IRL: Fernandez, Clarke teleconference transcript

Indy Racing League Aug. 17 Teleconference Transcript Adrian Fernandez Robert Clarke MODERATOR: This afternoon's teleconference will feature three guests, P.J. Chesson, a two-time winner in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series; Adrian Fernandez, ...

Indy Racing League
Aug. 17 Teleconference Transcript

Adrian Fernandez
Robert Clarke

MODERATOR: This afternoon's teleconference will feature three guests, P.J. Chesson, a two-time winner in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series; Adrian Fernandez, owner/driver in the IRL IndyCar Series; and Robert Clarke, vice president and general manager of Honda Performance Development.

We welcome to the call Robert Clarke from Honda and Adrian Fernandez, and owner and driver in the IndyCar Series. Gentlemen, thank you for joining us this afternoon.

ROBERT CLARKE: Thank you.

ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Thank you for having us.

Q: Robert, let me start with couple questions for you. This has been a banner year for Honda. You have won 10 of the first 11 races, including Twin Ring Motegi and the Indianapolis 500. You captured the Manufacturer's Championship with the win by Adrian on Sunday. Congratulations on a great season.

ROBERT CLARKE: Thank you. It's been a dream season. It's well beyond our expectations. It's just a tribute to all of the hard work and effort that's gone into the program by our teams and drivers.

Q: I mentioned Twin Ring Motegi, the Indianapolis 500 and the manufacturer's title, three really landmark events. Talk a little about the significance of each of those, and does any one of those carry more weight than the others? What ranks as the biggest thing that's happened to Honda this year?

ROBERT CLARKE: Well, you know, most people would think that the Indy 500 is the big carrot and the most important event, but Motegi is, I would say, equally important to us.

Somebody asked me after the Motegi race, you know, what it felt like and how it compared to something else. I equated it to our very first win when we started racing in the IndyCar Series. It was a huge event. To struggle and try to win that event for seven years, and then finally achieve it in such grand style was really, really satisfying. Honda built that track to bring American-style oval racing to Japan, and we always felt a void there in not being able to give all of our enthusiasts that follow Honda racing a win and to finally do that was very special.

Q: Now, there's still five races remaining and obviously a handful of Honda drivers at the top of the points standings battling for the title. What are the goals that drive the Honda team at this point?

ROBERT CLARKE: Definitely, we've met one of our key objectives in winning the manufacturer's title. I've reassured our teams and drivers that we have no intention of backing off. It's our plan to try to win all of the remaining races if we can.

So the answers to development will continue to the end of season. I know we have spec changes in the engine that will actually be implemented in the last race, so it's an ongoing battle. We know that our competition is not sitting still. If we did just kind of back off and rest on our accomplishments so far this season, for sure the competition would match us and blindly pass us.

So we're keeping the nose to the grindstone and we're working as hard as we can. We're fortunate to have a number of our teams, of course, within the top 10 of the championship and we know that they will all be fighting furiously to win that title. That company, knowing that they are going to be working as hard as they possibly can to give themselves the best results which, in fact, will give us the best results.

Q: Adrian, congratulations to you on earning the first victory of your IndyCar Series career.

ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Thank you very much. We're very, very excited.

Q: What kind of emotions do you still have now that it's two days later from the race?

ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Well, I tell you what, it's been a nice surprise for all of us. Mexico has been taking this win tremendously well, and we have been getting a lot of calls from media and friends. Everybody has been extremely happy for our first win and in our country. And now, with the Olympics, they felt this win has made the ambiance in Mexico very, very high and very proud, and they make me feel very proud of that.

This weekend, with a lot of hard work from the team in the last few weeks, working very hard, I put a lot of pressure on the engineers to try to make the car faster. I was not happy finishing where we were finishing, and we made some good changes that really put us back, put us in a position to be able to fight for the win. That makes me very, very proud, very, very proud to have a partner like Honda, and helping them achieve the Manufacturer's Championship. I've been working with them for many years, and they have always been the first ones to believe in the team. I am very happy to not disappoint them on that, and I'm sure that the next races are going to be very strong.

