CART Media Conference
April 13, 1999
T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon to everybody. Welcome to the CART media teleconference, and thanks to all of you for taking the time to join us today. Our guest this afternoon is Adrian Fernandez of Patrick Racing, who earned his fourth career FedEx Championship series victory in last Saturday's Firestone Firehawk 500 at Twin Ring, Motegi, Japan. Adrian dominated the event for the second consecutive year, leading 153 of 201 laps, including the final 149, to successfully defend the victory he earned in the first FedEx Championship Series event contested in Japan last year. Adrian, good afternoon, welcome, and thanks for being with us today.
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Thank you, very much.
T.E. McHALE: In two years of competition at Twin Ring Motegi, Adrian has lead 255 of a possible 402 laps, an impressive 63.4 percent. Among active FedEx Championship series venues, Adrian is only the second driver to win the first two races in the history of an event. Mario Andretti was the other, winning the first two Champ car events contested at Long Beach in 1984 and '85. Now in his seventh year in the FedEx Championship series, Adrian finished a career best fourth in the 1998 Championship. Saturday's victory likewise moved him into fourth place in this year's driver standings with 21 points. Heading into this weekend's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, Greg Moore of Player's Forsythe Racing leads with 34 points, followed by Michael Andretti of Newman/Haas racing with 26, and Gil de Ferran of Walker Racing with 25. The Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach will air live on Sunday, April 18th, at 4 p.m. eastern time. With that, we will open it up to questions for Adrian.
Q. After running two oval races, how difficult is it to switch to a road race?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: To be honest, it's not that difficult. We do this so much, and we always are testing in the other road course and on oval, so we're used to these changes. I shouldn't expect any problems.
Q. When is the last time you tested on a road course?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: On a road course? It was I think Sebring, like a month and a half ago or something like that. So I just have to remember that I have to turn right also here (laughter).
Q. Can you explain how difficult it is to be changing cars in the beginning of the season?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: The only thing I can say, it's not the ideal circumstances. But, you know, the teams, they have been preparing really good the cars. One of the most difficult thing I think is just to get used to the way this car reacts compared to the Reynard. So my engineer John Warren and myself basically have to go through some notes that we have from the test that we did with the Swift in Sebring and just basically change channels, you know, go with an open mind, very positive about it. You know, hopefully everything will work very smooth. Hopefully the car will be very competitive. In the sitting position for me is different. You know, you have to adapt to different things. The steering wheel, for example, is different. In terms of some electronics and buttons and things like that. You know, it's not the ideal circumstances, but this is what we have, and we just have to do the best we can with it.
T.E. McHALE: Perhaps you should fill them in that you're going to be switching chassis at Long Beach this weekend.
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Exactly.
T.E. McHALE: Changing from a Reynard to a Swift for those who might not be aware of that.
Q. Coming off a win on an oval course at Japan, going to a road course, do you carry any confidence over? Switching courses, is that a totally different ballgame?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Yeah, I'm pretty confident. To be honest, this year I feel very confident. As I say, you know, there were some things that I needed to work as a driver from last year in terms of preparation, you know, my physical conditioning, restarts, things like that that really in these first two races, everything what I wanted to change has proved to be much better than last year. I feel more competitive, I feel more strong, you know, with more experience. I feel more in communication with my engineer and my whole team. So, you know, second year with Patrick Racing has really been proving to be very efficient and very productive so far. So coming into Long Beach, into a road course, it shouldn't affect us at all. You know, we should be very strong again. You know, we have a new chassis, as we said. We're having a lot of hopes that this will be a good car and it will work well in the conditions. I'm looking forward to this season. I mean, it's so nice to be so strong in the first two races. I mean, if you think about it, by now we should be leading the Championship. In Homestead, we for sure had a second place finish and possibility of winning also that race. I feel, you know, that brings a good momentum to the whole team in terms of confidence. We're all very pumped out after this win. Hopefully we will carry that through Long Beach and through the rest of the season.
Q. I wanted to ask you what does Long Beach mean to you? With the course changing a little bit this year, have you seen it, heard about it? What might that bring to you?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: I saw it. I saw the drawing. It looks interesting. I mean, one thing seeing it on paper and the other one is seeing in it person. Tomorrow I'm going to go down and see the changes. What it means Long Beach for me? It's a special place, you know. The history that Long Beach brings to this race is enormous, plus the amount of people that comes to visit us is just one of the biggest, most busiest races for us in terms of fans. We have a big number of Latin and Mexican people that comes to see us there. You know, that's always a race that I enjoy racing because, you know, there is a lot of people from Mexico that come specifically to the race and local fans. The course is a course that, you know, it's very different than the rest. It's very narrow, very tight corners. The approach that you have to take to this track is very different than a lot of other tracks. Qualifying is very, very important. So, for sure, you know, when it comes to practice and stuff, qualifying, we need to try to do our best in terms of qualifying to put the car right in front.
