Mexico. Mario Dominguez did join us. We'll hear from all three drivers. We'll start with Adrian, because as Chris says, he's the oldest. Certainly Adrian Fernandez has characterized what the later form of CART racing is in Mexico. If you go to Mexico, you see Adrian on billboards everywhere. He's a superstar in his home country. He started with us in Indy Lights back in 1992 and quickly established a name for himself as one of our premiere competitors. Adrian, 20 years ago, where were you at in your life as a boy when Hector Rebaque won his first race?
Adrian Fernandez: I wasn't born yet (laughter). Just make the numbers. Actually, 20 years ago is exactly when I start racing. I remember Hector from watching him on TV on Formula 1. We were big fans. The family was a big fan of racing. Since I was a little kid, we followed the Rodriguez brothers. I was very small at that time. But when Hector went to Formula 1, we follow him, watch him on TV, and all that. When I start racing, basically I was not much interested in racing in Europe. But when I got the interest of racing in Europe, I came close to Hector and asked him for some help and some guidance and some of the things that I wanted to do. Obviously, I wanted to go to Europe. At that time there was nobody to really give you any hand in that respect. So there was just Hector. Hector was really the only one in Europe.
So he gave me some contacts and some letters and things like that that helped me getting started in Europe. You know, we always have appreciated what all Mexican drivers have done for us. You know, they're always compared with the greatest drivers of Mexico, they're all great, all part of our history, the Rodriguez brothers, Hector Rebaque, a big part of what Mexican racing is. Our aim and our future is in us now to continue helping the new generation. In a few years more, I may be out, but Michel has a few more years, Mario, other young kids. Or commitment is to racing, to try to make Mexican racing like Brazil. Right now there's more Mexicans racing outside Mexico than ever before. I think if we continue to do this in the future, hopefully we can have a lot more drivers representing us. Nice to see you, Hector. Hopefully we can bring you a win here.
Adam Saal: Thank you, Adrian. We are on a tight time schedule. There will be a photo opportunity with the four drivers at the victory podium at the conclusion of this. Michel, moving to you, family is a big part of the culture in Mexico. You come from a great racing family, the Jourdain family. Talk about basically the same things, where were you at in your life, it's going to be definitely younger for sure, but talk about your first experience with Hector Rebaque and racing.
Michel Jourdain Jr.: Well, I remember on all Sundays we used to get together in my grandparents' house. Little things that I remember, getting together on Sundays watching sometimes Hector in his races in Formula 1. I don't remember much. Well, at that time CART was not broadcasted in Mexico, so I don't remember watching him. But one of those little flashes that you have from being very little, I guess. When he was in Formula 1, I was three or four years old. In '82, I was five years old. But I do remember little things. Obviously, you know, being a formula racing family and all, that I wanted to grow up and be like my dad and uncles.
When I was seven years old, I wanted to be like Adrian, because since then he was a superstar (laughter). I grew up watching Adrian racing. He was still very young. When he was starting, you know, I used to go to all the races then, too. But obviously, Hector, like you said before, he's the one that started the international winning in CART, you know, starting to beat the gringos here. It was very good, Hector started that (laughter). You know, Emerson, all these guys. Obviously, Adrian has done very good. A lot of guys. Hopefully I can get to win my first race soon. But I'm very happy for you to be here with us. Hopefully we can have a good race tomorrow. Thank you.
Adam Saal: Thank you very much. Speaking of the rich history, Mario Dominguez has an outstanding history here at Road America. He saw the track for the first time on Wednesday. Although today hasn't gone as well as he would like, it's good to see him here to join us. You have qualifying this afternoon. You're going to get back on it. We know you're going to get it done. Talk a little bit about this track. You had never seen it before you took a couple laps with Chris on Wednesday. Can you feel the history and culture of this track when you're here?
Mario Dominguez: Yeah. You can tell by the fans, they all come here and they know their racing very well, they know CART. They've obviously been following this race for a long time. It's nice to get out there and talk to some of the fans. A lot of them have a lot of stories to tell you about the track. But it's beautiful. I tell you, it's one of the most beautiful tracks I've been to. It's not very easy to learn. It's taken me a bit of time to learn. But today we were getting better. So hopefully we can improve the car as well for qualifying and improve a little bit myself so we can be faster. I think we're on our way. We're looking good.
Adam Saal: We are on a tight time schedule. We only have about five minutes for questions before we go over and take the photo opportunity. Mr. Pook does speak Spanish, as well, so we can take questions in all languages.
Q: Hector, you only ran one more race of any kind after winning here.
Hector Rebaque: Well, this was my last race at that time in the CART series. Then I went back to Europe and I drove one Formula 1 race at the Race of Champions in '83, and then I retired.
Q: Why did you give up racing?
Hector Rebaque: That's a very long story. I was hoping to get back to Formula 1. Things didn't work out. After waiting for this opportunity in '83, there was going to be a new team in which I was going to drive. It didn't happen. Then I just did this one race in '83 and decided to retire. It's a long story. I'll make it short (laughter).
Adam Saal: Gentlemen, thank you very much. We want to thank all of you. Hector, great to have you back here. We hope you enjoy the race this weekend.
Hector Rebaque: Thank you.