WEST ALLIS, Wis. (May 31, 2002) - Adrian Fernandez ( ...
WEST ALLIS, Wis. (May 31, 2002) - Adrian Fernandez (#51 Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Honda/Lola/Bridgestone) started the 2002 CART FedEx Championship Series campaign by dominating practice and qualifying at the Tecate Telmex Monterrey Grand Prix and has come back from the May layoff with the same type of fire, leading the opening day of practice for Sunday's Miller Lite 250 at the Milwaukee Mile.
Fernandez snapped off a top lap of 22.021 seconds (168.712 mph/271.508 km/h) late in a cloudy afternoon session to take the day's honors, besting the field by half a second. He will hope to carry the momentum built on a warm Wisconsin day into Saturday as he looks to claim his first CART short-oval pole, having paced qualifying previous on the two-mile Michigan oval as well as the temporary road course at Monterrey, Mexico.
His lap knocked defending race winner Kenny Brack (#12 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) out of the top spot for the day after the Swede had paced the morning session with a best lap of 22.535 sec. (164.864 mph/265.315 km/h). Brack, who won the pole at Milwaukee last season by virtue of his points lead when the qualifying session was rained out, will be looking for his seventh career pole and his fifth to come on an oval course during Saturday's time trials.
Brack won last year's Milwaukee event, leading 130 of the 225 laps while with Team Rahal, and is looking for his first trip to Victory Lane since moving to Target Chip Ganassi Racing in the off-season.
Jim Trueman Rookie of the Year points leader Mario Dominguez (#16 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) rounded out the top three on the day, using his morning time of 22.586 sec. (164.491mph/264.716 km/h) to claim the third spot, running .01sec ahead of Cristiano da Matta (#6 Havoline Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone). Dominguez is coming off a Motegi race that saw him score his first championship points after he finished 11th on the Japanese oval.
Da Matta had an encouraging day with the fourth-best time of the two practice sessions, as the Monterrey winner hopes the time that he and his Newman/Haas team spent testing at the Milwaukee Mile in May to snare his first oval-track points of the 2002 season. Brack's backup car was the fifth-fastest of the day while Team Rahal's Jimmy Vasser (#8 Shell Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone) was the only other driver on the day to break the 22.7-second barrier.
Each of the three engine manufacturers were represented in the top-three of the day, with Fernandez's Honda leading the way followed by the Toyota of Brack in second, and the Ford-Cosworth of Dominguez running in the third spot.
The fight for the pole will take place Saturday afternoon at the 1.032-mile oval at beginning at 2:30 p.m. Eastern Time, with live broadcast coverage on SPEED Channel.
Quotes from the top three finishers in Friday's practice sessions follow below:
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ (#51 Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Honda/Lola/Bridgestone): "We took the whole month of May to catch up on all the little things we needed to do for the team. We tested in Elkhart Lake and then came here and tested here for two days and we were pretty happy with the car. The car was good straightaway, it has just been fantastic. I just want to keep it like that for the rest of the weekend and try to give Fernandez Racing its first win." (On Honda's recent decision to join the Indy Racing League in 2003) "We're committed to CART. What happened to Honda is very sad, and the way it was handled was bad. (CART President and CEO) Chris Pook is doing a good job. I have to be confident, I have to be positive. If we're going to be negative, we might as well just pack up and go home now. I love this series."
KENNY BRACK: (#12 Target Toyota/Lola/Bridgestone): "The grip level certainly came up this afternoon, and especially in the last few minutes. I think this oval is very challenging because it's very different on one end and the other. Racing is always very exciting and I think it'll be very exciting here on race day. It'll definitely be busy." (On addition of Scott Dixon to Target Chip Ganassi Racing) "I'm sure there's a lot of work to take on another car, but if anyone can do it, it's Ganassi. I don't think it's going to be a problem and I haven't seen any reason to think otherwise."
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: (#16 Herdez Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone): The day's been very good. We started off with a very good car. We tested here two weeks ago and I feel very comfortable. We tried a bunch of different things with the car this afternoon, but overall it was still very comfortable. Hopefully, it will continue into tomorrow when it matters." (On success of Mexican drivers in CART) "I think it's great that the Mexicans are showing things that they haven't done before in racing. The Mexicans are big CART fans. There are three Mexicans now, and hopefully it will be like the Brazilians where there will be more racing and more winning races."