Fernandez believes Texas is too soon for Gutierrez’s oval debut
Former Indy car star Adrian Fernandez believes Esteban Gutierrez should not race at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend as Sebastien Bourdais’ replacement in the #18 Dale Coyne Racing car, as he needs more time to prepare for his first oval race.
Fernandez serves as Gutierrez’s advisor and friend but says the 25-year-old makes his own business deals – including quitting the Techeetah Formula E team to pursue an IndyCar career. His former commitments would have obliged Gutierrez to race at FE's events in Berlin, New York and Montreal and miss the Verizon IndyCar Series rounds at Texas, Toronto and Mid-Ohio.
However, despite Gutierrez now being available for this weekend’s Rain Guard Water Sealers 600 at TMS, and despite the former F1 driver’s “decent job” on his IndyCar debut at Detroit last weekend, Fernandez said he felt Gutierrez should not compete in this weekend’s IndyCar race.
He told Motorsport.com: “It’s not easy by any means to jump in a car without any time or preparation and race at such a hard track like Detroit. That’s extremely difficult regardless of how much experience a driver has with different types of car. So I was very pleased with Esteban. He kept his nose clean and did a decent job under the circumstances.
“But my opinion is that you can do this on a road or street course but I don’t think you should do it on an oval – not without good preparation.
“You have an example with Fernando Alonso. He did an extremely good job but at Indy he had a week to prepare. He had a test day, he had Rookie Orientation where they take you slowly through the build-up to high speed, he had all types of good people helping him like Michael [Andretti] and Gil de Ferran. And then he had a lot of days to take his time and learn all the tricks about ovals.
“Texas is one of the most difficult ovals to just come and race, so I would say he should step away from it until he has proper time testing on ovals.”
Should Gutierrez not race in Texas, it is thought Oriol Servia is now the leading candidate for Bourdais' #18 DCR-Honda.
Gutierrez presence “would be good for everyone”
Fernandez said that he is hoping that Gutierrez will have a longterm future in IndyCar, as he believes that it would be great for the series, for Mexico and for Gutierrez himself. Since Fernandez’s eponymous team, which scored five wins, left IndyCar at the end of 2006, “there has been a big hole and nobody has really filled it,” he said. And given that Mexico will possibly join the 2018 IndyCar schedule with a race on Puebla’s 1.25-mile oval, Fernandez said that a homegrown driver would help make the event thrive.
He said: “We had Formula 1 races in the past where we didn’t have any Mexican driver and they were successful, but IndyCar races there always had a Mexican driver, and they could be key to the success. I think Esteban in IndyCar would be a perfect match.
“Indy cars were really, really successful and popular in Mexico. There is a huge Latin following here in America and I think the following that Formula 1 currently has in Mexico started with IndyCar.
“IndyCar and Formula 1 complement each other and the fanbase can’t get enough. Well, we have Mexican drivers in every single series but we were missing one in IndyCar. So I think this opportunity would be great timing for the series and for Esteban.”
Confident that Gutierrez will shine
Fernandez, who scored 11 Indy car wins as a driver, and finished runner-up in the 2000 CART Indy car championship, said he was very optimistic that Gutierrez can be successful in the IndyCar Series. However, he added that Gutierrez, who won the GP3 title and was third in GP2 before graduating to Formula 1 with Sauber, should not expect success to come right away.
He said: “I warned Esteban this is a very, very competitive series, very challenging, very difficult and I said, ‘You’re going to enjoy it but you’re going to have to work really hard for it.’
“People think Formula 1 has the best drivers in the world and it does have some of them. But not all of the best, and only the best for that series, if you see what I mean. In F1 you compete against just a few drivers because there is so much gap between the various teams. Like last year, Lewis Hamilton competed against just one guy at most races – his teammate. In IndyCar, that never happens – there are so many drivers who can win on any weekend because the cars are so even. So you have a bad day in qualifying and you will be 15th. Even Esteban told me the intensity in IndyCar is greater than in Formula 1.
“And of course the physical part of it is much bigger. He hadn’t experienced that in F1. The types of track where we race are very different from each other. In F1, even every curb at most modern tracks is similar because they are all homologated by the FIA , so the corners end up very similar in style. In IndyCar, you go to Detroit and you go to Road America, and the characteristics between them could not be more different
“And that’s just road and street courses! Then you have ovals as well, and they are very different from each other, too. So to win the championship you have to be good at every type of track.
“I believe in Esteban. He just needs to test and feel settled and wanted in a team and then he can really focus. Once he finds that here, I think he can really be good. But do I think he will come and blast everybody away? No – there are a lot of very, very good drivers in the series.
“However, if I was still running a team, I would be looking at him. As well as the driving, I think there are a lot of good marketing opportunities here. Esteban is a great marketable guy outside the cockpit. A huge asset for any team, and a huge asset for the series’ popularity.”
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