I'm very excited about the results that we had with Kosuke Matsuura. He drove a tremendous race. It's his rookie year, but putting the whole team together helped us do what we wanted to do, and we are very excited about it.

Q: You mentioned Kosuke there a little bit. Talk just a little bit more about how he's progressing this year with you.

ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: He has done a tremendous job. Obviously, he just didn't know what to expect. When you come from Europe and the type of racing that he is doing, going flat-out from the beginning, and here, you have to run strong. But there are a lot of other things. You have to think about the setup, you have to be smart on the races, and sometimes you have a car in the middle of the race, which will not be good.

Like, for example, it happened to me in Kentucky in the middle of the race when we got a bad pit stop. One of our guns broke, and we went to 10th or 12th place, and I was not able to stay out front. My car was not working well. So the main thing there is not to lose patience or to lose focus. I think this is the thing Kosuke is learning. This was his best result in the series this year, and I think he has learned a lot about how to get to the front. I think with this result, he will be able to get enough information and be ready to win a race.

Q: I think the last time that we talked with you, it wasn't too long ago, I think it was before Nashville and you had come off four-straight top-seven finishes, really charging hard for your first win, and maybe it was us that jinxed you, but you kind of fell back a few positions in the next three races. What happened in those three races and then how do you manage to turn it around and end up on victory circle?

ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Well, those three races, we actually were running very strong. Milwaukee we qualified fifth, and I was running strong. We were just having problems on restarts. We were having problems in different areas that we needed to make sure that we were focusing on those things to correct them. We were not gearing correctly for restarts. I was losing positions. I didn't feel good on restarts because the rear tires. The car would try to spin around me and just little things like that.

Michigan, we were having a great race until, unfortunately, I had that incident on the pits and that really delayed everybody. I was very worried about one of my guys for him not to get injured.

So, the thing was that we needed to make sure that all of those things were corrected so we can get to the next level. And that's what we did. We corrected all of that, and we had this test for the first time. We did a lot of those tests and we fixed them, and I'm so glad that everything worked to almost how we planned it and it was fantastic.

Q: Now as we move ahead to Pikes Peak, what do you hope to do to keep the momentum going?

ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: I've never been there, but I also didn't know Kentucky, or most of these tracks. Everything has been new to me. Also, it's not that hard to learn because you just have to focus on two corners. The main thing to see is how the pavement, how is the banking and, you know, take a few laps to sort of find your way. It's going to be marbles, it's not going to be marbles, how high can you go and all of those types of things.

I believe we have found enough information to be competitive for the rest of the year, and I would not be surprised is we are as strong at Pikes Peak as we were for Kentucky.

Q: Couldn't help thinking about seeing the jubilation in a victory lane. With the trepidation you felt at the Champ Car preview near in Long Beach, can you talk about where you are now as to when you had to make a very agonizing decision back in March?

ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: To tell you the truth, this year has been very hard in all aspect of business decisions, everything. It's just been difficult. When you face a situation that we had to face in Long Beach and all that, and you have to make tough decisions for the future of your team. Those decisions are tough, but they are necessary to make.

Unfortunately, I'm the one that has to make them. You know, you may be wrong, but you have to accept them, and you have to go on. We have to make the decisions. I knew it was going to be difficult because I didn't know anything about the cars. I had never driven them. When I sat down for the first time in Phoenix, it was just like, OK, I didn't feel comfortable. I had never tested the car. I didn't feel comfortable inside the car with my feet. There were just so many things. Obviously, the pressure from sponsors and from Mexico, confusion from where I was, where I was not, slowly, and through the year with the results, and the consistency of having good races. The month of May was fantastic, where we were very strong all month and slowly getting the things that we wanted. Things started to turn around a little bit and this win really turns everything around to us. Why we did things, and we wanted to unify the team, and why we made the addition to change to IRL, and why we are believing in what (co-owner) Tommy Anderson is doing and this hard work and just basically not listening to what all of the people were saying. Just focusing on what we believed and just work hard, just proving that that was the right thing. And to win just proves absolutely everything.

