When Adrian Fernandez looks in the rearview mirror of his long racing career, the course is filled with impressive landmarks.
There was his 1992 Indy Lights rookie of the year award for winning an unprecedented four events; his 12 years at the top level of the CART and IndyCar circuits; and his heroic stature in Mexico, where he once was named "Athlete of the Year" and later labeled one of the country's 300 most influential people.
But Fernandez can't afford to look backward these days. He's too busy focusing on the racing that lies ahead as a formidable owner-driver on the American Le Mans Series scene.
"I've done much more than I ever dreamed of or expected to achieve," said Fernandez in a recent telephone interview.
After dabbling in NASCAR and Grand-Am, the 45-year-old from Mexico City made the move to ALMS in 2007. And two weeks ago, driving his Acura under the Lowes-Fernandez racing banner in the Le Mans Prototype 2 class, he earned the pole position and scored his first series win at the 12 Hours of Sebring.
That erased some of the frustration from 2008, when Fernandez and partner Luis Diaz, 31, finished second overall, only to be excluded when their car failed postrace technical inspection.
Now Fernandez hopes to build on the Sebring momentum in today's race in St. Petersburg, on the heels of Diaz nailing down the pole position Friday in the class in a time of 1 minute, 5.178 seconds.
"We've been very strong in Sebring, and having a second year with the same car really helped us," he said. "The Acura chassis was new for us last year, so there were a lot of things to learn from the car. Knowing the car now makes a big difference. And our preparation has always been very good."
Last year, Fernandez and Diaz finished a disappointing seventh in St. Petersburg in the class, after bumping incidents that cost the car valuable time and position. In 2007, the duo started third but lost a lap on a penalty to finish fourth overall.
"Two years ago we should have won that race," he said. "We got the penalty — Luis was fighting with Dyson (Racing's Porsche), and they were not even in the same lap as us or fighting for the same position. They touched and we got a penalty that made it too hard for us to recover.
"Last year, the issue was not knowing the car well enough. But after the race, we went to Long Beach and learned from St. Pete, and we were flying."
The Lowe's-Fernandez team kept pace with the leaders throughout 2008, but it finished tied for eighth in points. This year, Fernandez and Diaz will be driving the only Acura factory-supported entry in the LMP2 class.
"The goal this year is to make fewer mistakes than last year — hopefully none — and being able to finish all the races," he said. "If we do that, we should be in very good shape. We've had a very good jump this year scoring maximum points and finishing everything. I'm going to focus on consistency."
Consistency has marked Fernandez's entire career. In 2000, he fell just 10 points shy of winning the Champ Car title, and in 2004 he won three times and placed fifth in the IndyCar championship.
The transition from open-wheel racing to sports cars has been a natural one.
"In terms of reactions, I have to say that you need even better reactions in these (Le Mans) cars — they brake better and they turn better than IndyCars," he said. "This year, they're not as fast because they put some weight on the cars and restricted the intake manifolds even more. The cars are a little bit slower (but) very sharp.
"So everything I have done in my career in IndyCars helped me establish myself well here and has given me greater understanding to help Acura in development."
Competing in a new Acura ARX-01b, Fernandez would love nothing more than to help deliver the company's first LMP2 manufacturers, team and drivers title. From a career perspective, what would make his resume complete?
"Winning the championship would be great," he said. "I did the 24 Hours of Le Mans two years ago and I qualified on the pole and finished second. I'd love to do it again and try to win it. But that was a great experience. I've done it all. At the end of the day, I've had so many things to be happy about. I'm almost 46, but I'm still very competitive, and that makes it fun."
American Le Mans Series has four classes of cars racing on the track simultaneously, creating plenty of passing and challenges during the race. Every car is shared by two drivers who switch out during the race . In standard races, the car that leads after 2 hours, 45 minutes is the winner — with the outcome not based on laps. This year's race begins at 1:20 Saturday and will last 1 hour and 55 minutes.