GRC RISING STAR: Alejandro Fernandez
Rallycross fans were first introduced to Alejandro Fernandez back in 2014 when he joined the Red Bull Global Rallycross scene racing with the Olsbergs MSE team. He finished his rookie season in third place position overall making rallycross fans take notice of this up and coming GRC Lites driver. Over the past couple of years Alejandro has not only risen in the fan popularity but he has also moved on from the Olsbergs MSE tent to setting up his own spot in the paddock. In 2015 AF Racing began building their team. They brought in Nur Ali as a second driver. The team wrapped up their season with Ali at a respectable 7th position and Fernandez in 4th overall. As the finish line looms on the 2016 Red Bull Global Rallycross season RX360 took the opportunity to talk with Alejandro during the Seattle round. How did you progress into rallycross? "The first time I saw rallycross was probably the 2012 XGames in Los Angeles. I saw it on TV and was like wow, I really like that. Before that point I was really into stage rally. I actually didn't start racing until I was 16. Around 2013 I started racing with Buddy Rice Karting and I just started to improve constantly every time I was on the track. I was really putting in a lot of effort at that time and grew my skills and technique at a very rapid rate thanks to the team. A year after that, Buddy Rice got a call to do XGames Brazil. A few months before that we saw that they did a test at Lake Elsinore. Buddy decided he would go to Brazil for the XGames and asked I wanted to attend. He knew I was interested and thought I could do some networking to see if it was really my thing. That's how it all got started. After we got home, they had a test at SEMA the day after the race in Vegas. I was one of the contestants and one of the drivers they chose for that contest. After that test everything clicked and the following February I was signing a contract doing my first big car season. It's kind of crazy to see how I started racing. I started racing in go-karts for two years as competitively as possible. Then I went to Brazil and decided that I was going to move on to a big all-wheel drive car." You've had a whirlwind race career.... "Yeah, everything has happened really fast. I've always had the right people around me to accelerate that growth and learning curve. I believe I have natural talent, or at least some sort of talent." How do you deal with the ups and downs of racing? "It's difficult and, depending on the person, it varies. Some people have a tendency to get over situations quickly. Honestly, I've had trouble in the past. At Detroit last year on the last lap I was catching Miles Maroney and I think he beat me by a couple tenths. People have their own ways of dealing with things. I have someone that I work with on my mental attributes when I go back home. I do exercises and I think it also allows me to step up my driving career in a different way than other drivers." If GRC allowed you to take one person in your car during one race who would it be? "My mom. In Los Angeles last year I did a ride with her and she loved it. I was being conservative with the car because it was a double header weekend. Yeah, it would definitely have to be my mom because she is my inspiration, biggest fan and best source of support. "
Do you have siblings that are into racing? "I have three older brothers. David, who is the second oldest, runs the team. It's always been he and I. Our first year it was basically just me, him and Chris Hatfield for the first part of the season. There were so many things that we had to learn so fast. How the scoring worked and how everyone in racing can be nice until you actually start racing. I didn't know you had to use the clutch to disengage the differential and I didn't learn that until midway through the season. So every time I would go in the dirt to try and get the car rotated I used the e-brake but it would just fall flat on its face. It's just those things you wouldn't think about until you're there racing." The drivers make it look easier than it actually is and yet we all know that it is a battle and a fight out there. "It is always different at different races. For instance, here in Seattle, with all the rain and dirt, it's really fast paced and we create a lot of ruts. So for us in the Lites, as soon as you get caught up in one of those ruts there really isn't much you can do except set up for the next corner knowing how the car is already upset. You're just along for the ride and trying to process it all as fast as you can before the next corner."
Do you prefer your spotter to give you constant feedback or keep chatter to a minimum?
"I'm believe I'm the type of driver that wants very minimal, precise, yet detailed feedback. "
More stage rally style...
"Yeah, something more specific...because if you have someone talking in your ear it disrupts your concentration when you're driving out there at those speeds. I have to be able to concentrate on what I'm doing."
"I really like sports and competition. Seeing how I can improve every time is my motivation in racing. That is why I think racing is so beautiful to me because there is always something you can improve on, no matter what. There are three aspects to racing: The driver, the mechanics of the vehicle, and the engine. There is always room for improvement, no matter what.
What moments are you most proud of in your race career?
"There are a few in racing. In rallycross, I think about how we started out my rookie season with just three people and now we are one of the biggest Lites teams. That feels very satisfying to see how much we have grown. As a kart racer, one race that really stands out was we went to this club race and there were good people at this club race, some of the nation's best. Practice was Saturday and the race was on Sunday. That Saturday I was just maybe top six to top five in times. It was when I was first starting out racing and it might have been my 7th or 8th month. I looked over and saw this big trophy. It was the biggest one I had ever seen and I said to myself, 'I'm gonna win that today.' I qualified and came in 2nd or 3rd. Then went out to do the first heat and my motor blows up. I told myself to just get out there and do my thing. I got a really good start in the main event and I remember just being in the moment and in-tune to everything I was doing. Telling myself I was going to win, even with all the circumstances like not qualifying at the top or the engine blowing up, and then actually winning, that was a very satisfying moment.
Is there one driver you really enjoy racing against?
"When Austin Cindric raced last season in the Lites, we had very close but very clean battles. We were friends off the track. On the track we were drivers but I think we respected each other very well. But for this season its hard to say because every season there are different drivers from different backgrounds and levels. It also depends on the track as well. So, it's tough to say."
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Photo Credit: Header - Qba/QNIGAN.com, (1) Alejandro Fernandez Facebook Page; (2) RX360