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IndyCar Series: Belterra Casino Indy 300

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Belterra Casino Indy 300

IndyCar Series: Belterra Casino Indy 300

Adrian Fernandez
Buddy Rice
Dan Wheldon
August 15, 2004


THE MODERATOR: Dan, thank you for waiting patiently. We are going to take some questions. Dan, you started 11th today, finished third, moved up eight spots. Last year, started 14th, finished eighth. This is your fifth third-place finish of the season and you also have two wins that go along with that. Talk about your run this afternoon and your recent efforts, you had 18, 13,9 in the last races prior to Michigan, and you've stepped it up with a couple third places in a row.

DAN WHELDON: Yeah, obviously those disappointing results, which are obviously disappointing circumstances out of everybody's control. I think the race today here was a lot more exciting than it was last year. I think they did an excellent job grinding down those bumps. I still think the owner of this place still strategically placed some on the high line at 1 and 2 just to mess with the drivers, which I didn't quite get. I think it's a good result. Again, you know, I did lose points to Buddy, which from that standpoint is disappointing and only gained very few on Tony. So we just have to keep doing what we're doing. I think I got the best out of what I had for today, but we need to step it up a notch these last five races.

THE MODERATOR: Can you talk about anything in particular that allowed you to move from 11th to third over the run, did you notice anything during the race?

DAN WHELDON: I think the major starts and restarts were my biggest gain. Certainly the car that my engineer gave me was very well balanced and it was good in traffic. Although toward the end, I just didn't quite have enough to pass Adrian and Buddy. I think obviously it was pretty stagnant at the front with each of us fanning out three-wide into the corners to keep out of the front wing. Just one of those things. I think it was a good day from a results standpoint, but a little bit of a disappointing day from a points thing.

Q. Two or three to go, you guys were three-wide battling for second, third place. Nothing was really settled at that point, and then were you surprised when Adrian swung-shot past you to actually take the lead?

DAN WHELDON: I'm going to answer your second question first. I think at that point when Adrian took the lead, I didn't think anybody wanted the lead. Because certainly, I was running behind Buddy and Tony and having to lift an awful lot, and I think obviously at that point we still had a long way to go on a fuel tank, so people were saving. He just capitalized on that opportunity. Fortunately I think the yellow helped the lead group because some of the others pitted. But yeah, the problem is when you've got somebody running fast up front and then you fan out three-wide in second sudden force behind that, just allows him to break away. As soon as we started back into position, we were able to catch back up. I actually followed Buddy a lot just from the standpoint that he seemed a little bit quicker over me and he was able to pull me up to some of the cars. There was a stint when actually Tony came out of the pits after a green start and had a bit of a lead, and I just sat behind Buddy and he towed me right back to the lead group, or to Tony at the time.

Q. Was it difficult to get and maintain the lead throughout the race?

DAN WHELDON: The problem was, when you were leading, you just punched a big hole in the air. So depending on who was leading, that would determine on how difficult it was to pass. I think certainly Adrian was very strong. I think Buddy was very strong. And so, they were very difficult to get around because they would sit on the low side, and to overtake a car that quick on the high side, really, you've got to be significantly quicker. I mean, with the IRL the way it is, it's so close, you don't get that, unfortunately. So, I think that that's why the race panned out that way. You know, nonetheless, I think it was a very exciting race. I certainly had a blast. It was just, like I say, just didn't work out for me points-wise today.

THE MODERATOR: Congratulations again, Dan. We're here with our second place finisher today, Buddy Rice today, starting from the pole. Finished second, second place finish his last three races and his third straight top two. Talk about your run here this afternoon at Kentucky Speedway.

BUDDY RICE: I think we had a good day. We had some pretty sizable changes before the start of the race and they turned out to be extremely good ones. I think everything is going good. We're biding our time and I think the Fernandez group did an excellent job today. They helped clinch the Honda Manufacturer's Championship for the year, and I think also he had the ideal line. With 20 laps to go, I made my move, I made it stick and he got back around me. That's all he wrote because he was going to hang onto bottom rail for the duration. It was a good day, we had no complaints and finished second and gained more valuable points toward the season finale.

THE MODERATOR: Talk about the front couple of laps. You pressured well, but just unable to get around it.

BUDDY RICE: Yeah, it's difficult. As I said, the bottom rail is where to be at, and he had the ideal line. I had tried the high side quite a few times early on, and it was going to be very difficult with everybody as evenly matched. He was obviously in the same package as I was in with the G-force in the Honda power, so it was difficult to get around him. I tried a couple of shots, like I said, and I had my one opportunity and I didn't capitalize on it. It's still an excellent day for Rahal-Letterman, and we are doing fine towards the championship chase.

THE MODERATOR: Seemed like you were laying back a little bit. Was that planned and were you just sizing up the competition at that point?

BUDDY RICE: No, we were just looking at everything. Some guys like to get up front and lead right away. I think we just had to wait and see what everybody wanted to do. I think we are happy with the way we handled the strategy and stuff. I think that it just played out the way it did and we are very happy. We have no complaints whatsoever. It's another strong finish for us.

