Popular driver Adrian Fernandez brings a wealth of experience to SAFEisFAST.com as the latest Online Driving Instructor. Check out his latest answers which will be updated daily this week. The top three questions submitted will receive three-month iRacing subscriptions!
Aston Martin Racing Official Works Driver #97 Lowe's Vantage GTE
One of the most popular athletes to hail from Mexico, Adrian Fernandez has been successfully competing – and winning – in motorsports for over 30 years and is the only professional athlete from Mexico to have a career that spans over 20 consecutive years outside of his homeland at the top levels. Fernandez began his career in motocross at age 8, but quickly found his passion on four wheels. Success in his early years, both in Mexico and in Europe, led Fernandez to the U.S. where he quickly began cementing his future at the top echelons of the sport.
Fernandez has won in a wide variety of categories including the IZOD IndyCar Series, American Le Mans Series (ALMS), Grand-Am and the former Champ Car (CART) Series. He was also a successful driver/team owner with Fernandez Racing, which captured the driver and team ALMS LMP2 championships in 2009. A recipient of an abundance of awards over the years including the Pedro Rodriguez Trophy as the top Mexican Driver and “Athlete of the Year” in Mexico, Fernandez was inducted into the Mexican Auto Racing Federation Hall of Fame in 2010.
He currently competes as an Official Works Driver for Aston Martin Racing in the FIA World Endurance Championship driving the #97 Lowe’s Aston Martin Vantage GTE on an international stage which includes events in the U.S., Belgium, France, England, Brazil, Bahrain, Japan and China.
Adrian Fernandez answers your questions!
Hi Adrian. I actually have two questions. What do you do mentally to prepare for a race and how did you change your driving style to master the art of saving fuel?
Mental preparation is really just confidence. I have always been a very confident guy and obviously with more experience and winning races increased the confidence that I had. But, I always try to enjoy what I do and it doesn’t matter what result I have. If I do my best, I will be happy and I try to enjoy the moment and not I put too much pressure on myself. Because, think about it. I had great sponsors from Mexico and, at the time, the whole country of Mexico was watching me with all the TV coverage and it was a lot of pressure. I really had to try to enjoy the time because otherwise it would be very difficult.
On saving fuel, basically when I came to Patrick Racing with John Ward as my engineer, I was the worst guy on fuel. John and I, after reviewing the rules, saw that saving fuel would become one of the key elements of winning races. Every practice session, we practiced and practiced and practiced on saving fuel until I mastered it to become basically the best. I mean we had no competition in that respect. But, we were very disciplined in the way we were doing things. I was very disciplined in how I drove the race car through the whole event as soon as we started the engine. I remember race car drivers used to complain in those days about us – Adrian could be fifth or sixth and come out first and that’s not racing. I would say well, if it is easy why don’t you guys do it They couldn’t do it. I could stay behind the leaders without losing any gap and do the same speeds with using less fuel. That’s not easy, you know. Eventually everyone mastered that and learned how to do it but we were the first ones and we were strong for two years.
Mr. Fernandez, thank you for taking time out of your life to answer our questions. I am 21. Unlike many, I was not interested in racing as a profession until I was 19 and off to college, where I studied business. I placed well in my first shifter kart races and now have a deep desire to pursue a career in racing. My parents do not have a house they can sell, there are no rich uncles, no racing in the family; I am on my own. From a pure seat time per dollar perspective, also factoring good exposure, what is your recommendation for a place/way to begin a career in racing? My ultimate goal is to race GT cars either in the U.S. or Europe.
I would say yes on GT, like in the American Le Mans Series for example. It is good exposure value per dollar. I think it is the best and more balanced in that respect. Again, unfortunately, these days a lot is determined by securing the finances to race. Even good drivers that can’t find money can’t find a ride. It is a crude reality of our sport these days. I don’t want to misjudge you in that respect but you have to be realistic. Back to your question, I would recommend GT’s and that is something you can aim for.
I want to race in IndyCars. I know that you went to England to race early in your career. Is this an option you would recommend or should I focus on the Road to Indy ladder system? Would a year of racing in Europe be beneficial prior to competing in the ladder system? Thank you.
