Indy Racing League An Interview with Arie Luyendyk Jr. & Vitor Meira Part 1 of 2 MODERATOR: Welcome to the Indy Racing League's weekly teleconference. We have driver Arie Luyendyk Jr. from the Menards Infiniti Pro Series and driver Vitor Meira...
Indy Racing League
An Interview with Arie Luyendyk Jr. & Vitor Meira
Part 1 of 2
MODERATOR: Welcome to the Indy Racing League's weekly teleconference. We have driver Arie Luyendyk Jr. from the Menards Infiniti Pro Series and driver Vitor Meira from the IndyCar Series. Arie Luyendyk joins us first.
Arie, thanks a lot for joining us today. Arie is just 22 years old but is already running in his third season in the Menard Infiniti Pro Series. In 22 starts, he's finished in the top five in half of those races and in the top 10 18 times. This season, he has already recorded a second- and a third-place finish after being knocked out of the first race in an early accident.
Q: Arie, I know you are itching to make the jump into the IndyCar Series after running strongly for two-plus seasons here in the Pro Series, but you're still only 22. What's your take on that whole situation?
ARIE LUYENDYK JR.: Well, obviously the main thing is money. That's obviously the hardest thing is to get sponsored, and that's basically what we are waiting for. We've had teams approach us for rides and everything, but as a rookie, I think everybody needs to bring a little sponsor money along with them. That's what's kind of been holding me back, which is a shame. Like you said, I'm only 22, and I have a lot of time, so I'm not really worried about it.
Q: You've got time, as you said, and you've run so well and even led five races over your career, but I know that first win is still eluding you. Do you feel an increased pressure as time goes on to get into victory lane?
ARIE LUYENDYK JR.: Yeah, a little bit. This is only my third season, and I finished second, I don't know, six times or something, and finished in the top three. That's a little frustrating, but it could be worse. I could be finishing a lot worse than second or third. And that first win will come when it's supposed to come, and I'm just kind of waiting around for it.
Q: Do you put that pressure mostly on yourself or does it come from any external sources, the team or anybody like that?
ARIE LUYENDYK JR.: I think right now with Sam Schmidt, we have a really great team. Thiago (Medeiros) and I have been doing well. He's obviously had a lot of success so far. I think it's just a matter of time, and maybe Kansas will be my race to win. Who knows? And so this race, hopefully, everything will be together on my side of the team, and we'll get the car running well, and hopefully, notch out a win for this race. It would be really great.
Q: Your dad (two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk) had a tremendous career in the race car. When you get two competitive people like that together, a lot of times there could be a lot of friction. Is there some friction between yourself and your dad, or how is your relationship?
ARIE LUYENDYK JR.: The relationship is good. He's my father, so he's there every race kind of looking over me and making sure everything is going right with the team. It's really helpful to have him around because he has so much great advice to give, and that's an important key in how well we've done in the last couple of years. And if I don't have the car to win a race, he'll tell me, 'Hey, I don't think you have the car to win the race, try to stay where you're at and hold onto it.' Or if I need a little motivation, he'll give it to me. It's great to have him around. He's not going to be there for the Kansas race because he's going to Europe. Usually, he's there during every race.
Q: When we get back on track at Kansas this coming weekend, you've had a little bit of hard luck there in the past with 10th- and 12th-place finishes. What makes that track unique on the circuit from some of the others?
ARIE LUYENDYK JR.: Well, I think it's the first one-and-a-half-mile oval that's kind of similar to the tracks like Chicago and those types of tracks, so it's fun to race there. We've hosted some really good racing, and I think you'll see a lot of drafting and side-by-side (racing) going on. That's what's so fun about that place because you can qualify last like Mark Taylor did last year after he got disqualified and still actually win the race. Kansas promotes good racing because it gives a chance for the cars to hook up to the draft, so I'm really looking forward to it. We've had some bad luck there the last couple of years. First year I ran there, I got in an accident trying to pass for second, and last year, we got black flagged, so that put us a lap down. I've had some bad luck, but hopefully that will change this year.
Q: The series itself, do you think it's doing what it was set out to do? Are you learning something every time you go out on the track?
