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"Belterra Casino Indy 300"

Fernandez holds off all challengers
to clinch his first IRL victory

He fends off Rice’s late charge

By By Don Ward
Editor

SPARTA, Ky. (Aug. 15, 2004) – You won’t find Adrian Fernandez in the Indy Racing League Media Guide. He joined the league in March, competing in the second event of the 2004 season at the Phoenix International Raceway.

Kentucky Speedway RoundAbout Cover August 2004

Photo by Don Ward

Adrian Fernandez
after winning the
Belterra Indy 300

Despite missing out on the preseason testing, it didn’t take this CART Series veteran long to find victory lane in the IRL. His first victory came Aug. 15 at the Kentucky Speedway, where he won the 200-lap “Belterra Casino Indy 300” by taking charge of the 22-car field late in the race and then fending off a late charge by Buddy Rice with only 20 laps to the checkered flag.
Fernandez had trailed Tony Kanaan much of the race, but made his move on the 151st lap when other drivers seemed to be conserving fuel. The owner-driver from Mexico City slipped past leader and pole-sitter Rice and later beat him across the finish line by a slim 0.0581 second before an announced record IRL crowd of 61,885.
Dan Wheldon was third, with series points leader Kanaan placing fifth behind Fernandez’s teammate, IRL rookie Kosuke Matsuura. Kanaan had led the first 89 laps, 126 overall. It was Matsuura’s best finish of the year.
Fernandez, meanwhile, cruised into Victory Lane, collected his trophy and handled his new-found fame like a seasoned pro. He’s been there before, having won many CART and Formula One races over his long career. But he relished the accomplishment after having switched series in mid-stream.
“It’s a fantastic feeling – a lot of work,” said Fernandez, 41, whose best finish was fifth this season prior to Kentucky. “This team has gone through a lot, and we have never ended up that we could win. We started the season with no preparation, just trying to catch up.”

Vito Meira

Vitor Meira

Regarding Rice’s attempt to pass, Fernandez said, “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.”
Fernandez earned $102,400 for the win and moved into ninth place in points standings. Kanaan retained the lead, followed by Rice and Wheldon. Defending champion Sam Hornish Jr. was never a threat. He started the race in third and finished 14th.
Kanaan appeared to have the strongest car in the early going. But he said his car “lost something” midway through. “It wasn’t fuel. Something happened to the car, and I didn’t know what is was, and a lot of people are going to look at it. It was at full throttle.”
Kanaan retained the points lead by 50 over Rice with five races remaining.
Fernandez entered a car in the IRL last year, with Roger Yasukawa driving. But the team was winless in 16 races.
Rice, who won the Indianapolis 500 this season, said he planned his move strategically, but his car couldn’t find enough speed to get around the faster Fernandez. “He was on the inside, and that’s the ideal route,” said Rice, whose team is co-owned by late night TV host David Letterman.
Fernandez was helped by a late caution that allowed him to conserve fuel. On lap 158, Townsend Bell hit the Turn 2 wall. The field regrouped for the finish, giving Rice his chance to challenge the Mexican.
In the most serious caution of the race, Tomas Scheckter’s car ignited with fire when he drove away from a pit stop too quickly, dragging with him a fuel hose. He stopped just short of entering the track, jumped out and rolled away from the burning vehicle.
“I felt myself wet with methanol, and I wasn’t taking any chances.”
Fernandez said he decided to join the IRL this season as a driver because he liked the progress the series had made since its split from the rival CART series. He cited the series’ safety record as well, saying, “My hat’s off to the IRL. They’ve made tremendous progress with safety.”
He said his victory at Kentucky “validates what the team is all about, and it was unification of the team.”
Fernandez made his CART debut in 1993 in Long Beach, Calif. He won his first CART race in 1996 in Toronto.
His best year was 2000, when he finished second in the series points championship, bolstered by wins in Australia and Brazil. Last year, he finished eighth in points, with one victory in Portland and 11 top-10 finishes in all.
Indy Racing League Race Notes
n The new IRL attendance record tops the previous record of 61,214, set in the inaugural 2000 season for the “Belterra Casino Indy 300.”
n In addition to colorful Belterra Casino showgirls, the pre-race festivities was highlighted by an appearance by accomplished actress and Kentucky native Ashley Judd, whose husband is IRL driver Dario Franchitti. He finished sixth after starting in fifth place. Judd gave the ceremonial command to “start your engines.” She then watched the race from Franchitti’s pits, along with sister Wynonna Judd, a well-known country music singer.
n Honda won the manufacturer’s championship with the completion of the “Belterra Casino Indy 300” only in the company’s second year of competition in the series. Two-thirds through the season, Honda drivers and teams had posted 10 consecutive race wins, including both the Indianapolis 500 (Buddy Rice) and Honda’s home event at the Twin Ring Motegi circuit in Japan (won by Dan Wheldon).
Honda prevailed over Chevrolet and Toyota cars. Honda holds down the top three points positions with Tony Kanaan, Rice and Wheldon, and the rookie of the year standings with Kosuke Matsuura.P.C.

Chesson captures “Kentucky 100”


SPARTA, Ky. – Morris Nunn Racing driver P.J. Chesson passed Paul Dana with seven laps remaining Aug. 14 in “The Kentucky 100” and held on in the closing laps to take his second consecutive Indy Racing League Menards Infiniti Pro Series victory and first career win at Kentucky Speedway.
“It was a big patience game,” said Chesson, who started the race eighth. “We sat back, we knew had a decent car, and we kept working on it and adjusting it as the race went on. It got better and better and better. It’s the fifth race out and we’ve won to two races now. I don’t know how you explain that, it’s unbelievable.”
Chesson charts his third top-five and fifth top-10 finish of the season since making his first start for the team at Kansas Speedway on July 4.
“It was a great race car,” Chesson said. “You have to a good car and good guys around you to be able to run the car where I was today. They’re good racers. We were inches apart at 180 mph and I’m impressed with the guys.”
The 25-year-old, Far Hills, N.J., is a winged sprint car specialist entered the IRL Menards Infiniti Pro Series when he began searching for opportunities similar to, but outside the sprint car ranks.
He crossed the finish line .0514 of a second in front of Dana in the closest series race in Kentucky Speedway history. Dana earns his sixth top-five and eighth top-10 finish of the season. The second-year series driver did not lead a lap in the 100-mile battle but was able to cut into the 81 point deficit that separates him from championship leader Thiago Medeiros, who closed out the race sixth.
Dana drew within striking distance of his second win of the season after caution restart with one lap remaining in the race, but was unable to overtake Chesson on the final lap.
“We actually had a run at the (finish) line,” Dana said. “He went so early on the restart that he caught us all napping. If I would have gotten a remotely respectable restart, I think we could have won it. The Ethanol car was awesome. It was so busy out there. I got hit twice and can’t even believe I’m still rolling. It was a wild afternoon.”
The 29-year-old driver hopes for a wild finish to the series season. After making up ground in the series points chase today, he will need dominant performances in the final four races of the season to contend for the championship.
“Honestly, to catch him (Medeiros), we need to win all four and he needs to struggle in all four and then maybe the math works out,” Dana said. “We need to dominate and we have the car to do it.”
Leonardo Maia, Arie Luyendyk, Jr. and pole sitter Travis Gregg rounded out the top five.

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