CART Media Conference
March 9, 1999
T.E. McHALE: At this point we're going to welcome Adrian Fernandez. Following a career best 4th place finish in last year's FedEx Championship Series which included victories in the inaugural CART event contested at Twin Ring, Motegi, Japan as well as at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Adrian, driver of the No. 40 Tecate Quaker State Patrick Racing Ford also collected his first career pole position as Michigan Speedway while scoring PPG Cup points in 15 of 19 starts. He recorded 11 Top-6 finishes and totaled 154 PPG Cup points more than double his previous career best of 71, which was established in 1996. Adrian welcomes a new teammate in 1999 as P.J. Jones replaces Scott Pruett, now at Arciero Wells Racing. P.J. competed for All-American racers during the past three FedEx Championship seasons. Later today, Patrick Racing will announce that Adrian and P.J. Will campaign Reynard chassis during the first two events of the FedEx Championship Series season, the March 21 Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami presented by Toyota at Homestead and the April 10th Firestone 500 at Twin Ring Motegi, Japan. At this point we'll open it up to questions for Adrian.
Q. Adrian, what was it about -- I just talked to Robby Gordon. He's thinking about doing the same thing switching to a '98 Reynard and getting out of a Swift. There was talk you guys tried a new undertray and maybe the center pressure is too far forward. Can you explain what the problem was?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Basically, we've been working with Swift right from the beginning. You know, I believe this car has a lot of potential. At this time we haven't been able to tune the car. There are some areas that still we need to work on it, and the central pressure is a little bit too much to the rear. So they are trying to make some -- they have done some changes, which they improve the car, but it is still not enough where you can actually balance the car. It is very, very difficult for us to actually get a loose car on the Swift. Everybody has really put a lot of effort into making the car better, and I am very impressed with the way they have been working with it. And unfortunately enough, it hasn't been quick enough for us as a championship contender to -- where we have to make a decision, you know, okay, are we willing to wait until the car is right or we should make a change. And that's when we went to these last tests in Homestead, and basically I just put my '98 Reynard, the winner of Japan, and we put a run on the race track and within 25 laps, we did 24:9, which is one of the fastest laps ever recorded there. You know, of course we felt very, very happy about it because that put us a new positive attitude into the whole team because we were struggling a little bit to make the car fast. And that's when we made the decision that at least for the first two races, we are going to compete with the Reynard '98.
Q. Was it any better at Laguna on the road course?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: It still has a problem a little bit at the road course, but it's difficult to say there. We had mechanical problems the first day, which just left us with just one day. We were 2/10ths from Montoya, but we were one second and something from Bryan. Bryan has always been quick there, but last year in the last race, I was -- in the first day, I was second quickest. So we know how to go around also, these places, and also I think the car needs a little bit of help there. And I believe that the Swift people will get it sorted out. I am fully confident on them that they will make the car better. It's just a matter of when they are going to do it, and hopefully it will be soon enough.
Q. Do you see it possibly shaking into a situation where you'd be using two cars through the year? Is it possible that if Swift emerges as the better car on road circuits, and if so, would you go back and forth? It would be quite a contrast to being caught in the Lola a couple years ago?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: To be honest that's a very, very difficult thing to do then. Now, we're just in the beginning of the season where we can make our match once Swift makes these big changes they are planning to make in the next few races, and then we need to make a decision. But it's very hard to run two chassis through the year. Logistic-wise, it's very difficult because you need different spares. You need different -- you need different everything. Just very difficult. Almost you have to have double of your people and everything. And then eventually we just have to make our mind, what we're trying to do is just give Swift a little bit of time where they are reacting and making these changes, and hopefully the car will be good enough, even better; so we can make a switch completely to the Swift. But at this time it's hard to know, because until we don't see the results, we cannot make that judgment. But it's going to be very difficult to be able to run two cars through the season, two different chassis through the season. It's going to be very, very difficult on the guys.
Q. When did you see them having the changes made, and when are you going to be able to try them out and make your decision?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: I think there's some plans of me testing on Monday after the race in Homestead, and there's other plans coming after Japan, I think. At this time, you know, we are still working on the logistics of everything because this just happened very quickly. I was just testing at the end of last week; so, the team is working really hard on organizing and making the right decisions right now with Swift and the things we have, because as you know, we have'98 cars but we don't have enough parts. So we are trying to get enough parts from the '98 Reynard cars also to be fully prepared for this -- for these first two races. But the good thing about it is we just put the up -- I know Greg went very quickly in spring training, but it also can be said the same way from us that, you know, I just put my Reynard from last year and I put the same setup from last year and straightaway we won very quick. So that gives me a lot of confidence knowing that we are going to be very competitive for the first race, and also for Japan; and knowing that we can put exactly same setup that we had in Japan last year, go into the race and be very competitive. Last year, my car in Japan was extremely good; so I feel very confident for the first two races so far.
