Motegi Diary: It's Usually Best If You're Both Good And Lucky. by Ron Richards That was the case Saturday for Adrian Fernandez and the Patrick Racing Team in the 1999 FedEx Championship Series' second annual stop - the Firestone Firehawk 500...
Motegi Diary: It's Usually Best If You're Both Good And Lucky. by Ron Richards That was the case Saturday for Adrian Fernandez and the Patrick Racing Team in the 1999 FedEx Championship Series' second annual stop - the Firestone Firehawk 500 - at Twin Ring Motegi about 65 miles north of Tokyo.
Fernandez was undoubtedly good - leading 149 out of 201 laps on the 1.5-mile oval - and he kept his focus to win for the fourth time in his career.
But he also caught a break at the very end of the 311-mile event when the yellow flew with only three laps to go. Fernandez' car was running on methanol fumes when he crossed the start/finish line to snag the checkered flag and his third Champ Car victory in the last 20 races.
Without the late-race caution period, it probably would have ended up very differently. Being good - as well as lucky - had much to do with the outcome.
Jim McGee, general manager for Patrick Racing, has been around this sport for a long time and he just smiled backstage at the winner's circle before accepting the trophy on behalf of owner Pat Patrick, who was back in his Jackson, Mich., home.
"It worked out OK for us, didn't it Adrian?" he said with a big smile.
Fernandez, the good-humored Mexican whose grin could stretch from Cozumel to Mexico City, acknowledged McGee's point but was quick to add that he thought his car was dominant on the day.
"We were trying to conserve fuel, sure, but I didn't feel challenged too often during the race," he said. "Sometimes you make your own luck, too."
The podium was a popular place for guys who had good luck Saturday. Gil de Ferran started the race with a spin as he accelerated toward the start/finish line to begin the race. The green flag never flew and de Ferran, who dropped to 10th due to the miscue, was able to re-position himself on the pole before the green light came on to start the race a couple laps later.
"The car just got away at the start," he said.
"I was able to gather it up because of my skill in the cockpit," he offered, with a sly grin.
"You were just lucky to catch it and be able to continue," McGee chided with a laugh.
"Yeah," chimed in Fernandez, kidding de Ferran, "What was that all about? Can't you get the start right? You could have wiped out half the field doing something like that."
Good luck was not the exclusive Saturday partner of the Champ Car drivers, though.
We knew rain was a distinct possibility for Saturday. With the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach looming next Sunday, another day on the ground here in Japan would have created some extremely difficult logistical challenges. While it would have been managed, suffice it to say everyone was pleased that the rain didn't begin falling until we were backstage at the trophy presentations.
During dinner Friday night with our hosts, the Twin Ring Motegi contingent told us the rain would hold off until about 4 p.m. Saturday. It began falling lightly about 3:30 as we concluded our podium presentations.
So it all came together quite well for us in our second trip to Japan. The Twin Ring Motegi record 61,000 people in attendance - up from 55,000 in 1998 - saw a very memorable race. And being good , sprinkled with a bit of luck, was the key to being successful in CART's second trip to the Land of the Rising Sun.
The packing now all begins in earnest again and the cars and equipment will be on the ground in Los Angeles Monday morning. The vast majority of people jet back to the States tomorrow.
After a 2-to-3 hour bus ride back to Narita airport, we'll start it all over again, with an eye toward the excitement that is the Long Beach Grand Prix, which is in its 25th year.