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Fernandez fifth during Monday practice

5/14/2004

INDIANAPOLIS -- Adrian Fernandez skipped the Indianapolis 500 the last nine years.

It took just two days for Fernandez to show the Indy Racing
League that he hasn't forgotten a thing.

Fernandez, who has made two Indianapolis 500 starts, was one of
seven drivers to top 219 mph during a Monday practice session that
was cut short by heavy rain.

"It is fun, especially when the car is running good,"
Fernandez said.

Fernandez's best lap, 219.118, was better than the 218.342 he
posted Sunday.

Monday was a day for improvement.

Seven drivers topped 219, compared to two on Sunday. Eighteen
drivers were faster than 217, compared to 12 on the opening day.

Fernandez had the third-fastest time in Sunday's practice and
was third again Monday, until the final 10 minutes when two-time
Indy winner Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan knocked him to fifth.

Castroneves, last year's pole winner at 231.725, was the first
driver to hit 220 this week, turning a 220.300. Speeds have been
reduced by a smaller engine and a new aerodynamic package that IRL
officials hope will make this month safer for drivers.

New Zealand's Scott Dixon, Sunday's fastest driver and the defending IRL points champ, was second at 219.569.

Kanaan went 219.553, and two-time IRL points champ Sam Hornish Jr. clocked 219.357.

Those speeds were expected because all drive for the IRL's top
teams. Castroneves and Hornish are teammates for Roger Penske,
while Dixon drives for Chip Ganassi and Kanaan for Michael
Andretti.

Fernandez owns his own team and made a late decision to switch
over from the rival Champ Car series. He competed in his first IRL
race in March at Phoenix, then raced at Motegi, Japan.

Now Fernandez, like the other drivers, is adjusting to new
equipment.

It hasn't hindered his progress.

"We've been consistent," Fernandez said. "The car has been
good. We've not trimmed it out yet, but there are a lot of strong
cars out there.

"During the open test, I was struggling a little bit. Now, I'm
much more comfortable."

Celebration

Castroneves' had one celebration scheduled for
Monday night -- his 29th birthday.

He's hoping for more parties this month.

Castroneves, who has had the best start to a career in Indy
history with two wins and a second-place finish in his first three
races, said he planned to have a quiet dinner with his family on
Monday.

If Castroneves can win his second straight pole Saturday, it's
likely to get a little louder.

"We're looking good, but we can't celebrate yet," he said.
"Let's just keep moving forward."

There was no word if Castroneves' former teammate, Gil de
Ferran, who waved the green flag to start practice, was planning to
give Castroneves a pie in the face as he did last year. De Ferran
won last year's Indy 500 before retiring at the end of the season.

Wash out?
The scheduled seven-hour practice session was cut
short by 3 hours, 35 minutes when a brief downpour doused the
track.

More time was lost because of two accidents.

Just 14 minutes after practice resumed, rookie Marty Roth lost
control of his car exiting the third turn, did a three-quarter spin
to the right and a half-spin to the left before stopping against
the inside wall on the back straightaway.

He was not injured.

"That's the way to do it where you can spin at Indy and not
touch anything, throw four new tires on, and keep going," he said.
"We were lucky."

Less than 15 minutes before the end of practice, Robby Gordon
lost control entering the second turn and brushed the wall lightly.
He, too, was not injured.

Pit stops
Even with the rain, 30 cars and 27 drivers made it
onto the track. There were 1,122 laps completed Monday. ... Larry Foyt made it onto the track for the first time, but was 28th with a
top speed of 207.982 mph.