Dominguez, Martinez follow successful Mexican legacy
The 2007 Champ Car World Series comes to a close today in Mexico City with the Gran Premio Tecate Presented by Banamex, where fan interest centers on the local heroes. Mario Dominguez and David Martinez were hired with two races to go and both drivers can expect to receive the biggest cheers on Sunday.
They’re big on racing heroes down in Mexico, starting with the track that hosts the 2007 season finale. It’s called the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, which honors the late, great racing brothers from Mexico, Ricardo and Pedro Rodriguez. Ricardo Rodriguez astounded the racing world by qualifying on the front row of the 1961 Italian Grand Prix at the tender age of 19—in his first F1 race! Tragically, he was killed the following year while practicing for the inaugural Mexican Grand Prix at this very track, although it was extensively modified before the 2001 race.
Older brother Pedro achieved his success primarily in endurance sports car racing, most notably with the legendary Porsche 917, and also attempted to become the first Mexican driver to race at Indianapolis. He also found rides with virtually every top team in F1 and recorded a pair of world championship victories before perishing in a sports car racing accident in Germany in 1971.
The loss of the Rodriguez brothers may have created a temporary void, but in time, a number of Mexican drivers came to the forefront. This is the legacy on which Dominguez and Martinez hope they can continue to build.
In CART’s first race at Mexico City in 1980, three Mexican drivers made the starting grid—Juan Bolanos, Daniel Muniz, Michel Jourdain. The following year, Jourdain was the only Mexican driver from the 1980 race to return to the starting grid, but he was joined by an exciting newcomer named Josele Garza. All season long, Garza had been fast, even leading the Indianapolis 500 (which did not count as part of the championship that particular year). At Mexico City, Garza qualified 13th and finished in 10th position.
That race would be the last Champ Car event in Mexico until 2001, but Mexican drivers continued to race in the Series.
The Mexican racing contingent grew with the arrival in 1982 of Hector Rebaque, part of the new Forsythe-Brown Racing team which also entered future series champion Danny Sullivan. A veteran of Formula One, Rebaque scored a surprise victory at Elkhart Lake that season, the first ever for a Mexican driver. However, Rebaque parlayed his Champ Car success into a ride with Brabham team in F1and never returned.
Garza’s early promise never materialized, thanks to bad luck and the fact that he spent most of his Champ Car career with mid-level teams. But the likable Garza did score an impressive second-place finish in the 1986 Michigan 500 before running his last Champ Car event in 1987. Garza also was the inspiration that led Mario Dominguez to racing.
“It became my dream to race Champ Car after I saw Josele Garza racing in the Series,” Dominguez explains. “He was my hero. Then Adrian Fernandez opened the doors for Mexican drivers and I started my Champ Car career in 2002.”
Bernard Jourdain, brother to Michel, was Champ Car’s top rookie in 1989 but that would be his only full season.
However, there was another exciting Mexican driver on the horizon—Adrian Fernandez. Thanks to the Indy Lights development series, Fernandez was able to move up to Champ Car and made his debut in 1993 with five starts and a seventh at Detroit as his top finish.
Two years later, Fernandez had his first podium in the Michigan 500 and during the 1996 season he won on the streets of Toronto. In 1998, Fernandez followed up with victories at Motegi and Mid-Ohio. In 1999, he scored a repeat victory at Motegi and closed the season with a win in the California 500. Victories in Brazil and Australia came in 2000, and by the time Champ Car returned to Mexico to race in 2001, Fernandez was a major hero, not just to the fans but also to David Martinez.
“There have been many great Mexican drivers both in Champ Car and in motorsports worldwide,” Martinez said. “I’ve had the chance to meet many of them, but there were also many more that came before me who I’ve read about and heard stories from my dad and from the people that I’m close to. But one of the big names in our sport that I’ve had the opportunity to not only meet but actually race with is Adrian Fernandez.
“At the beginning of this year, he gave me a call and invited me to join his team for the 12 Hours of Sebring. It was a great experience for me. We finished second and I definitely learned a lot from him. Adrian definitely opened the doors for a bunch of us in Champ Car and revived the motorsports passion in Mexico after it had been lost for a few years.”
While Australia would be Fernandez’s last victory in the series, there were other Mexican drivers on hand to follow in his successful footsteps. Dominguez scored a surprise victory at Australia in 2002 and an impressive victory in Miami the following year. Those wins may have been memorable to Dominguez, but what stands out in his memory is Mexico City, 2003.
“I will never forget the 2003 race in Mexico City where over 200,000 people were going crazy because I had finished on the podium,” Dominguez said. “The celebrations where unbelievable. They even took my car to Reforma and I drove around the Angel of Independence in front of thousands of fans who were going crazy.
“The best part was when Enrique Hernandez (the Herdez team owner) told me to throw my helmet to the crowd from atop the transporter. I did it and it disappeared as people were trying to get it. Thirty minutes later, there was a guy on a motorcycle driving around with my helmet on!”
Michel Jourdain Jr., who initially made history as CART’s youngest starter in 1996 (19 years, 6 months, 12 days when he ran at Long Beach), shook off the “eternal bridesmaid” moniker and scored popular victories at Milwaukee and Montreal in 2003. Rodolfo Lavin graduated from Champ Car support ranks to run full seasons in 2003 and 2004. He ran a partial schedule in 2005, but did manage to score top-five finishes at Denver and Las Vegas.
Jourdain’s victory would be the most recent for a Mexican driver but several of his countrymen have made their initial Champ Car starts. Joining Dominguez on the 2005 Mexico City grid were Jorge Goeters, Lavin and Homero Richards. In the meantime, Dominguez continued to show his ability with podiums at Houston and Road America in 2006 and a pole also at Houston.
In 2007, Dominguez found himself in a substitute role, but finishes the season with Pacific Coast Motorsports. Martinez, who made his debut at Mexico City last year where he finished ninth, returns with Forsythe Championship Racing. Both would like to end the season with a great result in Mexico.