The next feature of the series looking at each driver who competed in the 2001 Rockingham 500.
My next series of features will be looking at each driver who competed in my first ever major international motorsport race, the 2001 Rockingham 500, the first time the American CART Championship had raced in the UK since 1979.
Having been confirmed the previous July, the race was held in front of 38,000 people who witnessed, at the time, the fastest ever laps on a British circuit, with hitting speeds of over 215 mph. It was also the first full length oval race in the UK since before the war, when cars roared round Brooklands.
I was seven when I watched the action at a very cold Rockingham, I remember my parents either side of me keeping me warm. However, I also remember the excitement of watching a major motorsport event trackside for the first time, having been to the official opening that May. The speed the cars hit was mind blowing and something I can still recall now.
The race was won by Gil de Ferran who executed a superb move on the last lap to beat Swede Kenny Brack, with fellow Brazilians Cristiano da Matta and Helio Castroneves finishing third and fourth.
Michael Andretti finished fifth ahead of his teammate Paul Tracy in sixth, with 1996 CART Champion Jimmy Vasser in seventh. The fourth Brazilian in the field Tony Kanaan was eighth ahead of home favourite Dario Franchitti.
Spaniard Oriol Servia rounded out the top ten for Sigma Autosport, while just outside the top ten, Italian Max Papis came home eleventh. After Papis in eleventh was Townsend Bell with his Patrick Racing teammate Roberto Moreno just behind in thirteenth. After the Patrick Racing duo of Bell and Moreno was the Forsythe trio of Alex Tagliani, Bryan Herta and Patrick Carpentier.
Following the trio was Fernandez Racing’s Shinji Nakano, a lap ahead of the sole remaining Chip Ganassi Racing entry of Memo Gidley.
Behind Gidley was Bettenhausen Racing’s Michel Jourdain Jr, ahead of PacWest Racing’s Mauricio Gugelmin, who finished five laps down and two laps behind Jourdain Jr. The final driver to finish, also five laps down was Gugelmin’s compatriot Max Wilson, who was racing for Arciero-Blair Racing.
Having looked at Scott Dixon, the last driver to retired, I am now going to look at the penultimate driver who retired from the race before Dixon was Mexican Adrian Fernandez.
Prior to the 2001 Rockingham 500, Adrian made his motorsport debut at the age of eight, racing motocross bikes before a permanent move to cars at the age of fifteen in 1982.
From 1982 to 1984, Adrian contested in the Formula Vee championship, winning the championship in 1983 and 1984 before moving up to the Formula K Series. Adrian competed in the championship up to 1987, before moving to England for 1988, racing in Formula Ford, having contested a single race the year before.
Adrian spent two seasons in Formula Ford and, bar a single outing in 1990, had a year out before returning to Mexico for 1991. Adrian remained in the Mexican Formula 3 Championship for two seasons, in which he dovetailed his time in the Indy Lights Championship, finishing third for John Martin Racing, in which he impressed, winning four times, only finishing behind Robbie Buhl and Franck Freon.
His impressive debut season in Indy Lights caught the eye of those in IndyCar, in which he signed for Galles Racing for six races of the season, in which he scored seven points, before becoming a full time driver for the team in 1994.
Adrian remained with Galles Racing for two seasons in which he achieved a single podium finish in 1995, although he finished in the top ten nine times during his second full season with the team. During this time, he finished thirteenth and twelfth in the standings respectively before moving to Tasman Racing for 1996.
1996 was a breakthrough season for Adrian as he claimed his first CART Series victory around the streets of Toronto, a victory tainted by the tragic accident Jeff Krosnoff suffered. He would end the season twelfth once again. Adrian remained with the team for 1998 and although he achieved another podium finish in the final round of the season, overall it was a disappointing campaign for the Mexican, ending the year 18th.
It proved to be the final season of Adrian’s association with Tasman as he switched to Patrick Racing for 1998, an inspired choice as he won twice while claiming a further two podiums. Adrian only failed to score in five of the races, finishing the season fourth, his best year to date.
