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Weekly CART Teleconference Transcript

Adrian Fernandez, Gil de Ferran, Kenny Brack, Roberto Moreno, Paul Tracy

10/24/00


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T.E. McHALE: Thanks for being with us. We are very fortunate to have four of the five drivers who are contending for the FedEx Championship Series Championship this weekend's Marlboro 500 presented by Toyota at California Speedway. There is a lot of money up for grabs: $1 million to the driver who wins the championship; $1 million to the driver that wins this race.

And joining us this afternoon are points leaders Gil de Ferran of Marlboro Team Penske who leads the championship with 158 points; Paul Tracy of Team KOOL Green and Kenny Brack of Team Rahal who are tied for third in the points with 134 each; and Roberto Moreno of Patrick Racing who is in fifth place with 131 points. Adrian Fernandez of Patrick Racing, who was on the call last week, will join us in progress. He has an appointment that's going to make him a little late, but he will call in probably at the bottom of the hour, 2:30 or thereabouts.

So let me just give you a couple of bullet points on each of our contenders and then we'll get started taking questions.

Roberto Moreno has made the most of his first full-time ride in the series since 1996. He scored 131 championship points, as I said, which is the highest total of his seven-year career. He had his first career victory and first career pole position at Cleveland and added podium finishes of second at Homestead and Portland and third at Japan and Gateway. He led the championship for the first time in his career from Round 8 at Portland through Round 10 at Toronto and has scored in 13 of 19 events.

Kenny Brack of Team Rahal is the Jim Truman Rookie of the Year Award Winner, which carries with it a $50,000 prize. He has nine Top-5 finishes, topped by second place efforts at Cleveland and at Australia, our most recent event, which tied a career best.

Paul Tracy of Team KOOL Green will finish among the Top-6 drivers of the championship for the sixth time in his ten-year career. He owns victories at Long Beach, Road America and Vancouver, giving him 18 career wins and moving him into seventh place on the CART career victory list. He also scored podiums of third place at Homestead, Japan and Toronto. He led the championship from Round 2 at Long Beach through Round 7 at Detroit, earned his 13th career pole position at Michigan which ties him for eighth on the CART career list. And he has also moved into the Top-10 on the CART career start list, taking over ninth place with 151 career starts.

Gil de Ferran of Marlboro Team Penske has led the title race from Round 16 at Laguna Seca through the current Round 19. He owns victories at Nazareth which is the 100th in the storied history of Penske racing, and Portland, he has complemented those wins with podium finishes of second at Mid-Ohio and Laguna Seca and third at Chicago and Houston. He earned pole positions at Homestead, Long Beach, Mid -Ohio, Houston and has qualified among the Top-5 drivers for 15 of his 19 starts this year. He has scored championship points in 14 of those 19 starts.

Gentlemen, thank you for being with us today.

Q. I'd like to ask both Paul and Kenny, since you guys are pretty much in the same boat, it's kind of the squirrely nature of the way this season has gone with, you know, so many weird things happening and stuff, even though you guys are well back, do9 you still have a feel like you have a pretty realistic chance to pull this thing out?

PAUL TRACY: I think that we still have a chance. We are 19 back, which still makes it mathematically possible. It's going to be difficult. We have to have a lot of good luck, and a lot of good fortune. But, you know, this is a race where we've got to go out and try to take control and win it, and that's what it is going to take to win the championship, and also, win the $1 million dollars for the race. There's $2 million on the line.

KENNY BRACK: I think it's possible to win the championship, but the sad thing is, we can't do it on our own. We're not in a situation where we can -- we can win it on our own. We need some bad luck for Gil, and probably Adrian, too.

But I think that what we can do is go to Fontana and try to do the best we can in the race and hopefully win the race and if the cards fall our way all the way, we'll be looking pretty good in the championship in the end. But that's the view I take on it, at least.

Q. Gil, you've taken, I guess, a lot of criticism for that first turn at Australia. How do you think -- what was really going through your head there at that point?

GIL de FERRAN: Yeah, I have certainly taken a lot of flak for that one, and I certainly believe it is a misunderstanding on most people's parts. And I think that the misunderstanding begins when they believe that I was trying to overtake Montoya, and as a matter of fact, I was trying to do exactly the opposite. I was trying to let him by, and we just kind of ran out of room there.

