CHAMPCAR/CART: Motegi Race Report

Fernandez Flies His three-day dominance aside, Adrian Fernandez needed a couple of late yellows to insure his second straight victory here at Twin Ring Motegi in front of a crowd of 61,000. The 33-year-old veteran had no equal in CART's...

Fernandez Flies His three-day dominance aside, Adrian Fernandez needed a couple of late yellows to insure his second straight victory here at Twin Ring Motegi in front of a crowd of 61,000.

The 33-year-old veteran had no equal in CART's second race of 1999, but took the checkered flag under caution on fumes. Then his gearbox seized up before he could drive into the winner's circle.

"It would have been close, that's what my guys told me," said Fernandez, referring to the amount of fuel he had left in the Tecate Reynard/Ford/Firestone. "I saved fuel all day, and that turned out to be critical.

"When that next-to-last yellow came out, I was thinking should we pit or stay out? [Team manager] Steve Newey and [engineer] John Ward said to stay out. But I couldn't look at the fuel gauge."

Even though he led 149 of the 201 laps, Fernandez found himself in that precarious position because of the furious pace. Earlier, during an aborted start, pole sitter Gil de Ferran spun coming down for the start, but saved it and continued. After that, the first third of the race was all green and flat out.

Fernandez's average speed for 1:46.01 was 176 mph, and he hoped his team's fuel-saving strategy would make it a three pit-stop day. When Max Papis spun entering the pits on Lap 194, the yellow came out, and everybody dove into the pits for a splash of fuel.

Everybody but Fernandez.

"You don't pit while you're leading that late -- that's my strategy," chuckled Ward, the former designer for Dan Gurney, who has been part of the key to Fernandez's resurgence with Patrick Racing. "My computer said we would have finished on fumes."

As it turned out, Greg Moore's spectacular spin and save on lap 199 gave the race a yellow/checkered flag finish and Fernandez a chance to breath easy.

"I was running half throttle on that last restart, not even using the brakes going into [Turn] 3, and my crew was still yelling at me to back off," said Fernandez, who has now led 255 of the 402 total laps of competition at Twin Ring. "I wanted one more yellow, and I got one."

That last mad scramble into the pits, Moore's adventure and some plucky driving left de Ferran in second place. It wasn't what Honda Motor Company wanted, but it was an important result for Goodyear -- one of its only hopes of getting back into the victory lane in the FedEx Championship.

"The promoters told us to make it more exciting," said de Ferran, who came from 25th to sixth in the season opener at Homestead in the Valvoline Reynard/Honda/Goodyear. "I did my part at the start."

Christian Fittipaldi started seventh, ran strong all afternoon and finished third in the Kmart Swift/Ford/Firestone.

"We're off to a good start this year. I'm happy about that," said Fittipaldi, who was ninth at Florida. "Gil was pushing me hard, and I had him behind me until my Brazilian buddy Tarso [Marques] pulled out of the pits and drove right up in front of me. I had to go wide to miss him, and Gil got around me."

Moore -- who still leads the PPG point standings heading into Long Beach next weekend -- managed to salvage fourth place in the Player's Reynard/Mercedes/Firestone and drove down the front straightaway backward all the way into the first turn after correcting his slide off Turn 4.

"For some reason, the car really got loose at the end of the race, and when I spun, I kept looking in the mirrors, trying to keep the car away from the wall," he said. "We had second locked before that, but we'll take it."

Because of that late fuel madness and Fernandez staying out, only four cars finished on the lead lap. Michael Andretti was fifth in the other Kmart Special, but would have finished second or third had he not lost first gear and stalled on his splash-and-go pit stop.

"I came in second and went out eighth," he said

Source: CART Online

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Max Papis , Adrian Fernandez , Christian Fittipaldi , Dan Gurney , Greg Moore