Indy Racing League Weekly Teleconference Transcript March 16, 2004 Adrian Fernandez MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. We'd like to welcome two drivers to today's Indy Racing League teleconference. Both Marty Roth and Adrian Fernandez made...
Indy Racing League
Weekly Teleconference Transcript
March 16, 2004
MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. We'd like to welcome two drivers to today's Indy Racing League teleconference. Both Marty Roth and Adrian Fernandez made big news in the world of open-wheel racing in the past several days. Later in the call, we'll welcome new IRL IndyCar® Series participant Adrian Fernandez. We'll open today's call with the third entrant in this year's Indy 500, Marty Roth. Roth, who has competed in 13 Menards Infiniti Pro Series^Ù races since the 2002 season announced yesterday that he will be entering his own car in the 88th running of the Indianapolis 500 in two months. He will enter a Dallara/Toyota/Firestone. Marty, thanks for joining us today, congratulations.
We'd now like to welcome the newest member of the Indy Racing League. Last week, Adrian Fernandez announced his plan to join the IRL starting this weekend. Fernandez also became the second driver to enter into the Indianapolis 500. He will join teammate Kosuke Matsuura in May. Adrian, thanks for joining us on today's call.
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Thank you.
Q: The IndyCar family is certainly excited to have you join the series beginning at Phoenix this weekend. Can you talk about your decision to bring your team to the IRL?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Yes. Well, the decision came down to practically more than the wire. We needed some confidence, we needed some assurance of what the new group of owners of Open Wheel Racing (Series) were going to do, and those things were not happening. When you have four, five weeks before the first race, you have to make serious decisions. You can't just go by trust when you have sponsors that have been with you for many years and the situation doesn't look good. At some stage, we had to make our decision. We consulted with our sponsors. That's what we did.
Q: You're a new driver to the series, but you've been a team owner in the league since last year. How will this help you adapt this season in the IndyCar Series?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Well, we've been in IndyCar Series before with Matsuura and with Roger (Yasukawa) last year, with our sponsor Panasonic. This really will put the team together again. It really makes a more efficient team. It makes a lot of things a lot better for us also. I think that will make us more competitive. The team has been racing the (Panoz) G Force car. Even though I haven't been in the car before, we're not going to start from zero because the team has been testing. It has been racing. I think it will be a good opportunity for Matsuura to learn and work with us. I'm looking forward to that. I'm looking forward to go back to Indy, Motegi, and see a lot of my old friends that I haven't seen in a while.
Q: You started at Indianapolis twice. You finished 28th in '94, 21st in '95. Obviously, it's going to be nice to have you back at the Brickyard in May. Can you talk about your excitement of returning to Indianapolis?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: It's going to be exciting because when I took part in the race in '94 and '95, it was very, very -- it was a very short opportunity in terms of in the race. The first year, I had a flat tire, and I could never make it to the pits. The second year, I had a blown engine. So I really never finished the race. I also wasn't in the team -- the right team -- at that time. It was just the beginning of my career. I'm very excited to go back with our own team and to go to race one of the most exciting races and most strategic races in the world.
Q: You almost were back at Indianapolis for the IROC race in '99, but you got hurt. Does this kind of regenerate you after an absence of about nine years?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Yeah, I remember when I did my first few laps in an IROC car, everything comes back pretty quickly. Obviously an IROC car is totally different than an IndyCar Series car. But in terms of the track and all that, we did a lot of laps in those two years. You know, anything that you learn well, you don't forget. We're going to have so much practice through the dates and everything that I don't foresee any problems at all.
Q: Since you last drove here, the Mexican population in Indianapolis has grown immensely. Do you hope to appeal to those people?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Absolutely. Our Mexican fans have always been very supportive. We just have to let them know that I'm going to be there. I'm sure they will come to support us, and we will have support like we always have. What we are right now is because of our fans, because of the support we have got through Mexico for many years.
Q: What assurances were you looking for from the new ownership group that you didn't see?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Well, drivers, drivers they were going to compete on the year, the schedule, the TV package, internationally and Mexico, a business plan. Just the normal things.