Definitely I would recommend hands down to go to England. That’s what I told Sergio (Perez) and Esteban (Gutierrez). It is the best thing that has happened to them and it is the best thing that happened in my career at that stage. In my opinion, it is the best racing and the best tracks. The weather is always very uncertain so you race a lot in very difficult conditions. It is not the best place to live if you don’t have enough finances so, in a situation like that, it really makes you or breaks you. That is the best test for any driver. You will get the best experience for sure and I wouldn’t recommend any other place to go.
SAFEisFAST Video: Racing in Europe
Have you tried iRacing or any of the other simulation “games”? How useful are they from your perspective?
The only reason I use these types of simulation games is to learn the tracks. Nothing more, to be honest. For me, it doesn’t relate to the real racing at all. I have tested some of the best ones including Ferrari’s in Formula One to very standard ones 10 to 15 years ago. It does help me if I want an exercise in concentration, for example, where I want to drive one hour without making any mistakes. Things like that are good because it is like an exercise of concentration, but the perspective of the race track and the feeling is totally different. So, I use it more for training in concentration and learning the tracks.
From your point of view, what are the differences between racing in Mexico and in the USA? Saludos!
The difference between racing in Mexico and in the USA is really the diversity of the different series you have. In Mexico, in my days, we were very limited in the series we had and also on race tracks at that time. The United States offered me a road that I could get to the top of one of the most successful series in the world which, in those days, was Indy cars. Mexico had nothing like that to offer me so it was really a no-brainer. If I wanted to be at the top of the world in racing, I needed to be there.
What was the best race you ever had?
I really don’t have a best-ever race. I have a few that are the best ones. To me, my first race in Indy Lights was so, so important when I came here to America because that really was the first oval that I had ever competed on and that really changed the destiny of my career. It was hugely important. Obviously, my first IndyCar win was so important because I was coming from a bad year with Galles Racing and I was under pressure from my sponsors. My country was watching me and I wasn’t really getting the results. That win came at the right time. Also my first win with Patrick Racing in 1998 after coming from a really horrible year with a bad Lola chassis in 1997 at Tasman Motorsports. It was the year of renegotiating my contracts and I definitely needed to have some good results and that first win with Patrick Racing in Japan was very, very special. But, after that, really every single win is special. They are so difficult to do that any time you win, it is just a special, special moment.
My ultimate ambition is to race at Le Mans but I see that many of the top sports car drivers raced first in open-wheel cars. Do you think it is important to begin my career in open-wheel or should I go straight into sports cars?
I don’t think you need to start in open-wheel racing. There are a number of drivers that didn’t start in open-wheel and that have been very successful in sports cars. You just need to focus on what you want to do and pursue that with great ambition, sacrifice, preparation and dedication. All of the ingredients that I have mentioned in other questions so you can be on top of what you do and become an expert at what you do. It’s like medicine. Doctors become experts in certain things. I have been struggling at my level and, although I am not that far off my teammates, for me it has been difficult to make the adjustment from IndyCars and prototypes to GT because the cars are very different. If you just focus on being a driver in sports cars, I think you will be fine. Look at NASCAR. Those guys come from Midgets and all that and they become the best at what they do in their terms. If you were to put them in IndyCars or other cars, they would not be as quick.
Did racing change in your mind from a sport to a business as you transitioned from driver to team owner?
No, it has never changed in my mind. Since Day One, I have always been a driver and a businessman. I had no other alternative in my career. I never had a manager or anyone to take me to the next level. I was always involved in driving and doing the business side and all that. I really don’t know how it feels to be just a race car driver because I have never been. The transition to becoming a team owner for me, to be honest, was quite simple. It was about getting the right people to work with you. We set systems, like I have done with every single thing I have done with my sponsors, and that was it. It was not just being a race car driver and team owner, I was also the guy selling the sponsorship. All in all, it was an experience that I formed from the beginning of my career. Ultimately, it was the school for me to become a team owner.
What series have you enjoyed racing the most and why?
