Adrian Fernandez performed flawlessly under pressure to capture an LMP2 class win and third-place overall result in the closing minutes of the Larry H Miller Dealerships Utah Grand Prix, but would be the first to admit that his eponymous team was pushed hard for possibly the first time all season.
Just as was the case in the struggle for LMP2 class pole position in qualifying, round four of the American Le Mans Series proved to be a hard-fought battle as Fernandez's Acura held off the charge of Dyson Racing's Butch Leitzinger, who maintained the LMP2 lead throughout the majority of the race, to cross the finish line a scant one second ahead of the #20 Lola-Mazda.
Luis Diaz started the race for the Fernandez team, surviving a chaotic opening that, as expected, cost the P2 lead to the Dyson cars, which held a speed advantage on the straight. It was a frustrating stint for Diaz as he lost touch with the Mazda-powered machines while battling two of LMP1 cars and, when he pitted on lap 36 to turn the controls over to Fernandez at the one-hour mark, the car returned to the track third in class and fifth overall.
Fernandez had his hands full during his first stint, with oversteer afflicting the #15 Lowe's-backed Acura, but he assumed the class lead on lap 60 - with just over an hour remaining - when the #20 Dyson car pitted.
The team elected to take fresh tyres on Fernandez's final stop with just over 50 minutes remaining, with a pressure adjustment aimed at correcting the handling anomaly. The Mexican held a 27-second lead over Leitzinger coming in for the change, but the stop subsequently allowed the Dyson driver to retake the lead.
The race came down to the final 17 minutes, when the #20 car again pitted from the lead. Fernandez's race pace put him in position to overtake Leitzinger as he exited pit-lane, which proved to be the key to the race. Fernandez fought hard to maintain a slight lead over his rival in the closing stages, all the while manoeuvring through traffic until he found himself sandwiched between the two Dyson cars - albeit with the #16 not on the lead lap - in an exciting finale.
“It was a tough race," Fernandez admitted after securing a fourth straight win for his eponymous team, "It was a little frustrating at the beginning when Luis was losing time to the leaders with the traffic - there were a few P1s that we were quite a bit quicker than and he just couldn't pass them. I give Luis a lot of credit for having patience because it would have been so easy to throw it away at the beginning, knowing that you were losing so much time. We were losing four or five seconds a lap sometimes, to a point that we were almost 50 seconds behind the leader of the P2.
“We knew things were not going to be easy, so everything had to work in our favour at the end to win it. When I jumped in the car, it was good for the first two laps and then it was very loose. I was catching traffic at the wrong time and the car was just not working well. I was trying to be patient because I knew the Mazdas had to make one more pit-stop than us. I was communicating with [race engineer] John [Ward] about what we were going to do to the car on my stop and it made a difference at the end.
"The car was definitely quicker but, at the end, it was very close. We barely got in front of the #20 and we finished one or two seconds ahead of them. It was a great victory and very well-deserved by everyone on the team. After our past performance here, it was nice to win - especially after such a close race.”