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Thursday, March 11, 2004
Fernandez swaps series for stability

ESPN.com news services

Just two days after showing up at the Champ Car media day in Long Beach with a colorful car and doing one-on-one interviews with media members, Adrian Fernandez has announced he is leaving for the rival Indy Racing League.

"Obviously this is a big move for us particularly at this late stage," Fernandez said in a statement. "We have reviewed a lot of things the past few days, and had to take a hard look at what we know at this point in time to determine what is best for our sponsors and the future of Fernandez Racing."

The 40-year-old Fernandez, backed by Tecate, Quaker State and Telmex, had been a fixture with now-bankrupt CART since 1993.

Thursday's announcement was stunning to open-wheel fans given that Fernandez had just appeared at the Champ Car media day and said nothing about his plans to join the IRL.

Adrian Fernandez
Adrian Fernandez outdueled Paul Tracy to win in Portland last year.

Fernandez, who already owns a Honda-powered car in the IRL driven by rookie Kosuke Matsuura, has only 11 days to prepare to run his own car under the Fernandez Racing banner at the Indy 200 Copper World Classic in Phoenix on March 21.

While media reports are hazy on exactly what went on between Fernandez and OWRS owners Paul Gentilozzi, Kevin Kalkhoven and Gerry Forsythe at Long Beach, ESPN.com has learned that Fernandez left quickly on Tuesday without signing autographs for fans.

In the past, Fernandez had told members of the media he wasn't planning on joining the currently all-oval IRL as a driver.

But with only 13 confirmed cars, counting his own, showing up at the Long Beach media day, Fernandez decided it was in his team's best interest to join the IRL, which had 19 cars race in its opener at Homestead-Miami.

"Personally, it is never easy to make a decision like this particularly when you factor in the friendships and relationships that have developed over many years for not only myself but everyone at Fernandez Racing," Fernandez said. "I will always be thankful for my years in Champ Car racing -- where they have taken me in my career and for the tremendous support of the fans along the way."

Fernandez built his team with co-owner Tom Anderson and won seven races in Champ Cars. The Mexico City native helped bring Champ Car racing to that city, which reportedly drew a CART record crowd of 221,000 on race day last year.

"We are extremely excited to once again have our team's efforts focused on one championship which includes the Indianapolis 500," Anderson said. "This is a tremendous step reuniting our great sponsors from Japan and Mexico. We sincerely appreciate the effort all of them have put forth in order to make this possible."

The timing of Fernandez' decision has taken those who follow the sport completely by surprise. It already was unclear if OWRS would be able to field the required 18 cars in time for the season-opening Long Beach Grand Prix on April 18, and this announcement doesn't help.

Meanwhile, Fernandez is left with little time to prepare for his first IRL race.

"It is an understatement to say we have a lot of work to do in the next 11 days," he said. "I'm sure there will be challenges but we have a very experienced team in both Fernandez Racing and Super Aguri Fernández Racing and will be able to help each other. It will definitely be an asset to run a two-car team and be able to build off each other."