Q: Can you imagine the Champ Car series going forward? Do you have some doubts about it now?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: I made my decision on the facts that we had presented to us in Long Beach five weeks before the first race. To be honest, I hope they have 25 cars in Long Beach, and the Mexican races will be a success. I mean, for me it's a big hit, and I feel very sad for not being able to race in Mexico. I will do anything to race those races. What we got presented and what we saw there, it didn't give us the confidence that this will happen. And what other teams, what other drivers may think or not, that's up to them. We had to make our decision. When we spoke with our sponsor, we presented the facts of the situation. We saw it was very critical, and we just couldn't go by the word "trust." When you have the owners of the series taking drivers with funding away from other private teams, you see Patrick Carpentier with no drive and you see the champion of the series with no sponsorship, when he's from Canada and there are three events which are important to the series in Canada--how in the world can you not get sponsorship from Canada to support the champion when you have been supported from Players for so many years? It just doesn't make sense. None of the things were making sense. As much as I have been a supporter of the series, I was a big part of the support for Mexican races to make them happen, how long can you be hanging on there waiting for this will happen? Unfortunately, there is not $100 million as there was last year to support the series. You have to go by trust. It's a difficult thing to do when you don't see the facts happening.
Q: I just want to make sure, because there has been so much written, so much on the Internet, you could take about 10% of the Internet and try to find a fact or two there, did you go to anyone within the Open-Wheel Racing Series and ask them for the financial support that you received last year? If so, was that a deciding factor on getting financial support from the IRL in order to make the switch?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Well, think about it. I mean, I know it's been around there, because Gerry Forsythe said it. But any money owed or not owed to Fernandez Racing, we knew that in December. Do you think I'm going to wait all this late and let the first race go away, and in the last little minute, present my car in Long Beach, after that go to my sponsors, Telmex, Tecate and Quaker State, support the two Mexican races, go there and tell them my story, move them to the IRL because of money? I mean, there's no way I would make that. I don't care how good I am on selling or doing things, but there is no way you can be able to do that. The risk factor of doing all these things would be huge, if I was doing it for the money. You know, our sponsors have been hit tremendously in Mexico because of the two Mexican races. So this was a serious decision. People who think that I did that, they have to think that I also have to think about our sponsors. And this was not an easy decision. If you think about it, at the end of the day, why should I go through all these problems and this situation? I probably should just retire and not do anything. But I'm not ready to retire. I'm not ready to leave the sport this way. Who have turned their back on me is them, not myself on them.
Q: When you look at racing in the Indy Racing League, do you hope someday, and I know who promotes the races in Mexico, but do you hope someday to be part of the promotion to bring the IRL into Mexico?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Right. I do hope so. I will do anything to be back to race in front of my fans. Those races, I fought very hard for those races, to make them happen in Mexico. Believe me, to make the decision I did, it was very, very, very hard. People have to get it very clear and very straight. If they don't get it, I don't care. It's what we made, and the decision we made with the consulting of our sponsors, was because we were not presented with the assurance and the facts that we needed to have a business plan for the future. You know, how can you be confident when you have 12 drivers confirmed, and all the things I have mentioned already, which are not just coming from myself, they're already public knowledge. Most of you guys have already written my information through other sources. If you put all this together, what would you guys do?
Q: You on Wind Tunnel last night taking phone calls was one of the most courageous things I've ever seen from a driver. Hearing some of the things that the callers said, fans of yours that were not happy with the move, how difficult is that for you to take right now?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: It's very difficult. But the most difficult thing is when you criticize somebody else without the facts in your hand. If I'm going to be a fan of somebody, if I'm going to be a friend of somebody, I'm not going to criticize or I'm not going to give my opinion before I have the facts on my hand. Everybody has a right to criticize and to say something. But I've been surprised in the way some people, some fans, have reacted without the real facts on their hands. They need to see really why Fernandez Racing has made this decision. I know the real fans who are behind Fernandez Racing and myself, and they'll see at the end of the day why we did this. It's nothing that Fernandez Racing and Adrian Fernandez likes, but we have no choice. I'm very sad what happened in open-wheel racing in the last few years. It's time to get united. It's time to look forward to the future. The things that were presented to us, like I said before, were not an assurance that the series will continue. That was going to be -- if we will wait until Long Beach, it won't happen. If we will wait, three races, the series will not continue because there will not be commitment or whatever. It will be the end of Fernandez Racing, and I will have to put 40 employees with their families out in the street in a situation where business is -- employee opportunities are very scarce because most of the teams have been gone. A lot of teams are out there. There are a lot of mechanics looking for jobs. When you put all this in perspective, you know, it will be the end of everything. The hit will be a lot harder than what we feel now. I think everybody is reacting by emotions, and I will understand it. But believe me, for myself and for our sponsor, it was a very, very, very hard decision to take. But I can't save the sport on my own. There are other things that have happened through the years to get where we are. Unfortunately, the old Champ Car that we know is all gone. Just look at the teams that there are now. Look at the teams that were t here. Look at the drivers that were there and are there now. You have to look at the facts of the real situation and the facts that has been happening in the last few days to really make a good judgment. At the end, every opinion, every comment is respectable for everybody.