ARIE LUYENDYK JR.: It's funny you ask that. I looked at the in-car camera from Kansas City in 2002, and I totally view myself as a different driver from a few years ago. I've learned so much the last few years. I made so many mistakes in that race that I would not do right now. I think I've learned a lot, and I think I kind of hit a plateau last year of what I could learn, and that's why I'm really trying to make it to the next level. Even though I have not got that first win, I think I've learned all that I need to learn in this car. For sure, one or two years in this series (and) you will be completely set to be driving an oval, and that's why I think you've seen Ed Carpenter and A.J. Foyt (IV) and Mark Taylor move up. Sometimes the results are not very good, but they are still competitive, as you saw Mark Taylor qualify third last weekend.
Q: Do you think it's a necessary step for somebody trying to get into the IRL?
ARIE LUYENDYK JR.: I think if you're an open-wheel driver that comes from a series like Formula 3 in Europe or F2000 here in the United States or the Barber Dodge Series, I think it's a great learning tool. I think it's a good step. But for a sprint-car driver, it's extremely necessary. To learn the aerodynamics and the rear suspension of the car is totally crucial when you're coming up from sprint cars. That's really helped Ed Carpenter and a lot of guys, a new series driver, P.J. Chesson. I think it's a valuable tool for them to learn, not so much for the open-wheel guys, but it's just good for everybody.
Q: It would also seem to offer a good opportunity to get some appearances on a larger oval?
ARIE LUYENDYK JR.: Yeah, if you think about it, our average speed at Indy was around 190 (mph) and the IndyCar Series cars are 220 (mph). So it's a 30 mph difference usually at the racetracks, and that sounds like a lot on paper, but our cars handle very similar. I did my IRL rookie test, and the car felt very stable, so it's a very similar feeling. So that's great if you want to go to the IndyCar Series.
Q: You just mentioned Mark Taylor, and of course, we found out today that he's been released by Panther Racing. Is there any chance that you might have an opportunity there?
ARIE LUYENDYK JR.: I don't know. There's a lot of opportunities in the IRL right now, but a lot of the teams want to you bring some sort of amount of money. Obviously, an IndyCar Series ride for a whole year costs $8 million; that's how much it takes to run an IndyCar (Series car) competitive. Teams are looking for drivers to bring $1 million or two to the table in sponsorship, and right now, we don't have that. So it kind of limits our options and places us with teams that are not as good as the top teams, and that's what I'm kind of holding out for is a really good ride, so that when I come into the series, I want to make an impression that I'm going to be there for a while. I'm waiting for the right time to move up, and that's why I decided to do the series again for a third year.
Q: Is it frustrating for you to know that to make that next step, you've got to bring so much money?
ARIE LUYENDYK JR.: No, I think it's kind of expected. As a rookie, you need to give them something because it's always a risk when you're trying out a new driver, especially when you're a rookie in the IndyCar Series, which is one of the most competitive series in the word. The teams need some impetus to put you in the car, and hopefully, once you're there, you've solidified your position. It's frustrating, but that's racing. You always have to bring sponsorship to racing. I've been dealing with it ever since I was a kid, and it's not going to change when I get older.
Q: You've been here three years. Do you see the series changing in any way that would help the series bring in more cars, more drivers?
ARIE LUYENDYK JR.: What do you mean?
Q: Instead of same chassis, same engine, basically spec cars?
ARIE LUYENDYK JR.: No, I think the formula is perfect. You have the spec engine, the spec car, and testing is limited to a certain amount of days in the year, and right now, they are doing everything possible to get to the drivers. But for the development series, drivers need to have funding from sponsors, and that's always hard to find. The Pro Series has a good schedule for TV, so that's another incentive so they are doing all of the right things. I think right now the economy is a little rough, and it's just really hard for drivers to find money, and that's why car counts are not as high as I would like it to be. But the talent level that's in the Pro Series is very high. It's still very competitive. There are still regular guys out there that are battling every weekend and could win a race at any moment. I think the series is doing a good job.
Q: Your father didn't run at Indy this year, first time in the last few years. Do you still hold hope for being able to run the Indy 500 with your father?
ARIE LUYENDYK JR.: I really don't think he would come back another year unless he was in some way linked to the car, if we did like a father/son deal with a team. But I think by himself, I don't think he would run. You know, maybe that's better. He had kind of a tough time the last year he ran, and (Alex Barron) took over his seat. So I think as time went on he said, 'Well, maybe (I'm) getting a little bit older' and it's time to make room for me, I guess.
MODERATOR: Arie, thank you very much for joining us today. We wish you the best of luck this weekend. We're now joined by Vitor Meira. Vitor, first of all, congratulations on a great run at Richmond last weekend, where you had your career-best second-place finish. That must have been a tremendous thrill for you.