IRL: Senor Fernandez notches first win in Kentucky

IRL: Senor Fernandez notches first win in Kentucky

There was a Mexican hat dance in victory lane at today's Belterra Casino Indy 300, as Adrian Fernandez, the sole owner- driver in the Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series earned his first career IRL win on the high banks of Kentucky Speedway's ...

There was a Mexican hat dance in victory lane at today's Belterra Casino Indy 300, as Adrian Fernandez, the sole owner- driver in the Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series earned his first career IRL win on the high banks of Kentucky Speedway's 1.5-mile oval.

Victory lane: race winner Adrian Fernandez celebrates.
Photo by Ron McQueeney - IRL.
It was his tenth race in the League's 11th event on the 16-race calendar and secured the manufacturers' championship for Honda with five races left to run. Fernandez, driving the #5 Quaker State/Telmex Panoz G Force/Honda/Firestone racer beat MBNA polesitter Buddy Rice to the flags by .0581 seconds after a stirring contest that saw regular 2, 3 and 4-wide action around this oval.

With the pressure of learning cars, rules, engines and most of the circuits, Fernandez hasn't been able to match others in the series until recently. "We've done a lot of work the last few weeks and found things," he said. "We had a good test here last week and that helped us a lot."

Rice called his effort in the #15 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Panoz G Force/Honda a "good day. We made sizable changes to the car before the race and bided our time at the beginning. I've got no complaints." Recognizing "the bottom [of the track] is where to be at," Rice tried all he had to get around Fernandez but was content to settle for second.

Dan Wheldon, who qualified 11th yesterday earned the final spot on the podium for his #26 Klein Tools/Jim Beam Dallara/Honda and thought "the race was exciting today. This was a good result, it was a good day and our car was very well balanced and good in traffic." Still, he didn't have anything to challenge Rice and Fernandez when it came down to the final opportunity.

Kosuke Matsuura.
Photo by Chris Jones - IRL.
Rookie Kosuke Matsuura finished fourth for his best result in the #55 Panasonic/ARTA Panoz G Force/Honda. Qualifying10th Matsuura "knew the car was good, and after a few practice laps this morning, the car was really good," he said with wide eyes. "This team has done an awesome job."

Point leader Tony Kanaan settled for fifth in the #11 Team 7-Eleven Dallara/Honda after leading 126 laps, the most of any driver this afternoon. This was his tenth consecutive top-five finish. "We lost a lot of speed for some reason after the restart and didn't know what was wrong," Kanaan explained. "We finished with the car we had."

There were three cautions today, one for seven laps to find and clear debris and the other two to dispose of the two Panther Racing entries. On his green flag pit stop at lap 137, Tomas Scheckter left the stall with his hose attached to the #4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet - after leading nine laps before pitting - and a fuel fire ensued. At pit exit, the South African got out of the car, rolled on the ground to extinguish the flames. He retired on the spot.

Teammate Townsend Bell had looked mighty strong from the start, venturing as far as fourth place after starting dead last when his team changed the engine prior to qualifying Saturday afternoon. He threw it all away on the 157th lap when he got into the marbles, clouted the turn two wall, yet brought the #2 Menards/Johns Manville Dallara/Chevy back to pit entry before having it towed to the transporter.

Those were the sole retirements in a race that was both clean and competitive all afternoon. Dario Franchitti, whose wife Ashley Judd was Grand Marshal for the event and gave the command to start engines, finished sixth in his #27 ArcaEx Dallara/Honda in a fine and competitive drive. "We didn't need that last yellow, as we had been saving fuel for a run to the end, but it was a great run for the team in that we finished strong."

Vitor Meira earned seventh place in his #17 Team Centrix Panoz G Force/Honda from the same Rahal Letterman Racing stables as Rice, despite experiencing a massive pushing tendency in traffic. "In clean air I had a very good car but with a lot of cars around me, it was difficult to turn the car," he explained.

Rookie Ed Carpenter secured his best result of the 2004 season in the #52 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevrolet and was the highest placed Chevy driver. "This is the best car I've had since before Indy," Carpenter exulted. "It feels good to be happy at the end of the race; it was a fun day."

Starting 21st in a 22-car field, Bryan Herta rumbled to ninth place at the close with his #7 XM Satellite Radio Dallara/Honda. He, too, had an engine swap before qualifying and, according to IRL rules had to start at the rear. He ran up to the front, stalled in the pits and gave back good track position. "I just didn't have enough time to get back to them at the end," Herta wailed.

Darren Manning's tenth place finish in the #10 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota was the best result for last year's manufacturers' champion today. When he lost the front six-pack of leaders "it got pretty frustrating. At the beginning of each stint it was a bit of a struggle on new tires, but it got much better at the end."

Alex Barron finished 11th in the #51 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevy after running well all afternoon, while Helio Castroneves was an uncharacteristic 12th in the #3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota, making a couple of extra pit stops to examine the rear of the car. 2003 IRL champ Scott Dixon lagged toward the rear of the field for much of the race and brought the #1 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota home in 13th.

Sam Hornish Jr., who won this race last year, took 14th in the #6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota after looking good at the beginning of the race. "When we came in for our third stop, Scheckter had his incident and the track went yellow. We had a miscommunication so when I pulled into my pit, we decided to pull right back out. As a result we went a lap down. It was really just a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Jaques Lazier brought the #20 Patrick Racing Dallara/Chevy home in 15th, Felipe Giaffone took 16th for the #24 Purex/Aventis Dallara/Chevy team, Scott Sharp was 17th in the #8 Delphi Dallara/Toyota and it was another long afternoon for A.J. Foyt IV, 18th in the #14 Conseco Dallara/Toyota. Rookie Mark Taylor (#13 Access Motorsports Panoz G Force/Honda) was a lap down in 19th and Tora Takagi was, again the caboose in 20th, two laps back in the #12 Pioneer Dallara/Toyota.

There's no rest for the Indy cars, with the Honda Indy 225 on the docket next Sunday at Pikes Peak International Raceway. Kanaan still holds 433 first place points, but Rice is creeping up with 383. Wheldon is third in the chase with 346 points, Castroneves lies fourth with 298 and Hornish Jr. has 283 fifth place points. While the manufacturers' chase is now over, owners, constructors and drivers are still at the thick of competition and it looks to come down, as usual, to the final race in Texas for the balance of titles.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Mark Taylor , Darren Manning , Felipe Giaffone , Scott Sharp , Helio Castroneves , A.J. Foyt IV , Jaques Lazier  , Adrian Fernandez , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Tora Takagi , Bryan Herta , Alex Barron , Townsend Bell , Dan Wheldon , Buddy Rice , Kosuke Matsuura , Chris Jones , Jim Beam , Sam Hornish Jr. , Ed Carpenter , Vitor Meira
Teams Panther Racing , Team Penske