Q. It looks like our old friend John Morton taught you well.
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Yes, he did.
Q. Last night Jim McGee announced you would be going through Reynard now. Explain what has taken place there. You're going to go to Reynard instead of the Swift chassis. Explain all about that.
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: We've been trying to -- we've been struggling a little bit on setups with the Swift chassis, which we haven't been able to make it work to our standards, perspective. So it was coming to the time that we were getting very late and we went to our last test in Homestead and preparing ourselves, we brought two Reynards and we gave -- we gave as much time as we could to try the new Swift. And I'm talking about the new Swift because this car had some new modifications and we tried a lot of different setups and different combinations, and still we just couldn't make the car work as we would like to. At that time, we made the decision to try the Reynard '98, which is, as I said it, is with a car that I won in Japan and Mid-Ohio last year. And within 25 laps, we did very, very quick time and that really was just basically a very easy decision at least for the first two races that we needed to go with something that we knew. We are competitive right now. We think the Swift is going to be very good car. They are working on it; hopefully they will have it -- the answers on the chassis to make it better in the next few races so that we can make a decision if we are going to continue with the Reynard or we are going to switch back to Swift.
Q. Will the Reynard be a '98 chassis or a '99 with modifications?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: It is a completely '98 with no modifications at this time because we don't have the time to even modify it for the '99 because it came so late. But it seems to me the '98 car is still very competitive for these first two races.
Q. With the Swift chassis thing, when -- what's the time line on testing the new modifications and when will you have to make a decision on that?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: At this time, you know, everybody is still working really hard to make those decisions and we don't have the clear specification of the date. But I think there is one plan that is for me to test the car after the Monday -- the Monday after the race in Homestead. And after that, I really don't know much about it because they still testing the car and they making some changes, and we don't even know when it's going to be ready. The only thing I can tell you is it cannot be longer than Long Beach to make a decision with which chassis we are going to race for the rest of the season. So I have a lot of confidence in Swift and I hope the changes that they are making are going to be quick enough and positive enough so we can -- we can make our mind pretty quick after Japan.
Q. The Ford engine, I was talking to people at Cosworth and they are calling it a evolution engine that's supposed to be not a huge amount of horsepower increase, but a noticeable amount. Can you comment on that, please?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Ford, to be honest, I feel it would have the best power out there. And Ford, as we know, working now on the drivability and the fuel consumption which I think this new evolution engine is going to have that. I haven't tested the new engine; so we are going to have them for the first race. We had one very briefly in spring training, but basically we've been testing with the old engines. But I have a lot of confidence on the group from Bruce Wood, the designer, and other people,, what we've been asking for last year is going to come with the new engine, and we have a lot of hopes and a lot of expectations from the new modified engine. And hopefully that will help us to challenge for the championship. You know, we were so close last year, and I think this year the championship is going to be even more open -- wide open. And definitely we want to be part of it and we're working really hard with our suppliers for our chassis at the moment, depending what we are going to do. And we will hopefully make the best of what we have to have a challenge for the championship.
Q. That's great. Comment on the Hawaii Super Prix. How much of that is a carrot hanging over?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: I never even dream about being in a race that pays $5 million for a win. I cannot even imagine what the drivers are going to be thinking when they are racing -- what we are going to be thinking when we are driving for that race. It is just going to be a spectacular event. I tell you, it's something that we needed to have for CART, for our organization. I think our teams, our drivers, deserve an event of this magnitude, and I hope this is the first one of many more to come.
Q. Does Patrick Racing fear the same pitfall that befell Pat West last year when they decided to stick with the same '97 chassis?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: You know, it's a little bit different here because you know they -- as far as I remember, I think they made that decision because they had new electronics; so they were not as reliable as they wanted to be, and they didn't want to take a chance; so they went to the'97 chassis. Here, it's little bit different issue. Here we have a car that the '98 car is a car that has been working very well us and we know it very well. We know the setup, and the only reason we have changes is because we haven't been quick enough with the Swift yet; so that's a very simple and a straight answer in that respect. Another thing is that it's not the same situation that when I was with the Lola chassis two years. The Lola chassis had the major problems, and this car doesn't have this type of problems. This car is very close to be balanced. We just didn't want to lose the opportunity to score points -- strong points at the beginning of the season and lose the chance for fighting for the championship when the car hasn't been ready yet to be competitive, at least with ourselves. So that's why we're given a little bit of time, and hopefully Swift will react quick enough, which I believe it will, to make the necessary changes in time for us to make a decision to either get back to Swift or continue with the Reynard. But they are working really hard. I am very proud of them and hopefully they will get the answers pretty quick so we can start winning races for them.
