Indy Racing League - Infiniti Pro Series Weekly Press Conference March 18, 2003 Arie Luyendyk Jr. K. Johnson: Thanks again Mary, and we certainly welcome everyone to the Indy Racing League Conference Call for this week Tuesday, March 18th.
Indy Racing League - Infiniti Pro Series
Weekly Press Conference
March 18, 2003
Arie Luyendyk Jr.
K. Johnson: Thanks again Mary, and we certainly welcome everyone to the Indy Racing League Conference Call for this week Tuesday, March 18th. Today we will take a look toward the next event on the Indy Racing League calendar, that being the Phoenix 100 for the Infiniti Pro Series, which will take place Saturday, March 22 at 2:45 p.m., as well as the Purex Dial Indy 200 IndyCar TM Series race on March 23 (That is Sunday.) at 1:30 Mountain Time. Both events take place at Phoenix International Raceway. Joining us today will be Infiniti Pro Series driver Arie Luyendyk Jr., as well as IndyCar Series driver and two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr. Our first guest out of the box is Arie Luyendyk Jr. He was the runner-up in the final 2002 Infiniti Pro Series point standings. He also finished fourth in the season opening Western Union 100 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Arie drives the No. 5 Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone fielded by Sinden Racing Service and is the son of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk. Arie, welcome and thanks for joining us today.
A. Luyendyk Jr: Well, thank you for having me.
K. Johnson: Let's start off looking back at the season's first race at Homestead-Miami. You were the runner-up in the final point standings last season and got off to a good start two weeks ago. How does that make you feel about the way you started the season?
A. Luyendyk Jr: Well we came into Homestead with, I think, a little bit higher hopes than finishing fourth. We ran second for most of the day, and we were the quickest car in the track the last 15 laps or so. It was just our car was not the best on restarts. So one of the last restarts I slipped from second down to sixth so we had a tough restart and then we had to battle back to finish fouth. But it would have been nice to finish on the podium. I am little disappointed on the first race, but I am really looking forward to this race in Phoenix because it is my home track.
K. Johnson: And along those same lines Arie, tell us your thoughts about this weekend and are there any added pressures to racing in the town and at the track around which you spent much of your life?
A. Luyendyk Jr: I do not know. I only have raced at Phoenix once. I have a lot of guests coming out so it should be fun. I have probably over 50 people coming to watch the race. I think it will be fun. I do not think there will be any added pressure. I just think it will be interesting to have everyone there, and hopefully, we can perform well. We will see where it goes from there.
K. Johnson: Now one more question before I open it to the media. So much is made about drivers and their fitness levels and all that. You actually spent this last week on the ski slopes. Is that part of your training routine, or was this just a little getaway time for Arie Jr.?
A. Luyendyk Jr: I don't think you consider-- I guess snow boarding is a bit of a physical activity, but it is not very vigorous so I would not consider it training. But it was more a relaxation thing this last week.
K. Johnson: Sounds like a lot of fun. At this time I would like to go ahead and open to the media for any questions. A reminder, please limit your questions to one initial question and then we will come around for a follow-up. Also, we do a complete transcript of the call. It will be sent to you tomorrow via your fax machine or email. Now let's open the forum for questions.
Q: Arie, you mentioned you had problems with your restart. Have you done some things that maybe would help you better in the next race?
A. Luyendyk Jr: Yes, I think that this last race we had the car wasn't the greatest for the race. It seemed to be very good on the very long runs, but once we went for yellow and the tires cooled off a little bit things seemed to go very loose. So we have kind of thought of ways to solve that so hopefully we have that all figured out for Phoenix. But I think as a whole Homestead is a very flat track, and it is a very difficult track so I think Phoenix with the banking being a little bit higher I do not think that will be as much of an issue.
Q: You have been so close to winning; has it gotten a little frustrating that you have not pulled it off yet?