The series that I have enjoyed the most has been IndyCars formerly Champ Cars in the ‘90s by far. Those cars were absolutely awesome. They were difficult to drive physically.We had none of the driver aids that you have these days like power steering or shifting on the steering wheel and things like that. In those days, we had almost a 1000 horsepower. They were turbo-charged with no traction control or anything like that. So those cars gave me the most ultimate speed feeling that I have ever had in my life. The speeds were we doing on some ovals and on some straights was unbelievable and the cars were absolutely beautiful. That era I really miss; I miss it a lot and the competition was extremely high with fantastic and legendary drivers. I was so fortunate to drive against Mario Andretti, Emerson Fittipaldi, Bobby Rahal, Alex Zanardi and Juan Pablo Montoya to name a few. It was one of those times when racing was at its best across the board with sponsorships, teams, you name it. A true golden era. One I miss greatly.
The WEC schedule has a lot of circuits that you have not competed at before. What do you do to prepare?
If I don’t have the chance to learn a circuit on a simulator, then I go to YouTube and try to see an in-car camera to learn the circuit and then practice it a few times in my mind to learn where it goes left and right and all that. As I have said before, a simulator doesn’t help me at all in developing my skills but it does help me to learn a track. In using YouTube to see where the circuit goes, I can get up to speed quite quickly. That is one good thing for me in that I can get up to speed and learn the track quickly and so that has not been a problem for me.
Do you still race in karts when you’re not racing your GTE car? How do you keep your skills sharp in between races especially when there is a gap in the schedule.
I do but not as often as I used to do. I have been racing for 31 years and, to be honest, I don’t do as much karting as I used to do. Before, even after each race, I used to go to the go-kart track daily for an hour or an hour-and-a-half of constant running, then I would go to the gym. I was fully committed in all aspects. IndyCars in those days were so physical that you needed to stay in fantastic shape. These days the cars are a lot easier to drive physically than they used to be.
How do I stay sharp? By being able to stay in shape after 31 years of racing! I really don’t need much these days to stay sharp. The GTE races that we do are long so that gives me a lot of track time. I really stay in shape and go to the gym a lot. I practice some sports that help keep me sharp. I like golf, tennis, mountain biking, things like that but I really don’t go karting a lot these days. I have some problems with my wrist and my neck from previous injuries so karting sometimes is a little tough on my body.
Hi Adrian, I am a driver on the Mazda Road to Indy with a goal of making it to IndyCars. I have been handling the sponsorship side on my own but wanted to get your thoughts on whether it would be beneficial to hire a manager to help me. Thanks for your time.
I never had a manager because I never found anyone that could really help me to the level that I could do it myself. These days there are more people and if you find the right person, I think it is good to have the help of a manger. Or an “advisor.” Just make sure it is the right person for you because it can help. If Sergio Perez or Esteban Gutierrez didn’t have people to help them right from the beginning, there is no way they would have been able to make it. Even though they don’t have a particular manager right now, they have people like me and others that help them constantly in advising them. So, you just need to think about how important it is for you and if it is really necessary for you to have a manager – if he/she can do more than you are capable of doing; if they can bring you the contacts that will make a difference in your career. If that is the case, then I would advise you to go ahead. If not, sometimes it is better to be alone than to have someone that could possibly do more damage to your career than good.
Looking back at your long and successful career and now the success of Sergio Perez having made it to Formula One, what are key areas drivers should focus on to make it to the top levels?
The key to making it to the top levels is to stay consistent in your career, be very dedicated, very focused and very determined. You have to work hard. You have to sacrifice a lot to get to the top. If you like to go party with your friends and just have fun and not spend extra time on your career then it is just not going to happen. It is really about the commitment you are willing to put into it to make it to the top. It is not easy. It is very competitive and difficult so you have to put everything into it. The formula for success is the dedication and determination and the sacrifices you are willing to put forth.
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I may not end up as a driver but that does not mean I should give up on my pursuit of a career in racing. I will graduate from college with an undergraduate degree in entrepreneurship and marketing. I also intend to pursue a master’s degree. Given my area of study, is there a place for me within the structure of a race team?