If you notice before the braking area, I was probably kind of -- a half-car length ahead of him before the braking area, which I thought was really not enough for me to dive on the brake and make it in front of him by the first apex. So I decided to back off a little early and tuck in behind -- tuck in behind him, going through the first left-hand or so; I did that. He gained half a car length on me, and we just kind of run out of room, you know. He was squeezing me to the right, and I had nowhere to go. Unfortunately, his rear touched my left front, and that was it.

But I was far from trying to overtake him. I was trying to -- I was trying to fall in line and get out of his way, but at that point that he touched me, I was standing on the brakes as hard as could I because I saw that he was coming, and I'm not so sure if he knew how far or how close to the wall I was.

Q. Is this your worst-case scenario having four other guys within striking distance? With how close the whole points chase has been this year, did you think it would come down to this?

GIL de FERRAN: Yeah, to be honest with you, as I got involved in the incident there with Juan and driving back with the car very damaged, you know, I thought, well, "It will be a miracle if we can get out again."

And at that point, I was already turning the page in my mind. It is what it is, and if I lose the championship lead to Paul or somebody else, you know, we're still going to Fontana with a chance to win, and I guess I feel the same way, you know, there are four or five guys there that have a shot at it. I've just got to do whatever I've got to do, I guess, to try and win this thing.

Also, it would have been nice if we won the championship three or four races ago, but since this thing has been so competitive, especially this season, I didn't really expect that that would have been the case. I just wanted to be in a good position to try to fight for the championship going into Fontana. I guess that's where we are. We're in a good position to fight for the championship.

At this point, I'm taking nothing for granted. Still, I think it is -- anything is possible, as we showed in Australia, much to our own demise.

Q. For Roberto, I'll ask you the same question that was asked of Kenny and Paul. But also, could you just give me a quick capsule comment on this season as it approaches an end? I know it has been a joy for you?

ROBERTO MORENO: For me, it has been quite a good season in a way that, here I am, amongst those guys. Still with a very, very slim chance, but I imagine it is still possible. I have to count on bad luck for most of them.

It's been an excellent season for me, considering it is my real first full season in a competitive team. Those guys that I'm fighting against, they have got quite a bit more on their experience than I have on competitive teams. So I think this was a great achievement for the team this year, and for me a great achievement.

Q. You've never raced at Fontana; am I right?

ROBERTO MORENO: No. I tested there one day before I went to Australia why., That's as much as I did there. It's pretty much like Michigan, but a lot more bumpier.

Q. Gil, any time in your past, have you been in this position going into a late racing season, and how much of a nervous condition is it for you?

GIL de FERRAN: Well, I have fought for championships before, some successfully and some not so, and I guess it is, you know, exciting, to say the least, going into Fontana.

And it is tense, and not only for me, but I think for all involved, you know, because we all want to try to win this thing, and I think it is a very meaningful championship to win. It is certainly one of the most prestigious titles that one can have in auto racing, full stop, so it is a charge -- very much a charged atmosphere. But, I guess that's big-time auto racing, so you'd better get used to it if you want to be a part of it.

Q. For Gil, it being such a tight points race, I just wanted to get a comment about if your strategy is going to change at all, because really all you have to do is finish ahead of Fernandez to win this thing. Does that play into your mind or something that you have talked with the team about how you are going to play out the race?

GIL de FERRAN: For sure, like Paul said earlier, there is a lot at stake at that particular race. You know, there's the race itself, which pays very well, and the championship, which also pays very well. I think also my highest priority is the championship.

Having said that, you know, 500-mile races are notoriously unpredictable and hard to plan out before you go into it. So I think we'll just, you know, go into it in a normal fashion, and with a -- with the usual 500-mile strategy and see how things develop as the race goes on.

But it is a little difficult to try to map your whole race right now. I think you have to -- you have to go into the race like there was nothing going on, and you're still trying to win the race, which I guess it would still be nice.

Q. Qualifying, you've all said before that it doesn't really matter where you start at Fontana in a 500-mile race, but the fact that every point now is so critical, does this put a little more emphasis on Saturday's qualifying session than it would normally?

PAUL TRACY: I don't think qualifying really matters so much at Fontana. I mean, at Michigan I qualified on the pole, and, you know, we started the race with a little bit too -- not enough downforce on the car and I went back to 17th in about five laps.