A. Luyendyk Jr: Yes, it has gotten very frustrating, actually. It is one of those things where you do not want to accept just finishing second. And obviously it is not a bad finishing position because if you look at it in the long run for the championship it is very good if you finish consistently in the top three or top four. But yes, it is a bit frustrating. There are a few races last year where I actually thought I should have won, and it just for some reason did not work out. And we have had a very strong car all last season, and hopefully this season we will have the same thing, and then we can produce some of those top-three finishing and to win.
Q: How would it feel to win your first one at Phoenix where your dad has also won a race in the past?
A. Luyendyk Jr: It would feel great. I mean, Phoenix is obviously my home track. I live a half hour away from the track, and it would be nice to get a win here just because I am going to have lots of family and friends in the crowd, and it would be nice to showcase the talent there and to get a win under my belt there. That would be great, but, obviously, that means we would concentrate session by session and not try to get ahead of myself. And if it is meant to be then it will come.
K. Johnson: Arie, you competed in the Infiniti Pro Series all last season, the seven-race schedule, and now you have one race under your belt for this year. Looking back at the competition that was on the track last year and what you faced in Homestead-Miami this year, what can you say about the growth of the league?
A. Luyendyk Jr: I think it has grown a lot over last year. You look at the top five drivers and they are all rookies in the series -- except for me, I was the only veteran in the top five at Homestead. So I think our working crop for this year is very strong, and we have Mark Taylor. He has done very well in British Formula 3, and you have Thiago, who has done well at South American Formula 3. Brandon Erwin has obviously raced a few IndyCar Series races, and Jonathon Urlin raced in F2000 Series. He finished very well in that championship last year. So we have a lot of really great, young, fast drivers and that is what the series is all about. It is an honor to be in it, and I think that this year will be much more competitive than last year. I am ready for the challenge.
Q: Hi. I am wondering what your feelings are about racing at the Speedway in May?
A. Luyendyk Jr: I am very excited about that. I think it will be great for the series, and it will draw a lot of attention to the series. I am very honored to be on that racetrack. I have even driven around in it in the rental car completely before, so I am actually kind of pondering on what it is going to be like. But I am very honored, and I think it will be a great event for the series.
Q: You talked about racing at Phoenix, your home racetrack. In growing up around Phoenix is this almost as though it is a dream come true?
A. Luyendyk Jr: Yes, I mean ever since I was small we lived here. I came to the IRL races, and it was always something to look forward to. Although I am not in the IndyCar Series yet, I am closer than I have ever been, obviously. It is becoming more and more real that this may be my profession for years and years to come, so I am very excited about it. Hopefully we can get some wins under our belts because I am struggling to get a win lately. It has been a year and a half since I have been in winner's circle, and I have been second so many times; it is getting a bit frustrating. But, hopefully, in Phoenix everything can come together. We have a very strong car there. In the Test In The West, we were quickest in the morning and the third quickest overall for the day. I think we will have a good car, and I am excited to race there.
Q: In other sports such as basketball, football and baseball there is always talk of a home-field advantage. Do you feel a home-field advantage racing at Phoenix?
A. Luyendyk Jr: Obviously I live very close to here, so you are sleeping in your own bed. It is always good to wake up in your own surroundings and go to the racetrack. It is bit unfamiliar because you are so used to being on the road when you are racing. So I think a couple things, you get a very good night sleep and you know good places to eat so you get good food. I think it is just more of a mental thing than anything. The time on the racetrack that I have spent at PIR is not that significant because I have not really spent too much on the oval, and we have not tested much here. But I think that is an advantage just because mentally you are more ready for the race just because you are in your own surroundings.
Q: And you are going to have so many friends and family there at the race. Is this going to be a situation where you think, 'OK maybe I need to budget my time on dealing with them and being with them and really trying to focus on the race'?