Q. Can you talk about Fernandez' pass with five laps to go; did it surprise anyone in the field and did you see it coming?

BUDDY RICE: No, because he had been running up front all day. I think everybody's strategy at that point was just going to have to watch it till the end. I think there was about 55 to 58 laps left of green running and it was going to be tight on fuel for everybody. So I think everybody was laying back and watching the fuel. The yellow that came out late helped everybody on fuel to where it was going to be no issue to get to the end. Fernandez was up front and at that point that was the spot to be at where everybody needed to start going for it. Like I said, he had the bottom line. I had the opportunity; I didn't capitalize on it.

Q. Can you talk about cars coming into Turn 2 a little high?

BUDDY RICE: Yeah, basically, this place, the way the light banking is, how much air is blowing up the cars, there's dirty air. We are all lined up in a big, tight pack and we are all swinging wider and wider. So what happens is you get cars spanning out two, three wide, and one of the cars in the back has a little bobble or lip and guys start lining up for the fence. Guys lining up behind you are going to do the same thing. I got myself caught up once in the fourth line, I think, and then two laps later, I got caught out being on the turn in three, and I squeezed between Hornish and the wall. That's just the way it goes. It's a tight, packed racing and that's the way it always is with IRL. You know, it's just normal for what happens. We just don't have the banking to keep us all packed on the low side.

Q. Talk about the unique characteristics of Kentucky Speedway compared to some of the other mile-and-a-halfs on the circuit.

BUDDY RICE: Well, the turns are really tighter here, and also it has light banking. I think those are the two main issues. Obviously, we've had bumps in the past where right now they have shaved it and made it a lot better. So I think that's why the racing was so much better this year than it was last year, and I think that's what kept us all packed up. Last year, the bumps and everything were so bad that if your car could not handle it, there's no way you're going to drive hard. So, I know that from just personal experience of being here last year. This year, it helped clean the racing up, but the banking is just so light, the turns are tight, it's a handling track.

Q. What is it going to take to challenge for the Championship down the stretch?

BUDDY RICE: Keep running up front. Just going to play out, there's nothing I can do or change anything. Winning races and finishing up front and staying ahead of Tony is going to be key. Obviously he's got the same idea, to do the same thing to keep his points lead, I think, and we're just going to have to wait and see what happens. Like I said, as long as we look at our own program and handle it like we should and run up front, it will all play out like it should. We'll just see what happens when it comes down to Texas at the finale.

Q. What are your observations about Adrian Fernandez's progress in the series this year?

BUDDY RICE: I think Adrian is new to driving the cars, didn't show up till Phoenix, missed all of the preseason testing. They only had one car and jumped to a two-car effort. In the second round, I think it's been a very steep learning curve for him, and that's been the biggest thing. He maybe plays it more risky than other times, and until you get an absolute grip on everything, it's going to take a little bit, and it's no different than all of the new teams that come in here, into the IRL. You have to learn the package and learn how to drive the package and learn what it's looking for. It just taken a little bit, but I don't think there's been any question in the last, probably, three to four rounds, they have been progressively climbing up the ladder in finishes. So I don't think it's a surprise to see the Fernandez group win. It was definitely coming. Adrian, he's not a rookie, per se. He has a lot of experience and knows exactly what he's looking for. It just took a little bit to get a handle on exactly what he's looking for when he's handling mile-and-a-half tracks.

Q. Talk about Thomas Scheckter taking the lead.

BUDDY RICE: I think since Chevy and Toyota came out with their new packages, as well as we did at Michigan, obviously the two other manufacturers had a lot of room to make up and they did that, they did a good job. Both of the Penske cars qualified and won last two rounds. And Scheckter was at Michigan until whatever happened to them there; I think it was the pit stop issue, he got hit by another car. And then it looks like this week, I'm not really sure, but you could smell the burning carbon, so some sort of fire or something happened, fuel hose. I just think it's little things like that. But also, at the same time, you could see by the pace what was going on up on the front by all of us, and it's the same thing that happened. I think some people will take a risk and gamble and run full-risk to run up front and other people are just willing to hang out and wait and see how it all pans out. Everybody has different strategies. Obviously the Panther team knows how to run up front and they have done it before, they have won championships. Scheckter knows how to drive. They just need a week or everything to come together, and I think you will see him finish up towards the front.

THE MODERATOR: 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 tenth 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, 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 ten 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 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 position 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 make 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 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 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.

THE MODERATOR: 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 close." 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 was the engine. I didn't know where the buttons was, 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 Hondas 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 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 tenth 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 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 the drivers, 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 life of the mechanics is a lot better, they have a lot more time, they have 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.

Q. (Inaudible).

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 take 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 Pike's Peak and the IRL's attempt to build a fan base. How do you feel about going to Pike's 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 Pike's 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 will be in better shape in the championship than we are right now.

Q. Do you see yourself continuing in the duel 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 duel 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.

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