Fontana and Michigan are the types of tracks where you've got to handle and be comfortable all day and if you're comfortable in the traffic, then you can move forward. But with the points race the way it is, I mean, you know, at least from my standpoint, you know, you have a bit of a roller coaster of emotions. You're hoping that you're going to have a good day and try to win the championship, but, you know, if you have a bad day and with how tight the point race is, you look at a guy like Juan who is six points behind me and ninth, if you have a bad day, you could potentially drop to ninth in the points easily.

This is an incredible championship, and you could not ask for anything better.

ROBERTO MORENO: For me, it is a completely different scenario. In order to win the championship, I must be on pole, and I must lead the most laps and the race. So, it is a different game for the championship. But, whatever happens, we'll try to be there at the end of the race.

KENNY BRACK: I think that this qualifying is going to be more important for us, because we need to get as many points as possible to best optimize our chances to try to win the championship.

But also as Paul said, the qualifying has no bearing on the race result, because in a 500-mile race on a track like Fontana, you know, I've never driven there, but they look -- other drivers says that it is very similar to Michigan. It doesn't matter where the starting lineup is, because you also have to handle well in the race so everyone has to make a -- sort of a -- think about how you go about the race weekend, because you really need a good car in the race.

I think we'll do whatever we can in a different instant.

GIL de FERRAN: I think the same thing like everybody else, the qualifying position itself has no bearing on the race whatsoever. You can qualify last and be up front in a matter of ten or 15 laps if you have a good car there. So, as far as the race is concerned, there is no change there.

However, for the championship, if any one of us can earn that extra point, you buy yourself -- in my case, you buy yourself a little more cushion or one position, I guess, in the race. It makes things a little bit more difficult for other guys.

So the only difference for me is trying to earn that extra point. If you earn that one point, that's always welcome.

Q. Gil, you tested at Indianapolis this weekend, is that a distraction; is that a calistenic or something else?

GIL de FERRAN: Actually, it was a bit of a distraction for me, but a good distraction, if you see what I mean. It kind of took my mind off it a little bit, and, you know, just kind of calmed me down I guess a little bit. It was a different experience for me, and I think also an important test for us if we finally decide to race in Indianapolis next year. I think it was a good thing for me to do. In the first day I was not comfortable at all with the car, but then on the second day, we had a good time and I ran fairly fast.

Q. For everybody, has there been a change in equipment or anything, because it is so competitive; or have the teams gotten just better gradually?

GIL de FERRAN: I presume you are referring to the championship as a whole, not to Fontana.

Q. Yes, to the championship -- we have five people here fighting on the last week; nine previously, so it seems like it is a lot tighter. So has equipment changed or anything to make this this way?

GIL de FERRAN: I guess I'll answer this question in two parts. I think the first thing that comes to my mind is that since I joined the series in '95, you know, you had maybe two or three -- two or three teams that were, you know, definitely -- quite a bit better than everybody else's operations.

And I think what has happened over those years is that the level of all the teams in general have really raised quite a bit. So I think everybody really has invested a lot over the years into personnel, into equipment, and the teams that operate in our series.

Now, there is a first class, really; really extremely good in my view, and lose nothing to any racing operation around the world. I've seen plenty of them.

And I think on the other hand, I think this has been a -- the other thought that I think explains this season is it has been a funny season in a way that nobody has been able to -- how can I explain that better. I think it has been different in the sense that all of us that have on the telephone here today I think have had a patch during the season of a lot of zeros. So a lot of us here have scored well throughout many races, but we had a lot of non-scoring races. So I think nobody has been able to disappear off in the points. When you look back at the season, this has been very uncharacteristic, because the last two or three years, the number of zero points scored by the guys that are up front in the championship had not been very much.

PAUL TRACY: I have to agree with everything that Gil said. You know, really, this series, -- and I've been around the longest, and the series has changed so much. The level of competition has gotten tougher and tougher every year, and that in part has a lot to do with what CART has done with the rules, by limiting testing, being stricter on rules and packaging of the race cars, aerodynamic packages. That has given a big bunch of teams a little bit less to work with and helped smaller teams become more competitive.

You know, the level of the drivers has gotten that much better. The series now has gone -- team owners have gone and been able to find the resources to go out and find the best driver to drive their race car. You know, there's a lot less guys coming in with just money in their pocket to get a drive. You know, the team owners now are looking for: Who is the guy that is going to get the job done for me, because that's going to enable me to keep my sponsors happy.