A. Luyendyk Jr: Yes, obviously the people who come to the race, I will let them know this is what I need to do and I cannot be spending too much time with them. And I think they all know that. Most of my friends and family, obviously, know that they need to take a standoff approach and kind of let me do my job. There are always times to talk about later and time to hangout. But yes, my main focus this race will obviously be in getting the car right and talking to my engineers and the friends and family, they can just watch from a distance.
Q: And you can join them in the winner's circle afterward.
A. Luyendyk Jr: Yes, there you go.
Q: Will it be harder on the cars when you race a long track like Indy in that type of race? Do you have to do some special things to it or is that a problem?
A. Luyendyk Jr: No, the longer tracks you have to run a different setup. I think it is good to be easier on the tires. I think for Indianapolis the tires won't be as effective as much as, let's say, PIR because then you are constantly almost constantly turning. You have very short straightaways, as where as in Indy you have very long straightaways. I think you do not really have to do much difference to the car; you just have to set it up different, get as least amount of drag as you can and try to find the happy medium of how much downforce you want compared to as far as like a Phoenix track where you are running more downforce. So those are the only things you really change.
Q: Do you think that it would be harder on the engine by sustaining a higher speed and longer?
A. Luyendyk Jr: No, not really because we had, I mean, we have had races last year where we were just wide open the all time, full throttle. I think that actually is better for the engine if it stays at a constant throttle as far as getting off and coming back on and shifting gears or what not. So I think it is not as hard on the engine. It should be fine. We should see some really good reliability because our Infiniti engines are really doing great. I am looking forward to the race at Indianapolis.
Q: Arie, I was talking to your dad last week, he was telling me how you went over to visit your grandfather in Holland, and he put you in a Formula 2000 car for the first time when you were about 14½. How did that all come about and kind of surprised your dad?
A. Luyendyk Jr: Well, my grandfather has been a great supporter of my racing, and when I was younger I was nagging him to get into the race car because he actually restores older Formula 4s and Formula Vs. He has restored even a Formula 3 car. He has restored many race cars, and that is what he does. I was always bugging him to get into one of the cars that he was working on. So when I was 14, they prepared a car for me and that was the first time I ever took to the track in a Formula car. And it was a bit of a hairy experience just because I did not know how to shift or anything. It was definitely a learning experience. I think I learned the most as a driver when I did race in Europe. I think everything there improved me.
Q: What was your dad's reaction when he talked to you about that first experience in the car?
A. Luyendyk Jr: Well, he was there. He ended up finding out about it, and then he was there. I think I was maybe too young to even be doing it just because I did not know how to shift really properly, and I did not have any experience, obviously. But I guess any experience is better than no experience, right?
Q: Right. The other question, he talked about how tense he is when you are driving. As a boy growing up were you tense when your dad drove?
A. Luyendyk Jr: You know, the older I get the more nervous I get just because growing up you kind of grow up with it you don't get nervous at all. You know, the older I get and the more I have excelled in racing then I understand what it is all about. After I drove the IndyCar Series car in Kentucky, you have new found respect for these guys who run these races day in and day out. I get more nervous now than I used to just because now I know what is at stake and what is involved.
K. Johnson: Arie, thanks for joining us today and good start to the 2003 season. We wish you luck this coming Saturday out at Phoenix.
A. Luyendyk Jr: Thank you.
A. Unser Jr: I would like to say something. This is Al Jr. I have been listening since we started, and Arie, I sure hope you get your first win coming up.
A. Luyendyk Jr: Thank you. I appreciate it.
A. Unser Jr.: Yes, I was listening in, and yes, it is awful frustrating to come as close as we both have come in the last season, and I hope you get it done this weekend for sure.
A. Luyendyk Jr: Especially for you with those close finishes.
A. Unser Jr: Yes, we will do our best to pull off a first ever Phoenix win for myself because I have not won there all the years that I have been there, and so we need to get it done, for sure.
A. Luyendyk Jr: Right. Definitely. Well good luck.
A. Unser Jr: Thanks. You too.
A. Luyendyk Jr: Thank you.