Q: For Phoenix, I assume you're going to be operating off of your existing equipment with the Panasonic team. What does this move, this jump, mean in terms of having to secure additional cars, additional engines to run both cars the rest of the season?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Well, we have three (Panoz) G Force cars. We took one of those cars to be prepared for this race. We have basically 11 days to get everything ready. I went to the shop last Friday to do the seat. Like I say, if this was something that was related to money or something like that, I would have tested this car before, I would have my seat ready and everything. But we've been scrambling to have the car ready. Honda has been supportive, we're going to have an engine from them. They're doing everything they can to support us and help us. We're not starting from zero, even though I haven't been able to drive the car yet. We have information from the team. They have already run the car. So a lot of the little things that you go through when you have a new car, it's already been sorted. You know, for me, it's the first session, it's just a matter of getting used to the engine power, to the car, all the little things you normally do in the first testing when you have everything new. The team has been together for a while. We have John Ward now as an engineer that worked with me in the days of Patrick Racing. That's going to help tremendously to help that confidence of my guys, knowing they will be preparing a good car. I just have to take it step by step. But I'm encouraged, you know, at the end of the day, with the support of our team, Honda, our sponsor, we'll be able to get the results that we all want.
Q: Do you have another car coming?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Yeah. We have two more cars coming, yes.
Q: You're going to be going to places like Kansas, Chicago, Texas. Have you looked at the schedule and tried to figure out exactly how many of those places are going to be totally new to you, not just the team, but you?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Yeah, there's quite a few. Probably more than half.
Q: You're an owner/driver. Not too many of those in big-time racing these days. When you're in the car, what is on your mind as an owner as well as a driver?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Well, it's not easy. Especially when you go through things like this, when you have to make tough decisions, when you have to go through situations that really in general don't belong to drivers in the general situation. You know, you always have to be yourself and do the best at what you believe and try to follow your instincts. I have been able to organize myself with the team in a way that will help me concentrate more on the race car. Tom Anderson, as you know, he's done a tremendous job with the team, organizing everything in a way that has helped us help me dedicate more time to the gym, to the things I really need to do to be competitive. The first year was extremely hard, and it's getting easier every year. Obviously, these last few weeks have been very hard. But apart from that, I'm really looking forward to putting all this behind me and concentrate on the IRL series and do the best job for our sponsors and the team.
Q: When I used to do television, I would go to A.J. Foyt's pit and ask a question. The only person that can answer that is out there in the car. Who is in charge when you're at the wheel?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: In charge, we have a few people, Gustavo Del Campo is my team manager. We have John Ward, which is my engineer. They're in charge of the car. We have people that all have the responsibility, not because I'm the driver and owner, what I say is what is going to happen. They all have the systems. I have good people who calm me down when I have to be calmed down. You know, when I'm in the race car, I'm a race-car driver. It doesn't change in that respect anything from the past.
Q: How do you think your learning curve will be on this new car?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Well, it's going to be very big. Like I say, I haven't been in the race car before. I don't know much what to expect. But at the same time, I had a lot of experience on ovals. I've spoken to a lot of guys on the cars and all that. Hopefully, the transition will not be as bad as I may think it will be. And hopefully, we can get competitive straightaway. Obviously, I have to be smart and take it step by step. This weekend will be a learning -- the whole process will be a learning process for everybody at the team, myself, the crew, everybody. But half of the job is done because we have another team there. We will have a lot of help and support from them.
Q: How soon do you think the IRL could be in Mexico?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: I don't know. I mean, that's a difficult question to ask because I don't control that. The only thing I can do right now is just concentrate on what I'm doing, you know, let the politics and other things behind me and start to concentrate on driving, which has been difficult in the last few days.
Q: You talked about getting to Phoenix. What about getting back to Motegi? How much are you looking forward to running there?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: I'm looking forward to going to Japan. I have a lot of good friends. Motegi really changed myself when I came from Tasman and went to Patrick Racing. That was my first win with Pat Patrick. It changed the whole perspective of my career. Then coming back in the following year, in '99, repeating the task of winning the race was just fantastic. Not only did we win the race, but we were very strong there, dominant both times. So I'm looking forward to going there. We have a lot of fans there. We have a lot of support. I miss not going there the last few years.