Q. Let's go back to whenever the day that race was run on Friday, Saturday. You're coming around what should have been the start. Gil de Ferran really smoked the place up a bit. What were your thoughts then?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: That situation was tough. When I saw him spinning like that, normally a car -- it was good that he kept his foot on it because that way he avoided going into the wall. At that time, I thought he was going to bounce into the wall in the area where I was, and I didn't know what to react. But, you know, I just kept my car straight, slowed down. When I saw the opportunity, I accelerate more when I saw that he was going left. But it was a scare for everybody at the beginning of the race for sure.
Q. The officials did the right thing by waiting a lap or so.
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Definitely. Otherwise you would create a big mess there. Then he was lucky, of course, because the green flag hasn't been dropped. We had to restart everything again.
Q. Long Beach you're going to have to go around the aquarium and create a whole new deal coming into that first turn.
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Yeah. I don't know. It looks like it's going to be as tight as before coming into that first corner. That's what I was saying, you know, it's very important to qualify well because even though you can pass, it's not that easy. It's always easier when you're in the front. Just try to maintain your position. It's going to be interesting for sure this new redesign on the course.
Q. Don't laugh at me on this third question. Watching Greg Moore and Gil de Ferran drive backwards, they do pretty good. Have you ever tried that?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: To be honest, I don't want even to try that. I mean, you can try, but in some situation, I think they were lucky in a way that they didn't hit any walls. Sometimes when that happens -- they were lucky that it happened right at the exit of the corner. Normally when that happens a little bit earlier, that sometimes is completely impossible to avoid it. I never been in that situation. Hopefully I will not have to do that through this year.
Q. They get the atta'boy award.
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: They did a good job controlling the car the way they did. I think they did also a good show for TV.
Q. I picked up on a statement that you made earlier in this conversation when you said, The situation is not ideal, we'll make the best of it. You said that when we talked before the beginning of the season when the decision was made to go back to the Reynard. I think being fourth in points with a victory, you have made the best of the situation.
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Yes, yes, at that time we did. But, as I say, unfortunately we as a team thought that the situation with the Swift was going to change in a way that that was going -- it was not going to be a doubt to go back easily into the Swift. Unfortunately, and even though we've been working, the development that they have done in Swift, it has worked quite a bit in terms of performance, but still it's not right there where we want it to be. The Swift engineers and everybody at Swift are working really hard. You know, there's a lot of talented people there. Hopefully by the time we get there to Long Beach, you know, the car will be very balanced and will be very strong. But we didn't prepare ourselves for that. We didn't have the parts for Reynard for road courses. You have to change everything, you have to change wings, suspension. We just don't have enough parts for the full car. We made the decision even before we went to Japan that we were going to race Long Beach with the Swift. That was before even we knew about the new performance of the new modifications on the car. So it's too late even if we want now to go with the Reynard because we don't have the pieces, and we didn't prepare ourselves in time. If the car is not good, you know, then I think Pat Patrick will make the decision of what to do after Long Beach.
Q. Regarding the parts, how confident were you when you looked down at your car in Japan and saw a the bit from '98, a little bit from '97, a little bit from here and there? I think you dubbed it the Frankenstein car.
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Right.
Q. What does that do to your confidence?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: In terms of what?
Q. Of knowing that this car is going to be good for me.
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: You mean, with the Reynard?
Q. Yes, in Japan.
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Well, you know, I don't know what it is, but that car, as soon as we put it, it was the same in Homestead, we have the information, we have the setup for that specific model of car from Reynard. I was pretty confident going into Japan that we have a good setup because it was a setup that we have last year, and it worked well. So basically we came with the same setup on the car. The car was, you know, working really well. I took my time in the morning just to make sure the car was working well because it was basically a car that has been rebuilt. It was basically a show car that was going to be shipped to Mexico for our sponsor, Quaker State. Basically we took that monocoque '97, and put all the upgrades from '98, all the pieces from '98 car. So I had the confidence in terms of the setup. But then, as I say, I was a little bit worried that the car was not up to the standards and all that. But, you know, as soon as I started lapping, I felt very comfortable with the car. It gave me a lot of confidence. The practice shows that. We were five in every single practice except for qualifying. Then in the race we were very, very strong. The car gave me a lot of confidence. It's been very strong since we started the season. You know, my confidence level has grown and grown even more of the time I drove that car.
Q. Pretty heady company. Mario Andretti being the last guy to win the first two races at a racetrack, and now you're the second guy to do that.
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Yeah, it's an honor. It's an honor being able to achieve that. There's a lot of things that I want to do in these years. One of them is, you know, achieve more wins and be able to win the Championship. But, you know, having achieved this success in my first -- defending the win like I did in Japan, you know, compared to Mario Andretti, it's just an honor really to be placed in that situation in the books.