Q: I know they have a tremendous Latino population in Denver. Do you get a sense that those guys are going to make their way out to Pikes Peak and congratulate you this weekend?

ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: I think so. We have a lot of fans that have followed us tremendously through the years, and specifically in Denver. We have too many fans and I have always gone there to promote. I'm sure they will follow us there to watch us on the race.

Q: You seem like you had a fast car and a good team since you came in the IRL. It seemed like, especially Indianapolis, that you had a faster car than I expected you to have for the first year.

ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Well, you know, the team is not completely new on the series. We ran last year, and we have the team working there with Tom Anderson, so we have some experience. We just didn't have a driver that was more experienced to be able to help the team get to the next level.

But we have the basis on the team, and we have the right people. We just needed a little bit of time to put all of the things together and to find the little things. You know, it took us a little bit longer, but like I said, it's hard when you have a team with a rookie driver where they don't know what to expect, and you have to trust their feel, and sometimes, it's not the right trust or the right feel, and sometimes you go the wrong way and all of that.

So, I knew we have the basics on the team to be able to get where we are. It was just a matter of time.

Q: Robert, this has not been a long time coming since you joined the IRL. Toyota or Chevrolet has been around for quite a while. What would you say is the main factor in being able to take this championship this year? Obviously you've got some good teams, but it takes more than that.

ROBERT CLARKE: Well, I think this season, I think for all of the manufacturers, it was particularly difficult having both 3.5- and 3.0-liter formulas to deal with.

Yes, we came into the series late, and we spent a good portion of last season trying to catch up. But on the other hand, we, along with our technical partners in Ilmor, brought a resource that had been involved in the IRL two seasons prior to that. So at some level, they actually had more experience than our counterparts at Toyota who were just coming in last year.

One part, it's kind of contradictory in what I'm saying in that we didn't come in as strong as we had hoped to last year, and we spent a lot of effort trying to catch up, but actually we had more experience than might be expected. It was experience I think that helped us during the off-season and making some dramatic changes to the product and getting more performance out of it.

And luckily, the changes, the improvements that we found during that off-season period luckily apply themselves equally on the 3.0 liters as it did on the 3.5 liter. Really, I would say that a good advantage that our program has over our counterparts is the fact that we basically are a double resource. We have Honda Performance Development and Ilmor Engineering working nearly equally at this point on the program. And so we have a huge resource in manpower and facilities, and equipment that I think is well beyond what our counterparts have. TRD, I believe, is basically all being done at TRD in the U.S. as a single entity and the Chevy program is from our point of view being done by Cosworth. So I think that's a true advantage for us.

Q: Is most of the work being done at HPD these days for development, or are you working together with Paul Reyes and his people in Michigan?

ROBERT CLARKE: Actually, at this point it's an equal responsibility between ourselves, Paul Reyes' operation in Detroit, which we call Ilmor, Inc., is operating a good portion of the engine rebuilding responsibilities. And Ilmor Limited in the U.K. is heavily involved in the development of the engine as HPD is. HPD Unlimited are the ones that are focusing primarily on the development of the engine and Inc. is handling the lion's share of the rebuild.

Q: Sounds like the best of all worlds.

ROBERT CLARKE: I think it's working very well as evidenced by our results. But as you said, we are blessed to have some very strong teams, and they have also equally stepped up their programs from last year to this year. Just as they were speaking to Adrian about a shift from CART to the IRL, we saw dramatic changes to both the Rahal team and the Fernandez team when they focused on just the one IRL racing program.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much, Adrian and Robert, for joining us this afternoon.

See also: IPS driver P.J. Chesson

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Adrian Fernandez , Kosuke Matsuura , Robert Clark