For sure there is a place for you in racing within a race team. Obviously, these days marketing is everything. If you don’t sell, you don’t race. It’s very simple. If you become a marketing expert and a good one, you could probably make more money than a race car driver. So, definitely you will have a great place and if you’re a good one, you will have a fantastic opportunity with a race team because that is an area that teams these days need the most to be successful. This is the nucleus of success for a race team – the sponsorship – it is the funding of the team that makes the wheels go round.
What was the biggest challenge for you when you graduated from Indy Lights to IndyCars?
Definitely the Number 1 challenge was physical – the strength. I was a very thin guy and people who had thick arms, thick wrists – like Montoya, Zanardi, Mansell, Tracy – they had an advantage over skinny guys like me because we didn’t have the natural strength. These days you can equalize all that by driver aids like power steering and shifting and all that, but in those days we didn’t have it. So I had to really work hard. After my first year of IndyCars, I was really struggling big time. I started to really change my whole routine of working out. I barely did any cardio. I focused on weights and weights and weights and tried to put four to five kilos on me of just pure muscle because I did not have more than three or four laps of qualifying in me. I was running out of fuel but not fuel from the race but from myself. That was the biggest, biggest challenge. Most of the drivers would tell you before the race that they were not concerned about how the car setup was going to be for the race but how they were going to make it to the end. It wasn’t just a problem for myself but even for the guys who had thick arms and all that. But my problem was mostly in qualifying. In the race I was normally pretty strong even at the end because I have always had very strong stamina. So from the mid-point to the end of the race, you could see from my past history that I was always very strong where the other guys would get tired. My strength in qualifying was my biggest weakness and the biggest surprise for me.
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As a racing driver with an impressive resume, who was your first sponsor and how did you obtain them?
My first sponsor was Coca Cola but it was done through a local production facility. I knew the family and basically through some contacts I managed to obtain a small sponsorship in return for painting the whole car as a Coca Cola car. I also had some sponsorship from Esso, an oil company. Basically in those days, they gave us oil in exchange for stickers and the same with tires. I also went and knocked on doors and tried to persuade people to help me. I felt I was very personable and had a good charisma so that helped me when I used to go personally to find sponsors myself.
SAFEisFAST Videos: Sponsorship and Marketing
Hi Adrian, I am a 17-year-old driver and have really been working hard lately on my networking skills. Do you have any advice in this area? Thank you.
Just keep calling, my friend. Just keep calling and calling. They will shut the door in most cases if not all, but if one of those doors opens just a little bit then that is your opportunity to succeed. That’s what happened to me. You have to be very strong with yourself. It is not easy. You will get depressed a lot of times and you will think you are not doing the right thing. You will have doubts about yourself, about your future, etc., but if you believe in what you are doing and love what you are doing then just keep pursuing it. The opportunity will come to you. That happened to me and it is a wonderful feeling after you have succeeded but you have to have a strong character to overcome those obstacles because it is absolutely difficult. I had a lot of sad and depressing days, but I always managed to overcome them and, in the end, the rewards were great. Just fantastic.
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Jack Mitchell Jr.
Mr. Fernandez, thank you for taking the time to answer questions. What was the biggest challenge of racing in a country that was not your own? Did you see a difference in driving styles between Europe and Mexico compared to the United States?
When I grew up racing in Mexico, I was a quick driver but I had absolutely no experience about pure racing – you know, the fight with another driver head to head and all that. In Mexico in those days even though we fought hard, we didn’t fight hard to the point where we were destroying our cars every weekend, because we wouldn’t be able to compete. So you had to take care of your equipment. When I went to England in 1987 for three years, that’s where I really learned how to become a race car driver in terms of competing and fighting with every driver and that really put me on another level. That is why I have always recommended for young drivers to go to England. It is the best school by far. It brought me confidence and a lot of experience and when I came back to America, I basically adjusted to the American style, especially on the ovals, and I grew up from that. That was really the main difference in racing in each country.
SAFEisFAST.com Video: Racing in Europe
As a team owner, if you test two drivers who are equally matched on performance, what other areas are key in making your decision to select one driver over another?