And, you know, like Gil said, it is so competitive now that it's hard to be in the Top-10 every weekend because there's so many competitive cars. And a lot of us have been in situations where we've qualified 17th, 18th, 19th, and when you're in that situation, it's pretty tough to make it through some of the things that happened during the race.

ROBERTO MORENO: I agree with both of them. I would like to add a couple things on the technical side. One is that everybody is running the same tires now, which evens out a bit between everybody. And also, information has passed on between teams and car manufacturers better now. They all have a good package.

The teams, also, are choosing to go to the best that there is, not just drivers, but if the car is no good, they are not going to go for it. You don't see people developing too much cars lately.

On the engine side also, some got better this year; some got worse. So it's sort of -- on the technical side, they all had something to add for being so competitive. Like Paul said, you know, with a very small amount now, you'll find yourself in the back of the grid starting at the back.

And one thing I think I've suffered in the end toward this championship is something that people need to look for the future is it is very, very difficult to get out of the slow session on the street course when you are in that position. Something that would be nice if we could find a solution for it.

T.E. McHALE: Adrian Fernandez has joined us. Welcome Adrian.

ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Thank you.

Q. Adrian, if you could comment on some of the things we've already talked about. Could you talk about how you are going to approach this race, knowing that any slip-up is going to be -- or the final slip up to cost you several million dollars?

ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Well, I don't look at it like that. I just look at it like I know the race. I'm not putting to myself or to the team more pressure than we should have. It's another race, and whatever happens, happens.

We've been very consistent and I feel that if we can keep doing what we've been doing, we should be fine. We've had good success in these races on the past, and that's how we are going to approach it this weekend. And at the end of the race, we'll just see where we are. Hopefully that will be good. And to be honest, I'm not put willing too much pressure on to myself. Whatever happens, happens.

I'm actually excited about what has happened to us this year. The championship is very close as the other drivers have said. Very competitive and I'm just happy to be in the position that I am right now.

Q. Do you have a strategy in this race or do you have to ride it out?

ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: There is always strategies, but the strategies have to be planned. I mean, you have some plans before the race, but a lot of the strategies depend on what happens during the race. You know, that's why I think myself and Roberto, we have a great team behind us, which makes great decisions at the right time. And those calls have to be made at the time that things are happening through the race, and they have to have the ability to be able to make those changes and decisions or make the right decisions at the right time when things are happening through the race.

So there is a lot of things that are unpredictable through the race and they have to be prepared. You know, I feel like I have a great team behind had he to make the right choices, the right decisions at the right time.

T.E. McHALE: It's probably worth pointing out that Adrian is the depending champion of the Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota, and both he and Kenny are the drivers among us today that have 500-mile victories. Kenny, of course, won the 1999 Indianapolis 500.

Q. A year ago, Greg was killed at that practice, I wonder if some of the drivers, particularly those that were there last year, what emotions you're going to feel, how you're going to approach this race this weekend when you step on that track for the first time, especially when you drive past that pot where Greg met his untimely death. Paul, maybe could you start off for me?

PAUL TRACY: You had to bring it up, didn't you?

Q. Well, I won't be the first, I'm sure.

PAUL TRACY: For me, a lot of my emotions have been put to rest. You know, starting off the season for me was quite tough. I guess as a whole, it's been a little bit up-and-down throughout the season. I think Toronto was tough for me, being in Canada, and I wore Greg's helmet in the race, which was an emotional time for me, and also for Rick and his family.

But then going to Vancouver, it was a very good time for me. It was a celebration of Greg's life and very positive. So from that point on from Toronto on, I was able to put a lot of feelings and a lot of emotion to rest and have a lot of good feelings, and not negative feelings, and I still feel that now.

So, I'm looking forward to the race. I'm going to do the best job that I can do, and give my best, and whatever fate is going to bring us is what's going to happen.

Q. Gil, you were there last year as well, and Greg was going to be your partner. Could you comment?

GIL de FERRAN: Very much like Paul said, during the off-season, certainly had a lot of things and a lot of emotions going through my head. A lot of looking inwards sort of times, especially because I can't really claim to have been particularly close to Greg as I think Paul and Dario and some other guys were.

But I knew him quite well, and since we got to know that we were going to be teammates, we decided to hang out together a little bit more and talk quite a bit more and we started to become good friends. So, it was certainly a very difficult time for me and I think for the whole Marlboro Team Penske.

