Thursday, 20 March 2008 23:26
Fernandez made switch look easy : -
For the five teams transitioning to the IndyCar Series, a successful season despite the late start is not out of the question. For a case study, they need look no further than Adrian Fernandez.
In 2004, Fernandez announced that the Fernandez Racing team would join the IndyCar Series at Phoenix International Raceway for the second race of the season. The owner/driver had 11 days to get ready.
“My first-ever laps in an (IndyCar Series) car were during practice for the race,” said Fernandez, who last competed on the 1-mile Phoenix oval in 1995. “We definitely hit the ground running.”
Fernandez didn’t stop in the No. 5 car. He won three races and finished fifth in the standings after 16 rounds after an inauspicious start.
“Obviously, there was a lot to get used to -- the car itself, the engine power -- but everyone was very helpful in trying to get me up to speed as quickly as possible,” he said. “Unfortunately, our debut didn’t go as well as we had hoped. I qualified 13th, but I made a mistake downshifting prior to the start of the race and broke the gearbox (and finished 20th).
“It was all a part of learning in the transition from one series to another without the benefit of some testing, but it was an exciting time and I honestly felt that we would be fighting for the front very soon.”
Following is a brief Q&A with Fernandez:
Q: Despite a late start to the IndyCar Series, you and the team quickly became a contender.
A: One test (after Phoenix) later and following the race at Motegi, we entered the Month of May at Indianapolis and were on pace from the start. You definitely benefit from all the track time at Indy and I qualified sixth and finished seventh. From there, the results kept coming even though there were at a lot of circuits that I had never raced on before.
Q: What were your biggest adjustments early in the year?
A: Considering the first time that I actually heard my engine was when I jumped in the car at the Phoenix race, there were quite a few. From big things to little things -- like where the various buttons were (on the steering wheel), the difference in the gearbox, getting used to the responsiveness of the engine. A lot of things that we would have learned had we had the benefit of pre-season testing. I knew I had to work harder than any of the other drivers at every aspect of the racing because I was behind.
On the track, Texas was my first real experience at side-by-side racing and I was thinking ‘This is crazy!’ But I just settled in. As I was learning and getting my car better toward the end of the race, I was able to start pushing and we ended up finishing fifth. It was obviously a very satisfying result in only my fourth (IndyCar Series) start. The side-by-side racing for long periods of time was difficult as I had never done that before. My spotter, Jeff McComb, really helped me a lot with that to give me an idea of where the other cars were at all times and if I was giving them enough room. Other drivers also helped me with this. To me, this was the most difficult part but after four or five races, I felt comfortable. It was especially difficult when you are three wide and on the outside. I learned to look at the color of the pavement, etc. so I could see how much space I needed to give the two cars underneath me. I would try to do this as often as possible in the practice sessions to get used to it.
Q: What advice would you offer to drivers/teams making the move from Champ Car to the IndyCar Series?
A: First of all, as a driver, it was nice to see a lot of old friends when I made the transition -- Tony Kanaan, Dario Franchitti, Helio Castroneves, Bryan Herta, Darren Manning -- and I didn’t hesitate to ask them questions. Obviously, the biggest benefit you can have is track time and I think the Month of May will really help everyone shorten their learning curve. From there, every race will be a learning experience and it helped me to watch video tapes of previous races to have some idea of what to expect going in.