That’s a good question. If the drivers are pretty much equal on track, I would take the driver that has the best personality, the best charisma – the most sellable. Because, at the end of the day, it is what a team needs to keep their sponsors happy. It doesn’t matter if you have a quick driver if the guy is a jerk. If he doesn’t have the personality, the “selling point” then you are not going to go anywhere regardless of how quick he is. Times have changed and you need the complete package in a driver.
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Mr. Fernandez, your racing experience is extremely expansive and you have race wins in many different types of cars. This, in turn, requires many different types of driving style. How are you able to successfully switch your driving style between different types of car?
Well, I have been lucky to have been able to drive so many different types of cars and classes. Particularly, the ones I love the most are single-seater cars. That is my passion and that is where I feel I am the best. But I have put a lot of effort every time I have made a transition. I have done my homework. I have really paid attention and have not tried to just drive my style but really adapt to the car. I try to learn from other drivers that have more experience in the cars and really study my telemetry with them to see what areas I need to improve to make myself better. Eventually, I can master those different types of cars. It is important to be open, to be humble in the respect that you can learn regardless of the other driver’s experience and that will always take you to the next level. Adapt to the car and just be flexible with your driving style. If you can drive a race car fast, I think you can drive eventually any other type of race car. You just need the miles to get to a level that you are comfortable. Thanks God in my career that I have been a quick learner in that respect so I have been grateful that I have won in actually every single series that I have competed. I am proud of that but it hasn’t been easy with a lot of work behind the scenes.
How do you prepare yourself immediately before you get into the race car?
Well, for me, I always make sure everything is very systematic and very routine. You do the same from the beginning of the year to when you become more familiarized as the season progresses. As you go through the weekend you have meetings with engineers, certain times you go to the track, certain ways of doing things and basically I set my systems the same way every time so it becomes routine. I get into the race car with my game plan set. I know what time I need to eat, what time I need to rest, what time I have meetings with engineers, etc., etc. So when I go for the presentation of the drivers, for example, I am pretty much already in the zone and it’s time to have fun. For me, it is a very systematic thing.
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Hi Adrian, I’m 16 years old and so far have only raced karts. I have contacted a Formula Renault team and will soon be testing one of their cars. I am pretty nervous about it as I haven’t driven anything faster than a kart. Do you have any advice on how to quickly get used to the car and impress the team with my performance?
First, you need to have confidence and believe in yourself. This is very key. Going from go-karting to Formula Renault, I think you will be okay. The reaction times in karting are a lot quicker than in Formula Renault. In that respect, you are going to be fine. Just take your time in the beginning and drive the car without thinking about the lap times and the time will come soon. If you start putting pressure on yourself that you have to be very quick, that’s a problem. I always get into a car and not worry about the times because I know I will be quick. Especially the first time, take the time that you need to get up to speed but don’t put too much pressure on that because, if you are a quick driver, the times will come no matter what. Try to be confident and believe in yourself. That’s the main thing — and enjoy it. If you enjoy it and do the best you can, you will be fine. How to quickly get used to the car and impress the team are the same things. Just enjoy the moment. Obviously, get informed about the car, try to feel the car out and do the best you can. The first few laps, don’t worry so much about the time. Make sure you know the track well and do your homework on the track and you’ll be fine, my friend.
As a racing driver well versed in both LMP and GT cars, what advice would you give to a young aspiring endurance sports car racer who is looking to make the transition from a GT car to a prototype at some point in the next few years? What are the biggest differences to be aware of and prepare for when driving a prototype for the first time? Also, what additional physical training would you recommend for the GT car? Thank you so much for your time!
Basically, a GT car is very different to drive than an LMP car. The prototypes are more precise. They don’t roll as much. They pull a lot more g’s. In a GT car you really have more time in the braking areas, the turn-ins are a lot slower and the technique is a lot different. I have much more experience in single-seaters and in LMP, and the struggle for me with GT was that the car moves around a lot and it is not so precise. With a prototype, the car is more planted and the movements and the corrections you make are much, much smaller. What you feel in regards to feedback from the car is a little bit different, too. Physically, you will need to prepare your neck more for an LMP car. In terms of steering, these days it is not a problem like it used to be in the old days with IndyCars where we didn’t have any driver assistance. So, I would say that you just have to take your time, but if you have good experience in GT, I think you will be okay in LMP. You just have to learn and have the practice and testing needed to get used to and adjusted to the car.
