US GP Many Indianapolis 500 winners impressed

INDIANAPOLIS, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2000 - Ferrari's Michael Schumacher, the first winner of the Formula One SAP United States Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday, wasn't the only driver on the grounds who had won at the ...

INDIANAPOLIS, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2000 - Ferrari's Michael Schumacher, the first winner of the Formula One SAP United States Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday, wasn't the only driver on the grounds who had won at the track. In fact, 15 of the 20 living Indianapolis 500 winners attended the race. Jacques Villeneuve, who won in 1995, did more than attend. He drove his Lucky Strike BAR Honda to fourth place, just missing third in a hot duel with Heinz-Harald Frentzen. Villeneuve now has finished first, second and fourth in three races at Indy. Juan Pablo Montoya, who drove Chip Ganassi's car to the checkered flag last May, was prominently present, but also avoiding interviews as he prepares to move on to Formula One next season, replacing young Jenson Button with the BMW WilliamsF1 team. Others on hand for the debut of circuit racing at the Speedway were: Four-time winner A.J. Foyt, three-time winner Johnny Rutherford, two-time winners Rodger Ward, Emerson Fittipaldi, Al Unser Jr. and Arie Luyendyk, and single winners Danny Sullivan, Mario Andretti, Parnelli Jones, Jim Rathmann, Buddy Lazier, Bobby Rahal and Eddie Cheever Jr. Before the race, they were asked for their thoughts and impressions of the changes that have taken place at the Speedway where they scored the most important racing victories of their careers. "Well, in general, I think it is a pretty nice thing, really," Jones said. Fans have to adjust to the new type of racing that sends car screaming up the straightaway in reverse fashion and onto a 13-turn infield segment of the 2.606-mile course, Jones said. However, he added that he always enjoyed road racing. He also said these are different times, and the need is there to bring in a third series to the facility. "Colin Chapman wanted me to come to drive Formula One (in 1964)," Jones said. "He wanted me to be a No. 2 driver to Jimmy Clark. Of course, at that time I didn't feel I was No. 2 to anybody. I turned that down. But Formula One didn't carry the prestige it does today." Luyendyk, who holds all of the speed records both in the Indianapolis 500 race and qualifying, called the introduction of Formula One to Indy fantastic. "When I first heard Tony (George, Speedway president) was going to put up a Formula One race here, I was really excited about it," he said. "I think the event is not going to be a one-day, first-timer curiosity event. I think it is going to be a successful event for the long term." Growing up in The Netherlands, Luyendyk dreamed of racing in Formula One. But for other than a single test, it didn't work out. He ended up in the Indianapolis 500 and said, "It was a good thing I was able to win this race, because that changed it all for me." Eddie Cheever Jr., the 1998 Indianapolis 500 winner, said the major problem for Formula One in America has been the lack of an American driver or team. Cheever started 132 races during his Formula One career, more than any other American driver. "There'll be someone who was in the grandstands or watching on television that will want to be another American driver," he said. Danny Sullivan, who drove in Formula One in 1983 but spent most of his career at the wheel of an Indy car, said the Speedway was the Mecca or "our temple" of motor racing. The addition of Formula One only increases the prestige, Sullivan said. "Tony George has done a phenomenal job of integrating it into (the schedule) and not losing the integrity of the current Indianapolis 500 track," he said. "I think this shows this is the place it (Formula One) should be." Rodger Ward, winner in 1959 and 1962, concurred with Sullivan. "This is where it belongs," he said. "Actually, during my tenure here we kept trying to get Tony Hulman to bring NASCAR here for a race. I personally think what Tony George has done is just really great. "When you have the three most important races in the world at this facility, that means this is the most important (racing) place in the world." Fittipaldi, a two-time World Champion as well as Indianapolis 500 winner in 1989 and 1993, called Sunday a historical day. "It's a fantastic day for motor racing," he said. "I think it starts a new era of Formula One in America." Rutherford, who still drives the Pace Car in Indy Racing Northern Light Series events, has come to the Speedway for 40 years. He said Sunday was the first time he ever saw a car "go the wrong way up the straightaway," alluding to the clockwise direction of the cars on the Formula One circuit. "It's a happening," Rutherford said. Al Unser Jr., back racing at the Speedway, said he thinks it's wonderful that George brought F1 to Indy. Some years ago, Unser Jr. considered heading overseas to race. "I really don't how close I was," he said. "My true love for the sport is the Indy 500. And I think when I got over there and tested the F1's, I think everybody knew that. They felt it once I got over there. This is the only place I want to race." Rahal won the 1986 Indianapolis 500. Now retired as a driver, he is about to take on a new assignment running the Jaguar Racing team in Formula One. He said that in a way, at age 47, this fulfills his youthful dreams of being a part of F1. He said the United States Grand Prix brings more international focus on the Speedway. "It will just raise the stature of Indianapolis even more so," he said. Race winner Schumacher said he's not a history buff, but admits that becoming the first winner of the Formula One race at Indy puts him in an exclusive class with other first-time winners at Indy - Ray Harroun in the 1911 Indianapolis 500, Jeff Gordon in the 1994 Brickyard 400 and Mark Martin in the 1998 IROC at Indy. "Being here on the podium, being the first Formula One winner in 10 years in the U.S., and the first at Indy is quite impressive," he said. "It means quite a lot. I got around the last laps thinking about that."

-Indianapolis Motor Speedway-

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Ferrari , Williams , Jaguar Racing