Q. You have a new teammate this year.
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Yes.
Q. How is it going?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Well, with PJ, as you know, he's a good friend. We live here in the same area. PJ has helped me a lot in my nutrition. He gave me a good contact in LA for my nutritionist, my personal preparation in terms of physical. We've been working together a lot in those terms. He has helped me improve myself big time in that respect. We have worked together very well. PJ start showing a lot of good speed in Japan, in practice, and all that. I don't know what happened in Japan. He was very competitive in the practice, then they have a few problems in the race. I think his car -- basically they couldn't find the balance that they wanted. They're checking on the car to make sure there is nothing wrong. The way the things sound there, like he had a problem on the car. Of course, the first thing they're going to do as soon as they're getting to the shop is to check that car truly and see if something was wrong. PJ should be basically running up front. I'm sure there was a problem there with the car.
Q. So you think you two are going to be running at the front by the end of this year?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Yeah. I mean, I'm sure that PJ will join me very soon running at the front. You know, as I say, hopefully they will find something that there was a problem in Japan for his car.
Q. How is the decision going to be made as to what chassis you're going to run? Are you going to go testing after Long Beach? If so where, how much, all that?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: I don't think so. You know, it's just getting too late. I think if the car doesn't perform, I think, you know, the decision is going to be very clear. At that time, you know, that call is going to be made by Pat Patrick. We're basically in the same page in terms of, you know, we want to be as competitive as possible to try to fight for the Championship. If the car is not up to what we expect it to do, you know, there is no way we're going to continue with it.
Q. In addition to that, some of the drivers have complained about the wings for the short tracks.
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Yeah.
Q. Are you of the same feeling?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Yeah. It's just not easy, you know. At the same time, it's not easy to find a rule that you know is going to work. There is always things that try to slow down the cars. Sometimes it's hard to find a solution. I drove it on two occasions. In Phoenix, it wasn't too bad. The temperature was higher than it was at Nazareth. Even though you have to lift a lot. It wasn't that bad. It wasn't all that great because, you know, in -- it took a few laps before you can even stand on it. Then in Nazareth, conditions were cold. It was so hard to get into the tires to temperature. You have to do runs of 13, 14 laps before you can put a time. I see a problem on that. Especially if the weather is going to be cold in Nazareth this next race, it's going to be a big problem. Especially in restarts, you don't have the down force level to keep the tires up. That creates a big problem because every restart, you're going to have a lot of people spinning. The problem is, you don't have a warning in terms of, okay, now is when you have to pull it. You don't feel the car. That's the problem that we all feel. The car is such a nice edge, it's so difficult to predict. That's going to create even more problems that we don't think as a group that that's going to improve the show. I think is going to even make it worse. It's going to be very difficult to pass people. It's going to be a procession because the cars are such on the edge. But, you know, we will have to see. We may be wrong. We have to see the first race and see how it goes. But in terms of feeling and driving, it's not a lot of fun, for sure.
Q. Why was the decision made to switch from Reynard to Swift in the first place?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Well, you always want to try to find the edge, an advantage, the support of a factory and all that. To be honest, last year Michael Andretti was doing really well with his car. He showed a lot of promise. They had the Goodyear tires which last year were not that competitive. We thought that having the Firestone, which is a proven tire, has been basically winning most of the races, we thought that that was going to be the right choice. Having the support from Swift and everything. Unfortunately, we never expected to have these problems that they have right now with the car. I mean, Michael is not that strong as he was last year also. Also with the experience I had with the team, if you remember they had the Lola in I think it was '97, they were the first ones to switch back. That gave me the confidence knowing if we went to the Swift, the team is a -- if something is wrong, we were going to do something, but we were not going to stick with it. That's what has happened. If the car is not quick enough, we jump one test prior to the start of the season. We tried the Reynard back-to-back to the Swift, with the Swift. The Reynard was quite considerably quicker. So that made the decision to go back to the Reynard. But as the season started, you know, we wanted to go to something that we thought we could win the Championship and have an edge on the competition. Unfortunately, that didn't work or hasn't worked so far. I hope they find the solution quick. But the season has already started; there is not much time to develop. To be honest, at this stage of my career, I don't have the patience either to develop a car.
Q. Can you elaborate on what you said about the Reynard? It was going to be sent or it was sent to Mexico as a show car?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: It was going to be sent to Mexico.
Q. Last year?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: It was '97. So the monocoque, they are very similar. Basically the parts of '98 just fits perfectly in that car. It's basically a '97 monocoque with all '98 pieces. It doesn't have any '99 stuff. It's all '98 with a '97 top.
T.E. McHALE: We'll wrap it up for today. We want to thank Adrian Fernandez for joining us. Best of luck in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach and during the rest of the 1999 FedEx Championship series season.
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Thank you.
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