Alejo Fernandez: “the championship would be anamazing feeling”
Let’s start with this, point blank: is 2016 a championship or bust year for you?
Nah, I really don’t think that way. Obviously, winning the championship is the main priority—but I don’t like to see things like “if I don’t win the championship, I’ll be disappointed.” At the end of the day, I’m racing cars, and I could be doing something a lot more terrible! So I tend to have a better attitude about things like that. But to take the championship would be an amazing feeling.
Last year you finished fourth in the standings, compared to third as a rookie. But the field was up to twice as big in 2015 as it was in some 2014 races, and you held the points lead for a time against a deeper field. How would you compare your first two seasons in GRC Lites to one another?
It’s kind of hard to say, because it depends on what you would call successful. The second season, the field was getting so competitive, and the first season just had a few of us that were just there. And Mitchell DeJong, being there, had a lot more experience than us. But I would consider both really successful.
In the first season, I was racing by myself—I had no teammate and had to learn everything by myself. At the end of that season, everything I learned translated into my second season last year. I think that proves that my first season was very successful, because in my second season, I got five podiums. I did a lot more in my second season, but it was with an elevated field. So I think both seasons were really successful, and I hope this one will be even more so.
You took your first career Lites pole and heat win last year, but you came out on the losing end of the closest finish of the season in Detroit—meaning you’re still looking for that first main event victory. How much is that first win on your mind entering 2016?
Not really much. The winning will come with being prepared, both mentally and physically, and both with yourself and with your team. We take things a step at a time—at least I do. If we can be fast, get a good qualifying spot, and stay up there, then that should translate to wins.
I had a couple of opportunities last year, fighting for the win, but a couple of technical difficulties hindered our results. I would just push a little too hard, and then that gap would get bigger. I think part of last season’s success was learning from those little mistakes, more or less driver errors and the learning curve from my first season. Now, with that under my belt, this season should be a lot better.
You’ll be the lead and veteran driver on the AF Racing squad for the second year in a row. The key difference is that, this year, you’ll be working with two teammates—rookies Travis Pecoy and Christian Brooks—instead of just one. How much do you expect the newcomers to lean on you this year, especially early on?
I’m expecting it to be, for them, all about trying to learn as much as possible. The better they do, the better the team does, the better I can do. We’ll all share the same info, the same data, and then we can make it a team effort to win instead of just me battling against two other teammates. As long as we as a team can just keep getting better and faster, it’ll be better for everyone.
Your new rookie teammates are two drivers with completely different racing backgrounds from one another. How much have you worked with the two of them so far helping them to get up to speed? How can their respective approaches help you during a race weekend?
Well, just from the testing we’ve done, we’ve seen where they’re stronger and where they’re weaker. And that’s where I come in and help them—I tell them how to translate things from what they’ve run to a rallycross Lites car. They both have different backgrounds and different driving styles, but at the end of the day, in rallycross you have to adapt every single lap. So I think as long as they can get up to speed as fast as they’ve shown in testing, it’s going to be a very successful season for the AF Racing team.
As someone who’s been around Lites since the beginning, just how much has the class changed over the past few years? How much more difficult is it to be competitive now versus where it was a couple of years ago?
I think it’s incredibly difficult to be competitive and to be a front-runner now! Everybody that drives in these cars has to push these cars to their limit. You have to find that limit, and then once you find it, you have to be comfortable with it. When we started, it was a handful of us—maybe six or eight of us. With a lot more people in the field, it makes everything a lot more difficult.
Finally, we know for sure that you’re looking at a Supercar in the near future. What’s your plan for making the step up? Will you be trying to test or even race a Supercar this season?
My end goal is to be racing in the Supercar class—we decided to commit to another Lites season just to get me more seat time and to be in the sport. But what I really need to find is a little more sponsorship backing so I can make that jump into the Supercar class. I think a little bit of help with that could be my key into it. If I’m able to get a race this season at some point, if I make the step up into a Supercar this season, it means I’m definitely looking at something solid for next season where I’ll be locked in for sure.