Alejandro Fernandez: “GRC Lites Really Shows What A Driver Can Do”
Colombia’s Alejandro Fernandez comes to GRC Lites in 2014 after a short yet successful karting career. A protege of Buddy Rice, an Indianapolis 500 and 24 Hours of Daytona winner who also made his rallycross debut at X Games Brazil in 2013, Fernandez has raced in some of the most prestigious karting events in the world despite only picking up the sport two years ago.
Earlier this week, Fernandez announced that he would race for Olsbergs MSE in GRC Lites, continuing his rapid ascent up the motorsport ranks. In an exclusive interview, he explains what attracted him to the sport, the benefits of working with Rice and OMSE, and who he plans to compare himself to in his first season:
What exactly drew you to joining Red Bull Global Rallycross and the GRC Lites series?
The close competition. I’ve always liked rally since I was young, and since the X Games started I’ve always watched (that and) the GRC series. I’ve always liked the series because it offers at least half tarmac and half dirt, and the jump is always fun. So I really like the setup and the competition. And the series is also a spec series, so it can really show what the driver can do. The other aspect I like is the exposure—being able to compete at X Games is really incredible, and I’m really excited to be able to do that.
For those who don’t know much about you yet, can you tell us about your karting background? How has karting prepared you for this step into rallycross?
I am a national and regional champion—I won an IKF championship last year in the PRD Senior class. I’ve also claimed podiums in national events and have traveled around the United States in karting. Karting has helped me take the steps towards GRC because I believe, and a lot of other professional drivers believe, that if you can learn karting, you have all the abilities you need to become a better driver. I believe that karting has taught me everything I need to succeed, or at least is the fundamental background that I need to get up to speed.
You’ve been working with Buddy Rice as part of his karting program. How long have you two worked together, and how has he helped you develop as a driver?
Since I started racing in karting, I’ve been with Buddy, so basically for my entire career in racing. To have him by my side with me is really important, because he’s taught me so many things and he’s eased the learning curve tremendously. With the knowledge that Buddy has, and the experience he has, he knows what I need to do to get faster.
You went to a few races last year before signing on for this season, but you’ve only been testing the car somewhat recently. Did the car drive like you expected it to from what you saw on race weekends?
Actually, I thought the car was easier to drive than what I had seen! I thought the car was really good—it handled really good, it was fast, and it was really easy to drive. I’m really excited to be able to start the season off with it in Austin.
You were also able to work with OMSE’s Brad Manka, the Lites Crew Member of the Year last season, during the test sessions. What did he teach you during the test session?
Brad taught me some of the fundamental things in the car, like the shifting points and how to get the car to rotate through the corners. He also helped me with some of the components inside the car, how it handles, the specs of the car, and how it was developed.
There are a handful of drivers returning to GRC Lites from last season. Are you going to start comparing yourself to them right away, or are you going to run your own pace to start and worry about the results later?
I look forward to judging myself against Mitchell deJong and Kevin Eriksson. They both finished well throughout last season, and I think they’re both really good drivers. So when we start the season, I look forward to seeing how we do, seeing if we can one-up them, or how I can work harder and improve.
Have you set any goals for yourself this season, knowing that it’s your first in rallycross?
As a competitor, I’d always like to win, but my realistic goals would be podium finishes throughout the season. My ultimate goal is to be the champion, but it’s a long championship and a lot of things can happen. As you said, it’s my first season. Anything can happen, but as for my goals, I want to have some podium finishes, win the championship, and hopefully move up to Supercars through the ladder system that GRC has.
Images via AF Racing