Q: With the winds of change going through open-wheel racing in general, do you sense particularly your move over to the IRL signifies an inevitable conglomeration and we'll only see one series in open-wheel ?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: To be honest, it was not my intention, and it's not my intention at all. Like I said before, I wish (the) Open-Wheel Racing (Series) well, and I hope they have 22, 23, 26 cars in Long Beach, and they have a successful season. Like I said before, I have to make my decision on the facts that were presented to me at that late stage of the season. But, I mean, everybody has said for a long time that we need to be united. Somehow people in both sides have always been -- they have been trying to do that, but at the end of the day for one or the other reason, it hasn't happened. That has hurt the sport in general with there's so much confusion through the fans, and really everybody has lost here. We need to get back together. Michael Andretti has said it. Many people have said it. We need to get back together. We need to put one series, work all together toward the future. When I entered the series in '93, it was a fantastic series. Hopefully this can come back to us.
Q: When you look at the IRL, their gem is the 500. You'll be back there. Is it still, even with all the changes, the race internationally for any driver? Do you still get the impression that any driver of any series, if they could win one race, it would be Indy?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Internationally, definitely it is. It's definitely the most recognizable race in the world. Indianapolis 500. For me, personally, obviously the most important races for me will be the Mexican races. That's why I've been so deeply sad about what has happened, because I have to leave those races for the moment behind me. It's not something that I really wanted to do. But, like I said before, I have no choice. The Indy 500 definitely, besides the Mexican races for myself personally, it will become the most important race this year for me.
Q: From the ownership and businessman side of this, once you made the decision late last week to race exclusively in the IndyCar Series, was there a sense of relief or was there a sense of panic?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Well, you know, those types of decisions are never going to be easy to do. And you know the repercussions of those decisions. Decisions are going to impact tremendously on both sides of the frontier. So I knew that my decision was going to be a very serious decision, and we had to be very sure about what we were doing. We consulted our sponsors. We went through a lot of talks and meetings and everything. We came up with this decision as hard as it could be because of what was happening. Panic, no, because I was sure of what I was doing, very sure about what I was doing. And time will tell. But it's one of those things that once you make the decision, you just have to keep working on what you believe. What I believed is what we have made. Like I say, time will just tell. But right now, you know, I would like to put all these things behind and try to focus on what I do the best, which is driving and focus on the team and building a team, fight for the championship, and leave all those things behind me. I know from my side, my heart, I did everything -- always I did everything to support Champ Cars and support the Mexican races. I have never left them behind. I never turned my back on them. It was just the other way around.
Q: Give us your impression. Matsuura was the highest-finishing rookie at Homestead.
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: I think he has a lot of things to learn. He's never been on an oval. He doesn't have a teammate. It's difficult when you come on ovals. That happens to everybody. I like him very much. He's very talented. He's a very quick driver. He needs to learn a lot of the ovals. I think this change is going to help him tremendously.
Q: There has been some talk in recent days about some offer from a group in Cancun that would like to see the IndyCar Series come there. Do you know anything about a possible event there?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: To be honest, I have heard things like you have heard, but I don't have the facts. I haven't talked to them, the people from Cancun. I can't really comment on that because I really don't know about it.
MODERATOR: We will have a teleconference tomorrow with ABC Sports, 2 p.m. Eastern time, Wednesday, March 17th. The call-in number is 913-981-5510. We will be sending out an advisory on that in just a moment.
Q: I was wondering how you came to get John Ward to come back with you to the Indy Racing League?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: What happened was this has been a problem for us in the last few years, having to stabilize the engineering side. We got John Dick a year ago, two years ago, and he's been fantastic to work with. He actually helped us in the last few races last year, and we were extremely competitive. When we were looking into who could be our engineer this year, we looked at different opportunities. When all these things were shaking about moves, different teams, all that, we find out that John was available. Immediately we called him back, we made a deal with him. He worked with us in the first year of Fernandez Racing. We worked together for three years in Patrick. We always kept a good friendship. We never finished bad with him. He's coming back to join the team. That's a big confidence for myself because we know each other a lot. We were very strong that year. Obviously, there was a lot of pressure from myself to do good. But the team was very young, and sometimes you just do the wrong decisions. We were very inexperienced in handling the team. But I have learned a lot, and I realize that John was the right person that we needed, and I'm just very glad that he came back with us.
Q: Thank you very much, Adrian. We appreciate you being on today's call and welcome you to the Indy Racing League. We'll see you in Phoenix.
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Thank you very much.