After three months away from the cockpit, Fernandez Racing owner-driver Adrian Fernandez returned to the race track by turning his first laps aboard the #51 Lola in preparation for the 2004 Champ Car World Series season.

The two-day Sebring test was the first time the Mexican had driven since the end of the last year, and followed soon after the court hearing which determined the future of the Champ Car series.

"It was nice to drive the car again, definitely," said Fernandez, who had no problem quickly dusting off the cobwebs following the long break, "We had a good test and were pretty competitive both days.

"We tested a lot of things that we needed to test to address some of the problems we had last year. We had our own agenda for testing and our set-up was not particular to Sebring - in fact, it was more geared towards the tracks where we have had some problems. We are pretty pleased with the results and have a lot of data that we can use in the future. The conditions for testing were excellent and it was a good start to the season for us."

The team turned a total of 176 laps during the test, taking a break from on-track activities on Wednesday to review data and plan for Thursday. Fernandez posted a best lap time of 51.21secs around the 1.67-mile permanent road course.

Fernandez will be contesting his 12th season of Champ Car competition when the green flag waves for the first time in 2004 at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on 18 April.

"Our goal for this year is to be consistent and to produce competitive cars at every single race track," he added, "If we can do that, and have a little bit of luck, I think we can put ourselves in a position to win the championship - that is our main, main focus.

"To be competitive - to have the car that we had in Miami, to have the car we had in Denver, in Portland, etc - and be more consistent and not have the drawbacks that we had in some races is what we are after. I feel pretty confident. Obviously, we always say the same things at the beginning of the year, but this is our fourth year and we have collected a lot of data and the team is more integrated. That's why I really feel we have more chances this year."

Team manager Gustavo del Campo echoed the sentiments of the #51 crew, who were glad to be back in action following a long winter break away from the track.

"After waiting and waiting these last three months, you can look around the paddock and see that everyone is happy," he said, "We feel very good about the test and the team did a tremendous job. We had a problem with the intake valve on the engine and had to switch to the T-car this afternoon, but the car was perfect straight away.

"With only eight testing days, you have to make plans for a more efficient way to use these days. That is why we didn't run yesterday and used this time to make our plan for today. We focused on tracks where we had problems last year, and we have a very good baseline for Long Beach. I think we are in very good shape."



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