Fernandez Overcomes Pit Problems, Wins at Chicagoland Despite losing his on-board air jack -- used to raise the car to change tires during pit stops -- early in the race, Adrian Fernandez and his Fernandez Racing team combined a fast car with ...
Fernandez Overcomes Pit Problems, Wins at Chicagoland
Despite losing his on-board air jack -- used to raise the car to change tires during pit stops -- early in the race, Adrian Fernandez and his Fernandez Racing team combined a fast car with excellent pit strategy to overcome their problems and win Sunday's Delphi Indy 300 at Chicagoland Speedway.
To do so, Fernandez also had to hold off the combined efforts of Andretti Green Racing teammates Bryan Herta, Tony Kanaan and Dan Wheldon, as well as Rahal Letterman Racing's Vitor Meira, who crossed the finish line second through fifth, and all within five-tenths of a second of the victor. It is the seventh time this season in 14 IRL IndyCar races that Honda drivers have finished first through third or better.
It is the second Indy Racing League victory of the season for Fernandez, and all five victorious Honda IRL race drivers (Kanaan, Wheldon, Rice, Fernandez and Dario Franchitti) have now each won at least two races. As for Kanaan, his third-place finish today edges him closer still to the IRL drivers' title, which he can clinch with a strong finish in the next round, October 3 at California Speedway.
Indy 500 champion Buddy Rice was fortunate to escape injury in a spectacular crash, after contact with Darren Manning, on Lap 185. Rice's Rahal Letterman Racing Honda flipped into the air and landed upside down on the inside of the backstretch of the 1.5-mile Chicagoland oval. However, IRL safety workers were on the scene within seconds of the incident and Rice climbed out of the car unscathed.
Mark Taylor's strongest race of the season with Access Motorsports also ended early, due to contact with A.J. Foyt IV on Lap 156. Prior to the crash, Taylor turned some of the fastest laps of the race and ran as high as fifth after starting 18th. He also escaped injury in his crash. Dario Franchitti retired his Andretti Green entry on Lap 126 with transmission failure, and rookie points leader Kosuke Matsuura also dropped out early with mechanical problems.
Adrian Fernandez (#5 Telmex/Quaker State Fernandez Racing Honda) Started 10th, finished 1st, second victory of 2004, moves to sixth in the points standings: "I was very happy and excited for everyone on the team. The last four races have been really good for us. The team has been gaining a lot of maturity. [On his second pit stop, when the car's air jack failed] At that point, I knew it was going to be difficult to win the race, so I decided to just sit back and see how it was going to develop. Then, the yellows [caution flags] came out and we decided to stay out [on track] and take a chance, because I knew we had a car that could win if a few things would go our way. The key on the restart was to get past Bryan Herta. It took two or three laps, but we were finally able to do that, and after we did, we just stayed in front. The results we have gotten here in the last few races have put us in a very good position. To have an opportunity to finish fourth in the championship after the way the season started makes us very happy, and I give all the credit to my guys."
Bryan Herta (#7 XM Radio Andretti Green Racing Honda) Started 9th, finished 2nd, best finish of the season: "Mine was a really adventurous day. The car went 'wicked loose' during the first stint and I fell to the back of the pack. I was just hanging on until the first pit stop. We went 'off-sequence' on pit stops and that regained us the track position we lost, but meant we were going to be a little tight on fuel to make the end of the race. So the team radioed me to let Adrian [Fernandez] by and save some fuel, but then we had all the late-race yellows and suddenly fuel wasn't an issue any more. On the last lap, I knew the move I had to make -- up the outside on the back straight -- and I pulled it off earlier in the race, but I couldn't get a good enough run at him before the finish."
Tony Kanaan (#11 7-Eleven Andretti Green Racing Honda) Started 2nd, finished 3rd, could clinch drivers' championship October 3 at California Speedway: "It was a long day for me, a very crazy race. Early on, I tried to lead as much as I could, because I thought that was the best way to stay out of trouble. I wasn't thinking 'championship' but wanted to make sure I finished the race. I knew people were going to get together out there and that's exactly what happened. At the end, I did everything I could to help Bryan [Herta], but it was really tough to pass on the outside and we couldn't pull it off."
Vitor Meira (#17 Centrix Financial Rahal Letterman Racing Honda) Started 3rd, finished 5th: "Fifth place, after a flat tire and two extra pit stops, I'll take it! We had a pretty good car today, and spent the first three-quarters of the race just saving it until the final 25 laps. That was the plan. Then we had the flat [right rear tire] while running third, and that cost us track position. Then the late [race] yellow flags made it difficult to move back up. But I'll take fifth, and I'm glad [teammate] Buddy [Rice] is okay after his crash."
Mark Taylor (#13 University Lofts Access Motorsports Honda) Started 19th, finished 17th (not running -- contact): "We had a great car today, we kept moving forward all the time and were going to be at the front by the end of the race, I have no doubt. I don't know if A.J. [Foyt IV] had a problem or what, but he pushed right up into me and then we both went into the wall. It's just a real shame. This is a small team and I think we were heading for a great finish in front of a lot of sponsor guests today."