As a driver “mentor” for Sergio Perez and Esteban Gutierrez, what advice have you passed on to them from your own experiences?
To be honest, I don’t teach them too much or I don’t give them too much advice about how to drive. I advise or help them on how to prepare for the races from Day One. From being in their homes, I make sure they are doing the proper preparation physically, eating well, preparing for a race weekend in terms of going through all the information from the engineer and staying in contact with him, doing their homework about the race track, knowing about the car setup and all those different things. As the race weekend comes, really paying attention to every single detail.
You know, races can be won or lost in the details. Like, for example, not having a good reference coming into the pits to maximize your speed and lose the least amount of time, or be the fastest on your in and out laps. Those little things make a lot of difference. What I always tell them and what I used to do always was, before going to bed and after waking up, I always took a half an hour and really reviewed everything I had to do. It could be for practice, qualifying, the warm-up, etc., so I make a lot of notes and make sure I go through everything in my mind about the pits, pit entrance, the car setup – every single thing. I review my dash so everything becomes automatic so every time you jump in the car, it is automatic. This is something that really helped me a lot and that is the type of advice that I give them. I also give them advice about how to be truly professional, the importance of sponsors and the people that you represent, things like that. I don’t really get too much into their driving but into more of the external preparations that they will need to make to make their driving, which is already good, even better.
I recently started getting back into racing after playing college football. I will be going full-time into karting but I wanted to know what moves I need to take to have a chance of racing with bigger teams in the future?
Obviously, you need to have success in karting and you need to know what are the next steps in racing for whatever you want to do, whether that is sports cars, IndyCars – whatever your ambitions are. You need to do your homework. You need to get to know people. You need to go to races and make contacts and you need to get the results. When you get the results, then you can start moving up. It’s important not to try to move up too soon.
Basically, today’s racing is dominated by sponsorship and support. In my career, I worked 80 percent of the time on finding sponsors and people to support me to get to the next level. The first step is to decide what you want to do and the next is to work to get the support financially you need to get to the next stages. If you have that, then basically you have to concentrate on one thing at a time and do the best you can. Hopefully, you get the results and can then put your sights on the next step in racing for whatever you want to do – it can be Formula Fords, Formula 3, for example – so you can really focus on one thing. So, as you keep moving, things will become more clear in your mind.
Adrian, you are one of a few drivers who has truly enjoyed long-term relationships with your sponsors over the years. Could you share some tips on your success in this area? Thank you.
This is something that I have worked on all of my life and I understand the importance of really having a good relationship with sponsors and knowing what they really need. A sponsor is not going to support you just because you have a pretty face or are a nice guy or you are just a race car driver. It is a combination of things. You have to get the results. You have to have the presence, the charisma and the means to represent them because, at the end of the day, what they look at is getting good exposure for their brands which results in better sales and things like that. They need a return on their investment.
I have always been very, very careful and very professional in the way I treat my sponsors. I spend a lot of time with them. I truly make every aspect of the relationship very professional. I follow-up with every email, every conversation. I am constantly talking on the phone with them. On the good and the bad days, I always communicate with them. We are always looking at ways to improve to make it better. This is just not me and the sponsors. We have a whole team of people. From when I had my own team to just myself and my sponsors, I am always looking for how to improve the relationship; how to make it better. A day doesn’t pass when I am not thinking of how to make things better and different things to do to keep them here. I think this has been a key to having long relationships. Some drivers, unfortunately, really don’t appreciate the importance of sponsors and sometimes they just want to be drivers and that’s it. They forget about the rest. But these partnerships can take forever to secure and in my career I have really been able to keep these going for a long, long time because even when I finish a relationship, I always keep open a friendship with all of them for years and years and sometimes these relationships have come back. So, sponsorship relations are very, very important.