PORTLAND (June 22, 2003) – Adrian Fernandez (#51 Tecate/Quaker State/Telmex Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) has spent the last three years building a first-rate CART Champ Car team from the ground up, and had put together just about everything a racing team needed – except a shiny first-place trophy and a half-empty bottle of victory champagne.
The last piece of the puzzle for Fernandez Racing fell into place on a cloudy Sunday at Portland International Raceway as Fernandez outdueled series points leader Paul Tracy (#3 Player’s/Indeck Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) to take his first Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford victory since the 2000 season, winning the G.I. Joe’s 200.
Fernandez became the first owner/driver to win a CART Champ Car World Series race since 1992 as he led the last 15 laps en route to his eighth career victory, beating Tracy to the line by 2.273 seconds to take his first win since taking the checkered flag at Surfers Paradise in the 2000 season.
“This is a huge lift for our team,” Fernandez said. “We have worked very hard to build this team from nothing and sometimes it is like having a lot of children with all the people running around the shop. We needed a big win like this one and we got it today.”
Fernandez would spend the first 70 laps running his own private event in third place as he chased the two lead cars of Tracy and Michel Jourdain Jr. (#9 Gigante Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone). The two lead cars jumped out to a four-second advantage over Fernandez in the first two stints, but the Mexican veteran was fast enough to build a six-second cushion between himself and the remainder of the field.
He would have plenty to keep him entertained in front of him as Tracy and Jourdain waged war through the first half of the race. Jourdain would take the early lead from polesitter Tracy after three attempted starts were waved off by CART Champ Car starter J.D. Wilbur. Jourdain took the lead heading into the first turn once the green flag finally did wave and would build a one-second advantage over Tracy as the first round of pit stops loomed.
The drama of the first stops was put on hold on Lap 16 when Geoff Boss (#11 Cross Pens/Lacoste Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) spun in Turn Seven to bring out the yellow flag and send everyone scurrying down Pit Lane. Jourdain would emerge in front of Tracy and would hold that spot ahead of Tracy, Fernandez and Alex Tagliani (#33 Johnson Controls Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) for the next 28 orbits around the 1.969-mile road course.
Things would get interesting on the second set of stops as Tracy pitted in front of Jourdain on Lap 44. The Team Rahal driver left before Tracy, but Tracy’s Player’s/Forsythe Racing squad would allow him to rejoin just in front of Jourdain. Tracy pulled out into the fast lane of the pits in front of Jourdain and would lead Lap 45 and carried the lead into the treacherous Festival Curves on Lap 46. Jourdain tried an outbraking maneuver on the inside of Turn One, but Tracy held his ground as the two cars wheeled into Turn Two side by side. The two cars would have contact and Jourdain would spin in front of Tracy, sending the yellow flag flying as Tracy kept his car rolling.
Tracy would maintain the lead as Fernandez moved into second place, but life would get more difficult quickly for the Canadian driver. CART Race Control determined that Tracy had come into the fast lane of Pit Road before coming up to speed, which would result in a five-second penalty on his next pit stop. Faced with a longer-than-normal stop, Tracy hustled to build a six-second lead over Fernandez as the third and final stop approached.
“I thought I was being penalized for the incident with Michel,” Tracy said. “I knew I had to build a bigger lead, but our Team Player’s guys did a great job getting service done and letting us keep the lead.”
Tracy would maintain the lead but Fernandez found the key to the speed chamber on his last stop and started to turn his fastest laps of the day. He closed to within less than a second with 16 laps to go, and took advantage of an opening that Tracy left heading into Turn One to make the pass for the lead. Once the pass was made, Fernandez was able to stretch his lead to more than two seconds and roll across the line for his eighth career victory.
Tracy would hold on for second and took over the championship lead by four points over Bruno Junqueira (#1 PacifiCare Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) and by eight over Jourdain after eight events. Tagliani would turn the fastest race lap with five circuits to run as he tried in vain to chase down Tracy, but would settle for his second podium finish of the year as the new Rocketsports Racing squad would end the day in third place. Junqueira improved seven positions from his starting spot to place fourth while Oriol Servia (#20 Visteon/Patrick Racing Ford-Cosworth/Lola/Bridgestone) would earn his fourth top-five finish in the last five races by coming home in fifth.
Darren Manning (#15 RAC/Walker Racing Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) took top rookie and top Reynard honors by placing sixth, followed by fellow Reynard drivers Jimmy Vasser (#12 American Spirit Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone) and Mario Haberfeld (#34 Mi-Jack/Conquest Ford-Cosworth/Reynard/Bridgestone). Jourdain would rebound from his contact and take the final points-paying spot on the boxscore with a 12th-place run, but lost his series points lead to Tracy.
TOP THREE FINISHER QUOTES:
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: “Going into Turn 1 Paul made a mistake and I knew I had to take advantage of it because he probably would not make another one. The racing is so close that you have to take every opportunity that you get and I would never have forgiven myself if I did not try. It feels great to get the win, we built this team from nothing and we were starting to get some pressure from our sponsors, but this is great.”
PAUL TRACY: “It’s great for Team Player’s to move back into the points lead, but I’m little disappointed in myself, because I felt like I gave it away, making a small mistake which allowed Adrian to pass me. Historically, this hasn’t been a great track for me, so I’m pleased with the result. As for the incident with Michel, I gave him plenty of room entering corner one, but he completely shut the door on me in corner two and we locked wheels. I was lucky that I could continue because my front wing was pretty damaged.”
ALEX TAGLIANI: “The Rocketsports Racing crew did a great job and I raced like I normally do. We had a great car. It took a while for it to come to temperature, but it worked really well for a fast-paced race. I wish I were even more aggressive from the get-go to move higher up the grid, but I am happy with our results today. I am glad we have had the start to the season we have and believe we will become even more competitive. If we keep on knocking at the door like this, pretty soon we’ll have our chance (at a win).”
- For the second consecutive year, the G.I. Joe’s 200 has seen two drivers lead the same numbers of laps, sending Race Control to the rule book before awarding the championship point for most laps led. Paul Tracy and Michel Jourdain Jr. each led 42 laps on the day but Tracy would get the championship point due to his higher finishing position.
- Adrian Fernandez became the first owner/driver to win a CART Champ Car race since 1992 when Bobby Rahal took the checkered flag at Nazareth while serving as the co-owner of Rahal-Hogan Racing.
- Adrian Fernandez moves into sole possession of 17th place on the all-time CART Champ Car victory list with his eighth victory.
- Paul Tracy will make his 200th career start in the series next event, July 5 at Cleveland. Tracy will be only the fifth driver in CART Champ Car history to make 200 series starts.