A little bit like Paul said, you know, I dealt with all of those emotions I guess throughout the winter. And going into the season, I definitely put my mind that that's what I love doing and I wanted to go on racing as long as I felt that way. I'm very much in love with what I do, and very proud to be in the position that I am.

I'm sure that we're going to go into Fontana -- we had a great season so far, and we're going to go into Fontana and remember Greg with joy, and hopefully we'll all have a good race over there, not only me, but all of the drivers that have been on the phone and everybody is going to be on the grid. And it's going to be a great celebration of our sport.

But there is no doubt about it; it is a day that I'm sure everyone will remember Greg the way that they picture him in their mind. For sure, he is not going to be blanked in my mind, and I'm sure he's not going to be -- I'm sure a lot of guys feel the same way. I'm sure a lot of guys are going to, you know, remember him and celebrate him as they arrive at the race in Fontana.

ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Pretty much I feel the same way as Paul and Gil. The only thing I can tell you is it is not going to be easy, that part of the weekend. Just remembering what happened with Greg last year.

At the same time as Paul was saying, we have remembered the good things and we have celebrated the life of Greg in Vancouver with his family and there were special things with him. So even though we have pretty much got over a lot of things through the year on Greg's side, still going to be tough through the weekend. But, you know, we all -- the drivers are very close in a way, and I think that will help us go through the weekend.

Q. I'd like to ask this to Paul: Can you really take a strategy into a 500-mile rise like this or do you have to see what develops during the portion of the race?

PAUL TRACY: I think you have to see what develops as the course of the race happens, and you have to have a team and a guy who is running your radio and running your program; in my case, Barry Green, my team owner. He has to be very experienced and can read what's going on and can read what's going on on the TV, read what's going on on the racetrack by watching, and really, react to situations kind of as they are happening before it happens. I mean, you know, when you've got a lot of experience in anything, you can kind of foresee things starting to happen, and maybe an accident that is going to happen down the line, and react accordingly. A lot of it is guessing and a lot of it is a 50/50 chance, and a lot of it's luck.

Those are the things that in these types of races where, you know, you've seen races where myself or Adrian, we've been towards the back of the grid and the guy is running on radio and taking a chance kind of on a whim and it is played out, and you've got to be able to take those chances and kind of and almost be a visionary and see things that maybe the other guys are not seeing.

That's what is so great about our series. It's not like Formula 1 where they don't have yellows and there's not a lot of strategy that goes into it. There's a lot of strategy in our series and a lot of guesswork, and that's what makes our series so great, and you never know who is going to win.

Q. Gil, earlier you eluded to it. You tend at this time of year you tend to look back and think, gee -- at least the potential that you can look back and say: "If only I had done this, I would have wrapped the whole series up at this stage."

Q. If you had one race to do over again, what would that race be, and what would you do differently?

GIL de FERRAN: Tough one. Well, first of all, I'm sure I'm not in that singular position, because like I said, a lot of people -- well, everyone that's on the phone right now, had a lot of zeros. We had a few misfortunes this year, some mechanical failures. In Detroit, I made an error by getting involved in an accident that developed in front of me that I should have tried not to get involved in that. But that's kind of part of racing, really. There's not much you can do.

I guess we really didn't -- we didn't really have horrendous weekends throughout the season. Obviously, throughout the season you can look back and think: "I wish this one went a little different or this one a little different," but that's the way things develop.

So I think it would be wrong for me to kind of single one race out to say: "Well, I would have done that differently."

Q. For all of the drivers, except I think I asked you last week Adrian, so you don't have to answer this one. If each of you could tell me -- are you wearing the Hanz (ph) device this weekend and what is your plans next year for using the device and will you use it every race or just the ovals?

GIL de FERRAN: Yes, I will be using it in Fontana, and I have not tested yet the Hanz (ph) device in any road courses, but I tend to do so during the winter. Depends how things go, but it is my intention to run it everywhere.

PAUL TRACY: I'm going to be running the Hanz (ph) device. I ran with it at St. Louis. I did quite a lot of testing from mid-season on and it has gotten comfortable for me, but I'm going to wear it in Fontana and I plan to wear it on all of the ovals next year. I have not tested with it on a road course, and I'm going to work on that during the winter and see if I can get it comfortable for me on a road course.

