Continued from part 1 Q: We welcome Adrian Fernandez, his first Indy Racing League victory. You had a win last year in Portland in the Champ Car World Series. This is your 10th start on the circuit this year in IRL. Talk about, really, your ...
Continued from part 1
Q: We welcome Adrian Fernandez, his first Indy Racing League victory.
You had a win last year in Portland in the Champ Car World Series. This is your 10th start on the circuit this year in IRL. Talk about, really, your weekend here. You made some significant progress between the first practice and second practice sessions yesterday and carried that over, qualifying fourth, and had a very strong car today. Tell us about the progress from yesterday to today and how that translated through to the race.
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Well, thank you. The toughest part for me, as an owner/driver is that our competitors are on us, and they have been doing really well and we have not been able to catch them. To me, that was a big disappointment, sometimes I finished 8th or 7th, but that's not what we are made for. I wanted to win bad and put a lot of pressure on the engineers. You're talking about a mile (per hour), half a mile here and there.
So the guys really did a lot of work in the last few weeks, and we had had some tests that made a difference. We had some tests that we proved some things. We were fast in the weekend here and we qualified very well. I started feeling good because this is the first time that I qualified 10 from the pole, so I knew I had a great car. Then it was a matter of where we were going to set up the car for the race, if we were going to be aggressive on the downforce or not. We were very aggressive, because I didn't want to settle for 2nd or 3rd, and it paid off.
Right from the start of the race, I didn't want to hold back and Tony (Kanaan) was charging hard. I tried to charge hard on Tony, but we have the same plan on Honda, and Honda has given us a fantastic engine. I knew he was going to be strong; he has been strong all year. At that point, I didn't want to just keep burning fuel. We settled a little bit, and I could see that Tony was going to have a little bit more trouble in that respect because he was the first guy in front, so he didn't have anybody to help him drafting. I knew he was going to be using more fuel. Unfortunately, we had a bad pit stop. The guns broke, I don't know which wheel it was, but it broke and we lost a lot of positions and we tried to get to the front. After that, really in heavy traffic, my car was not very good at that particular time, but I saw a lot of cars struggling. This drive was very bumpy they had said before. I never raced here, so they grained it and they made it very abrasive. It was very hard on the right rear tire, so you had to really be very careful on the right here and not pinch the car and let it roll. Every time you pinch the car you are just wearing it more and more. I could see a lot of guys struggling in that respect. So I just wanted to be patient, had a few yellows, and we took the right opportunity, and we had great pit stops and followed those pit stops.
And then the key moment was at 150 laps, the 150 lap I think when we had the last pit stop under yellow, I think I was in sixth place. I knew I had to be very strong, very aggressive to get to the front because my car liked to be on the front on clean air, and that's what I did. I charged very hard on Turn 2, we were four-high or something like that. I was just hoping my car would stay there. There was a big bump there. It really bounced big-time, but the car held on and I never lifted and carried a lot of momentum and managed to pass everybody.
Everybody was going to be tight on fuel at that point. Then the yellow came and it was fine. But I was making the mileage that we needed to finish the race, and I was very happy. Buddy was very strong. At one point he really took me by surprise on Turn 1. You know, I haven't led for a while. My car was so well-balanced the last few laps that I managed to stay on the inside and stay to the end. I didn't know how strong he was going to be, Buddy, if he was sandbagging or something, but I'll tell you what, I was not going to give him any space at all.
Q: He was talking about you keeping the car on the bottom of the track where he was trying to get down there and he was having trouble keeping his car in the same line. Was that due to the balance of the cars you mentioned?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Yeah, we worked very hard on keeping that car on the bottom. Tony had the car on the bottom, so I think when he tried to pass me on the outside -- no, actually he stayed, when he made the pass, or when he made the attempt to pass me, I gave him some room, but he didn't make the pass. I think probably because he had pushed, so maybe he had to lift because I was very close. I wanted to give him room, but not a lot of room, because you give him a lot of room, then he will not leave. I was just giving him enough room for his car. At that point he didn't make the pass, and I'm up here, so I'm not keeping that door open. My spotter was always telling me, you know, 'You're looking strong,' or 'You're doing this,' or 'Just keep that inside closed.' And really, I was just looking on the inside, looking all the time where Buddy was, making sure that he was not taking me by surprise and just keeping the car well balanced. So I didn't worry too much about the right here and things like that.
Last ten laps was awesome, so I knew if he was going to have something, 'Come on, try baby, let's see if you have something for me.'
Q: Does a performance like today validate the decision you made to join the Indy Racing League in March?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: I think it validates what the team is all about, and it was unification of the team. We had a new team here, we had a team there, we were not getting anywhere. We were having rookie drivers here and nobody to help them or teach them or whatever, so that was difficult. I mean, you have teams like Andretti with four cars with great drivers and two from Rahal with two strong drivers with experience.
So we were leaving a lot of things on the table. I think my move as a driver and as a team, and putting it all together, that made the team stronger. Obviously that was not going to come from one day to another one. Testing was difficult. The first time I jumped in the car in Phoenix, that was the first time I actually heard my engine. The first reaction I had was how responsive the engine was. I didn't know where the buttons were, things like that, or the gear box was different. Everything was very unfamiliar to me.
But then we just kept everything going and the team was getting stronger. I was pushing the guys very strong, especially the engineers. I didn't want any 6s or 7s or 5s. I wanted to beat the Hondas, because Honda has been the best of the year, and I'm so glad to have one of them and to help them clinch the Manufacturer's Championship this weekend.