Adrian remained with Patrick Racing for 1999, winning a further two races. It was a season once again tainted by tragedy as both Gonzalo Rodriguez and Greg Moore lost their lives behind the wheel. Adrian himself had a major accident which left him on the sidelines with a fractured hand. It was a bitter shame for Adrian who was having his best season in CART racing, leading the championship early on before mixing six races.
Adrian eventually finished the season sixth remaining with Patrick Racing for 2000 in which proved to be his final season with the legendary team.
2000 turned out to be Adrian’s best season in the CART Series, winning twice in Rio and Surfers Paradise, while achieving a further three podiums. It was a superb season for Adrian who only failed to finish outside the points three times throughout the season, eventually finishing second behind Gil de Ferran, who took his maiden CART title.
It was all change for 2001 however, as he founded Fernandez Racing, alongside former Chip Ganassi Manager Tom Anderson, signing former F1 driver Shinji Nakano as his teammate. In comparison to the previous three seasons, the duo struggled in the team’s first season as an entry, with Adrian claiming two podiums on his way to eighteenth in the standings.
A similar season followed in 2002 however in 2003, Adrian returned to the winner’s circle, taking victory at Portland, becoming the first owner driver to win a race in the championship since Bobby Rahal in 1992. In what proved to be Adrian’s final season in the CART Series, he finished eighth overall with 105 points.
Adrian remained in single seater motorsport for a further two seasons, switching allegiance to the Indy Car Series, which was, by this time, the more popular of the two premier single series championships in America, with many big names and drivers switching to the series throughout the early noughties.
Adrian teamed up with Aguri Suzuki for his debut season in the series, the team having joined a year earlier with Roger Yasukawa as their driver, with Japanese driver Kosuke Matsuura as his teammate.
The duo fared incredibly well in their debut seasons in IndyCar, with Adrian finishing the season a superb fifth with three victories in Kentucky, Chicago and Fontana, while Matsuura claimed the prestigious Rookie of the Year accolade.
2004 would prove to be Adrian’s only full season in Indy Car, after he was unable to secure funding for the 2005 season, his final Indy Car appearance coming in the 2005 Indy500, in which he finished a very respectable fourteenth.
As well as his solo appearance at Indianapolis, 2005 saw Adrian make his Xfinity Series debut, then called the Nationwide Series, for Hendrick Motorsports. He made his debut at the Mexico 200 around the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez circuit in Mexico City. It was here where he achieved his best result that year, a tenth place finish after leading several laps.
He continued part-time with Hendrick up to the end of 2007 in which he made his Endurance Racing debut, contesting the 2007 American Le Mans Series Championship with his own team, which was factory backed by Acura. Adrian contested the season alongside compatriot Luis Diaz in which they fared well, achieving three podiums on their way to eleventh overall.
2007 also saw Adrian make his 24 Hours of Le Mans debut alongside Haruki Kurosawa and Robbie Kerr. The trio finished the race second in class and 27th overall, while continuing to race in the ALMS. 2008 saw Adrian finish twelfth in the standings however 2009 was his real breakthrough year in the series.
Alongside Diaz, the duo won their class all bar twice that year, finishing no lower than second in class. The duo only finished outside the top ten overall twice all year on their way to the ALMS LMP2 title.
Again however, after his most successful season in a series, he did not return in 2010, contesting two rounds for Aston Martin Racing in an LMP1 Lola chassis. He remained with the team for his second attempt at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, now alongside Harold Primat and Stefan Mucke. The trio finishing sixth overall completing 365 laps.
Adrian’s affiliation with Aston Martin remained until the conclusion of the 2012 season, at which point he announced his retirement from racing. A class podium at Le Mans in the GTE Pro category was a great send off for the Mexican.
Since retiring from full time motorsports, Adrian has become the manager of compatriot Sergio Perez.
His accomplishments in motorsport have also been recognised by the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez who named turn 12 after him. The honour must have been even more special for Adrian whose hometown is Mexico City, the location of the circuit.
Despite financial difficulties curtailing Adrian’s progress during vital moments of his time behind the wheel, what a career Adrian had and has continued by going into management, I wish him the best for the future.
Pictures: www.snaplap.net, www.motorsportimages.com, www.indycar.com