KENNY BRACK: I'm not going to wear it for Fontana. We have not been able to make it fit properly. So, we're going to try to work on that during the winter to try it get a Hanz (ph) device that fits the way that I fit in the car, and we're obviously going to try to use it for next year.

ROBERTO MORENO: We have ordered the device, and if it fits me, which it needs to be quite small, we will be using it in Fontana and as many places as I feel comfortable in doing so next year.

Q. Each of you please, briefly your wish list for new leadership, coming into CART soon, your wish list for changes in the series? If your wildest dream could come true?

GIL de FERRAN: I think, you know, our series certainly has its share of problems, but I think it has a lot of qualities. I think the biggest challenge for the new leadership is going to be really be strong enough and nail the problems on the head, very aggressively, because I don't think they are too complicated to deal with, really, and really identify what we do well, which is a lot of things, and not mess with that too much, if you see what I mean.

I mean, I guess that's what you want out of every new leader, not to mess what's working well and to energetically attack what is not working well. So I guess that's being a little redundant, but that's what I see.

The guy will certainly have to be strong, very energetic and I see no reason why he should not be able to act very quickly.

PAUL TRACY: I have to agree with Gil. Our series has so many positives that have not been portrayed, I think, through aggressive marketing and strategies. I think that we have so much to offer that people didn't know about, as of yet, how competitive our series, how many different types of drivers that have won.

I hope that our new guy is aggressive and can kick the team owners in their ass.

Q. For the balance of you, can you add this element: Do you think the leadership come from racing experience or do you think maybe business and marketing is more of an important aspect?

PAUL TRACY: I think it is a combination of everything.

GIL de FERRAN: I think it is primordial that the guy has racing experience, because the our business is so peculiar; that if the guy doesn't really understand or have any experience in racing at all, I think he will struggle to find his seat.

So, I think it is very, very important that the guy comes from a racing background.

It's also important, like Paul just said, that the guy is proficient in all of the obvious aspects of the business, but I think it is very, very important that he comes from racing and understands racing.

KENNY BRACK: I think that a guy that is going to lead CART needs to be, of course, interested in racing, but I think that his greatest skills should be marketing and leading a big company. And I think that if you can find such a person, then he probably would get a person who can deal with the racing aspects of things and put someone in charge of that.

But I think it is difficult to find both of those people in the same person, but I think as a president of CART, you probably need to have someone who can see the big picture from a marketing standpoint and forward what CART has to offer. You have a series that's global. You have a series that as far as courses, is Formula I faster (inaudible) because the track allows it and you have a championship that comes down to, you know, five guys that can win it. And, really, the Top-10 is so close in points, if you look at the whole picture, this championship is the most competitive open-wheel championship in the world.

And I think the guy that should lead CART should have qualities -- to forward that concept to the public and probably put someone very, very skilled in charge of the actual racing operations, so to speak, for rules and for how do we go about the event, the scheduling of the events and stuff like that, the technical rules.

Q. Adrian, has this championship position you're in now, did that sneak up on you? Obviously you've had a very successful season, but were you thinking, "Championship" at any point because there were so many guys clustered at the top?

ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Yes, of course, I always thought "Championship" because we always were very close. Everybody has had their share of problems.

But I knew consistency this year was going to be a key, and so far it has proven that. For us, you know, as Roberto was saying, we struggled in qualifying, but a part of qualifying is the session has changed and now you are in the slow group, and now many, many times been basically screwed by these slow groups and getting to the faster group, even though you may be fatter than some of the guys in front of you. There is a very good example in Portland where I was like six-tenths quicker than the second guy behind me, and I still could not get to the first group because the drive was full of rubber from this Nascar local series or something like that.

So it is something that needs to be changed. And that's why I think you see on our side in Patrick Racing and some of the drivers we have struggled more in quality, and in reality is maybe not as bad as it looks.

So, you know, we have been very consistent and that has helped us a lot, and we have always been thinking that we had a chance at the championship, because that has been all through the year. The last two years with Patrick we have been very consistent. We finished fourth in our first year; and last year we finished sixth, even though we missed four races; and this year has not been an exception.

I view this year as even better for us because this is my third year with the team. We all know each other better. We work better together. Also, Roberto coming to the team, bringing more experience and working well together, we're going to make the team even stronger. You can see that both of us, I think that we are the only two drivers, the only team that has the two drivers with them, with the mathematical possibility of winning the championship; and that proves how well Roberto and myself have worked together.

