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Friday favourite: The “underrated” Mexican who made a perfect partner

A prolific race-winner in US open-wheel racing on both sides of ‘the split’, Adrian Fernandez later went on to taste success in sportscars with his own team. Key in that was a driver he believes was an underappreciated talent, and worthy of nominating as his favourite team-mate

#15 Lowe's Fernández Racing Acura ARX-01B: Adrian Fernandez, Luis Diaz

Photo by: Dan Streck

Adrian Fernandez wasn’t short on top quality team-mates during a successful career in US open-wheel racing that yielded 11 victories across CART and the Indy Racing League, then subsequently in sportscars. The 2000 CART runner-up rates Scott Pruett highly from their time at Patrick Racing in 1998, while early in his career at Galles in 1993 he worked alongside Indianapolis 500 winners Danny Sullivan and Al Unser Jr.

But for his favourite team-mate, the Mexican singles out compatriot Luis Diaz, after three years together in the American Le Mans Series culminated in the LMP2 title for his own Fernandez Racing operation in 2009. That year’s success, amid a global financial crisis that contributed to trimming a once thriving class down to a full-time entry of just three P2 cars, is not the key factor in Fernandez’s choice. He regards his time alongside Diaz as “probably the three most fun years I have ever had in racing in terms of no pressure, having fun with the team”.

Working with Diaz, who partnered Pruett to three wins en-route to second in the 2005 and 2006 Grand-Am standings, was central to that enjoyment. Fernandez praises him for being a team player who was willing to listen.

“Even though I was his boss, we had a fantastic relationship,” says Fernandez of Diaz, 14 years his junior. “He’s a very fun guy and a very underrated driver. He’s very good; Luis Diaz is probably one of the best drivers in my car I ever had. The team was really gelled together and we were very strong in these long races.”

Testament to that is the fact that, as a pair, they finished third overall and second in class in their first race sharing a car at the Sebring 12 Hours in 2007, “a very, very hard race to do with two drivers because of how bumpy the circuit is”.

“We were very fit, we were very strong, communicated very good with the team,” explains Fernandez, who had entered the ALMS for 2007 after a race-winning Grand-Am programme in 2006 alongside Brazilian Mario Haberfeld.

Fernandez and Diaz finished on the outright podium in their first race together at Sebring in 2007

Fernandez and Diaz finished on the outright podium in their first race together at Sebring in 2007

Photo by: Richard Dole / Motorsport Images

“We had a lot of fun outside the race track with sponsors and the commitments we had at that time with Lowe's. Our sponsors loved him, he was a very hard-working guy inside and outside the race track, so we had a great partnership.

“He was very consistent and very reliable, and that was the key in this type of endurance races where you need consistency and smart driving.”

The crushing dominance of the Penske-run works Porsche RS Spyders in 2007 meant its competitors were usually vying for scraps, and Fernandez traded a Lola B06/43 for an Acura ARX-01b for 2008. Designed by Nick Wirth, it gave Fernandez equal equipment to Michael Andretti’s team, De Ferran Motorsports and Highcroft Racing. With Dyson Racing also running a pair of customer Porsches, the competition was fierce, and Fernandez has fond memories of cars that were “like Indycars with bodywork” capable of mixing it with the LMP1 Audis.

"If none of this financial crisis happened, I probably could have just continued to drive with Luis for many years more, so it was just unfortunate"
Adrian Fernandez

As the team owner, Fernandez had “total freedom” in his choice of a co-driver and was not obligated to partner up with a fellow Mexican. “We had fantastic budgets and [Lowes'] believed in me and let me do whatever I wanted,” he says.

And Fernandez was never given cause to regret not selecting a driver with more single-seater pedigree than Diaz, who made just two appearances in CART/Champ Car after a race-winning campaign in Toyota Atlantic in 2002. The pair even used the same seat.

Fernandez believes that Diaz was a victim of bad timing as the support structure behind the likes of Telmex-backed racers Salvador Duran and Sergio Perez (who Fernandez went on to manage) in Europe wasn’t yet in place. He was keen to continue their collaboration after eight class wins helped them beat Dyson to the 2009 crown, when the De Ferran and Highcroft teams stepped up to LMP1 while Penske and Andretti were among the notable withdrawals. But he felt he had no option but to close the team at season’s end as the financial crisis showed no sign of abating.

While Fernandez went on to race for the Prodrive-run Aston Martin Racing team as a coda to his driving career that finished in 2012, Diaz continued to compete in the ALMS across several different classes, winning four times in P2 for Level 5 Motorsports across 2011-12. His last international sportscar race outing came in 2016, at his home World Endurance Championship round, finishing fifth in LMP2 with a Greaves-run Gibson 015S.

Fernandez relished mixing it with the faster LMP1 cars alongside Diaz

Fernandez relished mixing it with the faster LMP1 cars alongside Diaz

Photo by: Anthony Kent / Motorsport Images

“I didn’t want to have a team just finding drivers to bring money, I thought ‘either I do it correctly or I don’t do it,’” reflects Fernandez. “I told all my guys that at the end of the year if we didn’t find a sponsorship we were not going to continue, because also in LMP2 there was very few cars running.

More favourite team-mates:

“It was getting sad and difficult. How can you justify selling that?

“If none of this financial crisis happened, I probably could have just continued to drive with Luis for many years more, so it was just unfortunate. But he was so solid as a team-mate and a great personality, he was just extremely enjoyable.”

Fernandez (right) says he would have happily continued racing alongside Diaz (left) without the economic downturn

Fernandez (right) says he would have happily continued racing alongside Diaz (left) without the economic downturn

Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images

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