When you know your competitor has as good of an engine as you, you know you have to beat them, because if you finish behind all of them, you know you're not doing a good job. So we proved the team is getting better and better, and we beat the best of the best, and that feels great. Especially also with Kosuke (Matsuura) finishing fourth, that was fantastic for him. He's coming along. Kosuke is one of the best drivers we have had, and he's a great character, great guy to work with. He just obviously lacks experience, but he's catching up very quickly and he is starting to understand why we do things sometimes the way we do and why you need to use your head sometimes and why you need to be patient sometimes and things like that. He's starting to understand. For him to finish fourth today and push the way he was pushing, I could see in the mirror and he was making me very happy.
Q: A couple of years ago in CART, you pointed to the IRL, you said 'I'm too old for it.' Is it surreal to be sitting here in the victory circle after your 10th start?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Fortunately, I always say things that I regret later, you know (laughing).
We say things, you know, when you're not winning, I got down. Like, you know, I want to quit or I want to stop. We all need to win. We all need to keep our things there because that's what makes life good, the excitement of things. But what I meant in terms of that is that, yes, you know, about what's happening in those days, I wasn't concerned, but I was pretty stupid not to be concerned. I have to tip my hat to the IRL because they have done an excellent job on safety. If you look at it, there's five races to go, and look at the safety and the accidents we have had. Is it luck? Is it not luck? You have to look at it, and it's been pretty good. Nobody has gotten hurt. There have been crashes, and the speed has gone down. So the things they have done to the cars to make them better, I think it has worked. And obviously, the biggest thrill for me has been Texas. I mean, Texas, when I was running there on the track, I said, my goodness, this is crazy. You know, it's like out, in, in front, behind, on the bottom, on top, like that, cars everywhere, and very close. That was very early. I think that was, what, the third race, after Indy, right?
THE MODERATOR: You were fifth.
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: So that was the first one side-by-side for me, and that really took my attention to what I did just to get comfortable. I let them by and I just settled down and learned about the track and things. And if you see right at the end, we were charging, we finished fifth and we were charging. I was unfamiliar with everything, unfamiliar with the drivers, unfamiliar with how they react. Some of them I knew, some of them I haven't. So I needed to know how they would react and what they were doing and things like that.
As the season has progressed, I know who to trust, who not to trust. I try to talk to them. You just talk. There is nothing -- I mean, what are you going to win, by just watching or doing this or that? You're going to get tired. I talked to the guys and tried to make sense of what they were doing. I tried to be honest in terms of how everybody has behaved and how they have taken it, and I haven't seen that many stupid moves or stupid things that has put people in danger. So, I'm enjoying it, and I love these two day events, I love them. It's fantastic. Everybody gets everything done. It's more efficient for the teams, for everybody. The quality of life of the mechanics is a lot better, they have a lot more time, they don't have to change a lot of things. In that respect, I can see my team a lot more relaxed than they used to be, and so I'm enjoying it.
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Am I old? I'm not that old. No, I'm 41. I'm 41. But I have always really, I have always worked out and taken care of myself. You know, beyond being an owner, I like to be a driver. I don't like stupid risks, I just don't like it. I don't like when I don't see -- like when we started in Australia two years ago and I got injured, I don't like that sort of driving because that's just crazy. So I have always felt competitive. I just love to be a driver and still be there. You know, I still can be competitive with these young guys who really make me excited that I can still be there.
Q: Talk about going to Pikes Peak and the IRL's attempt to build a fan base. How do you feel about going to Pikes Peak close to the Denver area?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Denver, I always had a lot of fans. When we raced there for two or three years in CART, we had a lot of fans, so I expect a lot of those fans to go to Pikes Peak and the other races. They have a large community. Obviously we have to try to do a lot of work to try to make them know that we are there. But I believe what we are doing is right. It's not going to grow from one day to another one. It is something that's going to take time. Just hard work is going to make it happen. A lot of people told me don't do this or don't do this or go to Europe. Look where I am and look where they are.
You just have to keep working for your own thing, besides the criticism of some things, and if at end of the day you do the right thing, you'll get the job done.
Q: If you made the decision to join IRL last year and had the benefit of preseason testing and the first race at Homestead, would you feel like you would be competing for the championship right now?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: I think so. Because we lost a lot, I mean, we lost a lot. I worked a lot on different things on getting to know the car and all of these things. Put it this way, I think we would be in better shape in the championship than we are right now.
Q: Do you see yourself continuing in the dual role as owner and driver for the team?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: This is a good question, because, you know, people need to understand that I have always done dual jobs since I started racing. I have never been just a driver, ever. I have always looked for my sponsors. I have always had teams and I have always hired 99 percent of the sponsors of my career since I started racing. So I have always done the business side because I never had a manager. I never had anybody to help me or anything. So, I don't know how to be just a driver because I've never been a driver. I became a businessman as a consequence of me wanting to get where I am.
And so to own a team is just a matter of doing the same thing, just finding the right people and making them do their job. And that's what I do. I am great partners with Tom Anderson and my sponsors and Honda. We put them all together. It wasn't easy, but we just let them do their jobs. When I'm driving, I'm driving, so I feel sometimes when I'm talking to the other engineers, I feel like just a driver. I don't go in like I'm the owner and this is what's going to happen. This is why the team is starting to get better and better. The team is run from -- Tom Anderson is running the team, and I'm not even getting involved on a day-to-day basis.
Q: Clarify why you made the decision to join the Indy Racing League this season.
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: To unify the team, to unify the team. We saw in IRL better opportunities for the future and our team. Putting all of those things together, it was hard not to come here.