But we both have struggled in qualifying. We both have seen the different problems. But still, we still have both of us chances of fighting for the championship, and I'm very excited. And as all of the drivers have said, it is just such a competitive series; that it is so wide open. We're in good position and we always had the hopes that we will be fighting for the championship all the way to the end.

Q. Will your guys keep you abreast of where Gil is at every minute?

ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: For the race?

Q. Yeah.

ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Of course. Not just Gil, but we have to see where is Paul and Kenny. And with Roberto, basically, with him it is a different matter, if he cannot take the pole, basically he is out of the hunt for the championship.

So, there is different things that, you know, you don't want to take a risk with somebody that you are not even fighting with the championship. So, you have to present and race the race smart, but at the same time you have to take your chances when you need to take them. And, of course, the team will have to do their job on telling me what is happening around me and what the guys who we are fighting with the championship are.

So it is going to be an exciting race, and I tell you, half of Mexico is going to be there.

Q. Adrian, being the defending champion at Fontana and coming off a win at Australia, does that give you any edge going into the race? And the other drivers, do you feel like the champion has a bit of an advantage going into a race like this?

ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: I don't think so. Because everybody, Penske with Gil, they are very strong, and also Team Green with Paul and Dario, they are very, very strong in these races. I feel I am going to be also strong. But I don't think it gives me an edge. It makes you feel good that you are the defending champion, but, you know, that was last year and now I have to do it again. So there is a lot of issues and a lot of things that can happen different than last year.

My main concern, is that I have a good car through the race weekend. If I have a good car that is good in traffic and it is consistent and it's comfortable and it's fast in qualifying, I'll be comfortable straightaway. We had a good test there when Paul and Alex were testing. I felt like we had a good car. We are fully supported from Ford and Reynard for the weekend, and I feel that it is pretty open for everybody right now.

Q. Can I get the drivers to comment on: Does the defending champion have any sort of edge in a race?

PAUL TRACY: I don't think so. Like we've said throughout this press conference, 500-mile race is very unpredictable. Our strategy is what our strategy is every weekend, and we're going to go and give your best. We're going to give 110%. We're not going to leave any cards left on the table. In a race like this, you know, we're either going to try to win the championship or finish up the best in the championship that we can. We're going to have to race 500 miles as fast as we can go.

And at the end of the day, everybody in the series has had their misfortune, but everybody has given 100% job, and that's why this series has been so competitive and the points race is as competitive as it is, because nobody has left anything on the table and everybody has given everything that they have had. And that's how we plan to finish off the last race in the championship.

GIL de FERRAN: Well, I don't think it probably gives Adrian any advantage, because like he himself said, we've all got to start from scratch again.

But if anything in my mind, I'm sure in everybody else's mind, it reassures us that Adrian is a tough competitor, because he obviously won it once, so he's capable of doing it. So not that I needed that reassurance, because I always regarded Adrian as a very difficult competitor, but knowing he's the won that won tells me that he knows what to do to win one of those.

ROBERTO MORENO: As far as a driver, I don't think it is any advantage. But one thing I can say is that I'm glad to be part of Patrick Racing going towards that race, because they are the best in the strategy many, many times this year, and that's what is our strongest point and this is a race of strategy.

KENNY BRACK: I think that any 500-mile race, it's great to win them, but there's no one who can say before how to win one and then keep a good strategy. You also have to play along as the car falls to the floor.

And I don't think it is a big advantage having won the race before, but, of course, it is good to have knowledge of the track and having had the experience of the track to win on the track. But I don't think it is going to be a matter of that if Adrian wins or someone else wins or whatever. I think that the best and luckiest guy, driver on the team will do very well there.

T.E. McHALE: Thank you and with that, we're going to wrap it up for the afternoon. Roberto Moreno and Adrian Fernandez of Patrick Racing, Kenny Brack of Team Rahal, Paul Tracy of Team KOOL Green. Gil de Ferran of Marlboro Team Penske. Gentlemen, thank you for being with us this afternoon. Thank you for all of the thrills you've given us through the 2000 FedEx Championship Series season, and best of luck this weekend Marlboro 500 presented by Toyota at California Speedway which will be televised live on ESPN TV at 2:30 PM Eastern time.

Gentlemen, thanks again for being with us and best of luck this weekend.

Thanks to all of you who joined us this afternoon. Good luck this week and we'll talk to you next week.

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