The following is an open letter from Adrian Fernandez regarding his choice to leave Champ Car and join the IRL for the 2004 season. There are a lot of questions out there about why Fernandez Racing made the decision to enter into the IRL for the...
The following is an open letter from Adrian Fernandez regarding his choice to leave Champ Car and join the IRL for the 2004 season.
There are a lot of questions out there about why Fernandez Racing made the decision to enter into the IRL for the remainder of the 2004 season and beyond. Hopefully I can clear up a few things, but almost all of what I am going to say is public knowledge and has been covered in the media already.
Fernandez Racing went to Long Beach for two reasons. The first was to support the series. Following the bankruptcy court proceedings in Indianapolis, Fernández Racing was the first team to issue a press release saying that it would be back in Champ Cars for 2004. The only other team to do so was RuSport when they announced AJ Allmendinger.
I personally have always been a strong supporter of CART. I was instrumental in bringing CART to Mexico which was a long-time dream of mine. In November of 2002, Fernández Racing was again the first to commit to CART and issue a release saying that we would be competing in 2003 – this at a time when teams like Penske Racing, Andretti Green, Chip Ganassi and Mo Nunn Racing were leaving for the IRL. CART was a series that I loved, that helped take me where I am today.
Our second reason for going to Long Beach was to find answers to questions that everyone had – a confirmed schedule of races, details regarding the television package for not only the US but Mexico, new sponsors that were going to be involved with the series, the numbers of confirmed cars and drivers, and an established business plan – answers that we as a team needed for our current and future sponsors, with only four weeks left before the start of the season.
The “Visit Mexico” on the side pod of my race car was not a sponsor. I put this there to do something for Mexico and the fans that have made my career in racing possible.
In summary what we learned and didn’t learn in Long Beach left Fernandez Racing with no choice but to join the IRL.
I was deeply concerned that only two of the three owners of OWRS were at Long Beach. How could something else be more important than the launch of this new series and all the battles fought to get to this point? The message it sent did not sit comfortably.
Not once throughout the entire time I was there did any one of the new ownership group or the new Champ Car president speak to me and answer the many questions regarding the Series. Did we receive any calls the past few months asking how things were going with the team, were we going to try to run two cars, etc.? Nothing.
Then we found out about all the deals in the background – a recognizable race winning driver with a contract but no ride who was told this at the last possible moment; sanctioning body owners talking with funded drivers who were also negotiating with other race teams. And, just to set the record straight, this had nothing to do with us. We were not approached or had any type of plans to run Rodolfo Lavin, Roberto Gonzalez, etc. So rumors to that effect that we are mad because someone stole a driver from us are completely false.
There were a lot of other problems which became apparent at Long Beach, such as, not having a 100% confirmed schedule; no details of a television package in Mexico or internationally; 12 confirmed drivers including myself; our series champion with no sponsor; and the lack of a rational business plan.
All of these issues created serious doubts about the viability of the OWRS Champ Car Series in 2004 and beyond. All the promises and nothing was happening. We have too much invested in this team, our long-time sponsors, our fans, Mexico, on and on. Everybody would lose. We needed and expected to get solid facts in Long Beach and we were totally disappointed. You must remember that Fernandez Racing had to expend substantial additional amounts to support race teams in two separate series. The logistical, technical and other costs of running two teams, in Champ Car and the IRL, was very substantial. In addition, my sponsors were already concerned about the turmoil in the Champ Car Series.
If the series would fold prior to the Long Beach race because we didn’t make the car counts per the promoters agreements, or we make it through the Long Beach race and then the series folds – that’s it. Fernández Racing is done, and this impacts everything across the board - the losses to our sponsors, Mexico, our fans... we would be putting 40 employees, most of them with families, out on the street in a tough job market with the closing of Patrick Racing, American Team Spirit Johansson and Walker Racing.
You may be thinking, why not just ride this out and if it ends then go to the IRL? It is not that easy. After a blow like that, it will be much more difficult to convince sponsors and team members that this is now the direction to go. Also, you have a major issue with engines and chassis that might or might not be available.
There has been a rumor that this decision was based on money owed to Fernández Racing. I won’t get into this issue except to say that everything I knew about money either to be paid to Fernández Racing or not paid, I knew long before I went to Long Beach. If this was the issue –then I would not have gone to Long Beach. I would have already made my decision and given my team more than 11 days to prepare for the Phoenix IRL race.
I have been very proud of the accomplishments of the Mexican drivers, especially the wins by Michel and Mario. Sure I want to beat them on the race track and, like in Portland, that is what makes it all the more special for me. We should be united not separated and that is why this whole situation, what everything has come to, is just very sad.
I can’t save Champ Car on my own… and I had to look at the facts that were presented by OWRS and decide if we wanted to take the risk and move forward based on empty promises and a “trust us” mentality. Long Beach was not close to what I expected, and we made our decision then, after talking with our sponsors, to go to the IRL.
One of the most rewarding things for me in my career has been the support of the fans. I know that a lot of them are confused by the events that have happened this past week, and I hope this sheds some light on how we came to our decision. I am not turning my back on Champ Car and the fans. The series that I remember, know and love is bankrupt and already gone.
To be quite honest, I hope there turns out to be 25 cars at Long Beach. I hope the races in Mexico will be as strong as ever with the great racing that has been the benchmark of Champ Car racing in the past. If all this would have happened at the end of last year, yes, I would have waited to see more answers. But it is March 15 and at some point, despite how hard it is personally, you have to face reality.