'I blew it'
Tracy's error allows Fernandez first CART win in three yearsPosted: Sunday June 22, 2003 9:21 PM
Updated: Monday June 23, 2003 2:18 AM
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- When Adrian Fernandez made his move, he knew he wouldn't have a better chance to end his victory drought and become the first owner/driver to win a CART race in 11 years.
Fernandez took advantage of Paul Tracy's error going into turn one to take the lead and pulled away from the pole-sitter for his first win in three years, and his first as team owner in the G.I. Joe's 200 Sunday at Portland International Raceway.
"I managed to push Paul pretty hard until he made a mistake," Fernandez said. "I just decided that whenever he brakes, I'm going to brake later. If I didn't take it I will hate myself forever. It was late in the race and it was now or never."
Tracy braked early going into the turn, allowing Fernandez to pass on the inside. He beat out Tracy by 2.273 seconds. Alex Tagliani was third, 4.457 seconds behind Fernandez.
"I'm just disappointed with myself," Tracy said. "I led the race, made a mistake ... I just blew it. I saw him coming and didn't try to block. He went down on the inside of me and away he went. We got the points lead, but I'm disappointed for my team."
For Fernandez, the win capped a long comeback after two devastating injuries last year and validated his efforts as an owner. The 40-year-old has worked his way back through physical therapy, often training with Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Randy Johnson at home in Phoenix.
"It feels great to get the win," he said. "We built this team from nothing and we were starting to get some pressure from our sponsors.
"I may be 40, but I'm 20 at heart."
As was the case all weekend, Tracy was in the middle of controversy during the race.
Tracy had been leading since overtaking Michel Jourdain Jr., who started with him on the front row, out of the pit after a green-flag pit stop on lap 44.
Officials eventually determined Tracy exited the pit lane illegally -- he went from his pit stall directly to the outside fast lane, cutting off Jourdain. According to rules, drivers can't be in the fast lane until reaching the maximum pit speed. Tracy received a five-second penalty.
"You as a driver are supposed to go from the pit box to the first lane, not the fast lane, especially if someone is coming," Jourdain said. "I had to slow down because he came into my lane or we would have hit.
"They gave him a five-second penalty, so obviously the CART official agreed he did something wrong."
The penalty was assessed on lap 61 and served in the pits on lap 73. It was a key development for Fernandez, who was about five seconds behind at the time.
Tracy and Jourdain then bumped on the 45th lap, one after the illegal pit exit by Tracy, in the Festival Curves -- a right-left-right combination in turns one through three -- causing Jourdain to spin out and stall. The right side of Tracy's car was damaged by Jourdain's tire, but the rest of the car appeared unscathed.
"I was the last car he managed to hit this weekend," Jourdain said. "He kept hitting me, hitting me until he spun me."
Tracy traded paint with a couple of drivers during qualifying, and got in the way of a couple of more, eliciting some harsh reaction from his fellow racers.
The accident caused the second full-course yellow of the day, and sent Jourdain a lap down with damage to his front wing. By the time the penalty to Tracy was announced, Jourdain was running next to last, with no hope of recovering
It took four tries to finally get a green flag at the start. On the first three attempts, the chief steward determined the cars had not lined up properly.
Once the drivers were aligned, Jourdain jumped ahead of Tracy in the Festival Curves and led the first 43 laps of the race.
For most of the first half of the race, it was Jourdain and Tracy at the front, with Fernandez a ways back and a huge gap behind him for fourth.
"It was great to race with Paul and Michel," Fernandez said. "They were very fast at the beginning. I was not perfect, I was just trying to hang with them."
Rookie points leader Sebastien Bourdais had his day ended on the 92nd lap when his rear wing came loose, the fourth race this year he did not finish. He was running third at the time. Max Papis wrecked on the 88th lap in his return to CART. He finished 15th.
Last week's winner, Patrick Carpentier spun into the wall on the 74th lap, ending his day. Six of the 19 cars did not finish the race.