CHAMPCAR/CART: Motegi Race Story

Fernandez Takes Motegi (March 28, 1998) -- Adrian Fernandez shook off the flu Saturday morning, then flew to his second career FedEx Championship Series victory Saturday afternoon in the Budweiser 500k on the new oval at Twin...

Fernandez Takes Motegi

(March 28, 1998) -- Adrian Fernandez shook off the flu Saturday morning, then flew to his second career FedEx Championship Series victory Saturday afternoon in the Budweiser 500k on the new oval at Twin Ring Motegi.

Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Labatt Reynard Ford) held off a hard-charging Al Unser Jr. - bidding for his first victory in 35 events - to earn a 1.086-second victory in Round 2 of the FedEx Championship Series before an announced crowd of 55,000. He led 102 of the 201 laps to earn $100,000 for his first victory since 1996 at Toronto, site of his only previous CART triumph.

The victory moved Fernandez in the PPG Cup championship points lead for the first time in his six-year CART career. He and Greg Moore (Player's/Indeck Reynard Mercedes), who finished fourth Sunday, are tied with 29 points, but Fernandez ranks first in the championship based on his higher finish thus far this season.

Before battling Unser Jr., Fernandez has been tackling a flu bug the past few days.

"It was very strange. Two days ago, I started to feel weird in my stomach," said Fernandez, who joined Patrick Racing this season after spending the past two with the Tasman Motorsports Group. "Yesterday, after we got rained out, a group of us drivers were back at the hotel playing cards. I went back to my room at about 3 p.m. and began losing fluids. This morning, I was feeling dizzy, so I went to see Dr. [Steve] Olvey [CART Director of Medical Affairs] and he told me to make sure I keep taking fluids.

"After the warmup, the car felt good, and that gave me the adrenaline to keep going. Now, I'm going to make sure I get sick the next few races."

Fernandez' upset stomach could not have improved much while Unser Jr. was in his mirrors.

"Al was very strong from about mid-race, and I knew he was going to be strong all the way," Fernandez said. "The best car I had was the one before the last pit stop. I told my guys 'Don't change anything.' We were saving fuel a little bit, and I knew he was catching me at that stage, just before Bobby [Rahal's] accident [on Lap 186]. I was hoping the race would end under yellow, to be honest. But after I was able to open a good lead on Al on the last restart [on Lap 196, with six laps remaining] I felt like the race was ours. But not until then."

Unser Jr. (Marlboro Penske Mercedes) earned his best showing since finishing second at Milwaukee in 1996, was preparing for what he termed "a good old Saturday night sprint car race."

"It was one of those deals where if I could have gotten around Adrian, he would have had problems getting back by me," said Unser Jr., who improved from 15th starting position to challenge for the victory. "But Adrian was expecting that, and he was prepared. It was great to be there, and it's great to be here."

De Ferran (Valvoline/Cummins Special Reynard Honda) drove a steady race while claiming his eighth podium finish in his past 14 starts.

"I was trying really hard to bring Honda a win at its home track, but it was not to be," de Ferran said. "There was a lot of overtaking going on throughout the race, I was hoping to challenge Al and Adrian late in the race, but unfortunately, there were a few too many cars between me and Al. It was a great race though, and I hope the fans enjoyed it."

The race opened with Fernandez diving under polesitter Jimmy Vasser (Target Reynard Honda) to take the lead heading into Turn 1 of the opening lap, and the competition maintained a blistering pace for the first 100 laps on the 1.549-mile oval, which were completed at an average speed of 199.066 mph.

The lead changed hands seven times in that span, with Fernandez (29 laps), Vasser (44), Michael Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Swift Ford, 17 laps) and Unser Jr. (10) spending time on the point.

Unser Jr. took his second lead on Lap 100 when Fernandez pitted, and he held it until being passed by Fernandez heading into Turn 3 on Lap 117. Fernandez remained in front until his final pit stop on Lap 159, which put Paul Tracy (KOOL Reynard Honda) in the lead when Unser Jr. pitted as well.

Tracy, de Ferran and Moore spent four laps each in front from Laps 160 through 171 before Fernandez regained the advantage during a Moore pit stop on Lap 172. Despite the drama caused by the late-race caution flag resulting from accident involving Rahal - who was unhurt - Fernandez was never overtaken thereafter.

Moore was fourth in a strong follow-up to his runnerup finish at Homestead in the season opener. Tracy's fifth-place finish was his best since a fourth-place effort at Michigan Speedway last season.

The Budweiser 500 will be broadcast on a tape-delay basis by ABC-TV at 2 p.m. ET today. It will re-air Wednesday 1 p.m. ET on ESPN and Friday 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

The FedEx Championship Series executes a quick turnaround with Round 3 as the teams prepare for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, Sunday, April 5 on the streets of downtown Long Beach, Calif.

Source: CART Online

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Al Unser Jr. , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Adrian Fernandez , Paul Tracy , Greg Moore