Q. And finally, the championship seems wide open. I mean, is that pretty much the feeling from the contenders that, Hey, this thing is wide open to us?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: It is. For me, after last year and after coming from a very disappointing year, not just with the Lola, but with Gallus and Tasman, we had good years, but still, it wasn't what I needed to have. It wasn't a team that I needed to have behind me to be competitive. And since I have joined the Patrick Racing organization, it's just been a change of -- change of my perspective for the championship. It's only -- now I'm very competitive in every race. I have worked really hard myself personally make -- improve myself. I have been watching tapes and things that I feel I was a little bit weak and trying to strengthen those things. I feel myself that as I a driver I am going to be much mover strong next year, more mature, more prepared to fight for every single race and to be able to react when you are down and make the right decisions. And I think the team is also prepared for that. Unfortunately, we had this little hiccup which -- which with the chassis, I believe we can fix it, because this team is very, very experienced. They have been in this situation before and they are very hungry to fight for the championship. So it's very wide open. There are lots of people that have opportunities, but I believe also we have a big opportunity and we are doing everything in our power to make sure that that's going to happen. And I think the people at the end who are going to win more in this respect is going to be the fans because they are going to be able to see great racing through the whole 20 races in this year of FedEx Championship.
Q. Emotionally, you come off the season where you had your best season in FedEx Champ Racing. Get ready to go racing and then this hits you. Emotionally how does this effect you?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: It's frustrating and sometimes you think, well, why are these things happening to me? Suddenly, I came back and I had a great year. We fight for second place in the championship towards the last -- until the last race, and now this. I mean, why does this happen to me. I'm ready and I feel prepared to win the championship right now. But things happen and I think that the situation here is -- to make the right judgments and to be with the right team when these type of things happen, and I think we're the best team. And I think Patrick Racing will be able to compensate any situation that we have had or complicate the situation that we have had to still be able to fight for the championship. I mean, we are covering all our -- all our bases right now to make sure that we are competitive for the year. Our mechanics have put in extra hours, extra time to make sure we are competitive with either chassis. And, you know, we're hoping that a lot of changes are going to come from the Swift. Mentally, you know this -- I was a little bit down. But since we put this Reynard out and we did these few laps and basically we recorded one of the fastest laps ever recorded there -- I mean, in Homestead, I mean, at that time really my whole spirit came back again and I feel I'm ready. You know, I feel we're going to be very competitive the first few races and by the time we make the decision to switch to Swift or stay with Reynard, we are going to be in good shape. Fortunately for us, there's not much change between the Reynard '98 and the Reynard '99. If that wouldn't be the case, then we would be maybe in a little bit of trouble just to get a new car. But at this time, it's looking like we are in good shape and very we are very, very excited to start the season.
Q. Adrian, can you talk about just how you run your shifter car and how that's kept you sharp?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Well, to be honest it's the best thing. The best thing also that has happened to me this year is having P.J. Jones as a teammate. He's been helping me a lot -- we have a new nutritionist guy, new physical trainer here in Phoenix. We live in the same area. There's a few drivers that live here in Phoenix: Mark Blundell, J.J. Lehto, other good friends and PJ. So we train with the same guys, and he's helped me physically enormously. Plus we go and run these go-carts a lot, and it's very good training because we go out, for example, on the track and we race, for example, 30 minutes or 35 minutes in a row a full tank. And either PJ stays in front or I stay in front and we just challenge each other and try to keep consistency. It's physically hard to drive these carts. First time to -- I never did carts before when I was young, and I just started two years ago and I couldn't do more than 12 laps. And my arms were just really pumped. And now I can do as many laps as I can. And he has helped me tremendously. And I saw the benefits last year. Physically it has helped me, my reflexes, and at the same time you have fun because sometimes just working out and doing these things is boring. And this type of thing is challenging. It's fun and it keeps you in shape, your mind and everything; so it's a really enjoyable way of training and we're very excited to do that all the time here in this big beautiful weather in Phoenix.
T.E. McHALE: We want to thank Adrian for being with us this afternoon. Thank you for joining us today and we wish you the best of luck in the FedEx 1999 season.
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Thank you very much and same to everybody.
|Connect with The Crittenden Automotive Library|