Daytona 24: Arie Luyendyk Jr race report

Arie Luyendyk Jr.'s Rookie Run at The Rolex 24 at Daytona a Success - Finishing position not indicative of Arie Jr.'s efforts - INTERESTING STUFF * Lap Times: Arie Luyendyk Jr. turned the fastest laps on the track during his second stint...

Arie Luyendyk Jr.'s Rookie Run at The Rolex 24 at Daytona a Success
- Finishing position not indicative of Arie Jr.'s efforts -

INTERESTING STUFF

* Lap Times: Arie Luyendyk Jr. turned the fastest laps on the track during his second stint late Saturday night, even with monsoon-like conditions, no power steering, the car windows fogging badly and no windshield wiper;

* Reason Out Of Race: #9 Mears Motor Coach machine fell out of the race early Sunday morning after only 289 laps due to electrical problems experienced throughout the event;

* Seat Time Before Race: The only seat time Arie Jr. had before the green flag for the 24-hour event was in a short test session a few weeks ago, then only seven total laps during a practice session on Thursday night of the race weekend (including pit-in and pit-out), where he still managed to set the quick time for the team that session in totally foreign elements (at night, in closed-cockpit car, in the rain);

* Luyendyk History at Daytona: Arie Jr.'s father, Arie Luyendyk, the two-time Indy 500 winner ('90, '97), was the 1998 Rolex 24 At Daytona winner, driving a Momo Ferrari SP333 with teammates Didier Theys, Mauro Baldi and Gianpiero Moretti.

(Scottsdale, AZ) -- Sometimes in racing, results -- pure numbers - don't tell the whole story of the battle it took to get to the finish. This year's Rolex 24 At Daytona is a prime example of that.

It is too bad that Arie Luyendyk Jr.'s performance in the 2004 version of the Rolex 24 At Daytona, in his rookie run at this prestigious event, was probably one of the more notable of any driver on the track. Yet, the standings won't represent that fact - only a number that does not in any way reflect the speed, poise, consistency and aggressiveness of a 22-year-old young man who exhibited the skills of a racer twice his age.

In preparation for this prestigious and legendary event, Arie Jr. had one test session with the SpeedSource, Inc. team early in January and did extremely well, sending notice to everyone on the team that this rookie was much more of a mature driver, both on and off of the track, than his age would have anyone believe.

Arriving in Daytona with veteran teammates, Arie Jr. did not get much practice time - seven laps in one night session on Thursday, impressing everyone by setting the quick time of the night for the team. That was all Arie Jr. needed to be ready for the race, or the team needed to know they had picked the right man for the job.

The team elected to not send Arie Jr. out to qualify the car, and Mike Borkowski ended up putting the Daytona Prototype on the grid in the 13th spot. Minor mechanical tweaking kept the car in the garage for most of the day on Friday, and Arie Jr. out of the cockpit, as the team decided not to go out for second-round qualifying, or send him out for a final tune-up session that day.

A promotional appearance at a "Fan Forum" at DAYTONA USA along with funnyman Boris Said and eventual overall winning teammember Terry Borcheller, and a practice session in the garage for the all-important driver change during the race, kept Arie Jr. busy during the day, though.

Arie Jr. was slated to go out in the race third in rotation behind Borkowski and Paul Mears Jr., and in front of Nick Ham and Justin Bell. After the start of the race, on lap two of Borkowski's initial run, a wheel came off the car, setting the team back seven laps while the errant wheel was replaced. In a race that's more than 700 laps long, being seven laps down early in the race was nothing to panic about, so the team continued to be optimistic as Mears Jr. took his turn, with both drivers posting competitive laps.

Near the end of Mears Jr.'s initial run, the skies opened up and the rains came heavy and hard right before Arie Jr. was slated to hop in the powerful Mears Motor Coach #9. Even in adverse conditions, and with the car losing power a couple of times due to relentless electrical problems, Arie Jr. moved his team's car up seven spots (initially moving up 11 places before the stoppages). Arie Jr.'s initial effort in the race was solid and fast and one that the team was excited about. They knew their "rookie" was nowhere near a newcomer to this type of intense competition, and figured out pretty quickly just what type of aggressive racer they had on their hands.

Moving into the endless nighttime and nearing the 12-hour mark of the race, the team continued to post competitive times in near monsoon-like conditions, as their mechanical gremlins continued to mount. Losing radio communication, windows that were fogged up all of the time, no power steering, no windshield wipers, and a one-hour visit to the garage to replace a radiator added up to the team losing ground fast on the frontrunners. At that point, a victory to the team meant simply finishing the race.

After the long garage visit, Arie Jr. was slated for his second stint, and got buckled in even as the car sat on jacks in the SpeedSource team garage. But it didn't bother Arie Jr. - he was ready to race after a long break.

The team soon found out what this young man was made of, as he faced some of the most difficult conditions of the entire race, yet managed to post consecutive lap times that were as fast or faster than the leaders at the time.

After about an hour and 15 minutes of battling the elements and physical strain, it was time for refueling and for Arie Jr. to allow someone else to drive. Although the team was many laps down, they were extremely excited about Arie Jr.'s run as it was one of the most notable of the race for any driver on the circuit.

The next stint, as Nick Ham was in the seat, the team's efforts finally came to an end sometime around 3:00 AM Sunday morning as the car succumbed to their ongoing electrical problems and pulled into the garage for the last time, with a final tally of 289 laps completed by the #9 Mears Motor Coach entry, and a 44th-place notation in the record books for the 2004 Rolex 24 at Daytona.

The Bell Motorsports Daytona Prototype car, with drivers Terry Borcheller, Forest Barber, Andy Pilgrim and Christian Fittipaldi, were the overall winners of the race.

ARIE LUYENDYK JR. POST-RACE QUOTES

How physical was this race for you?

"I'll have to say it was one of the most physically tiring events I've ever competed in. My last stint in the car was especially difficult for me. The windshield had gotten to the point where I could barely see; the gear selector on the dash was not working; traction control was off because of electrical problems; and, worst of all, the power steering was off because the car would wander too much under braking with it on. I had a lot of things working against me, but I was still able to run as quick as or quicker than the leader, and that gave me satisfaction."

Describe your overall experience in Daytona.

"The experience in Daytona was great despite our bad finish. It was my first road course race in three years and I was really looking forward to it. Although the result was not as good as I hoped, my teammates and I drove very competitive times during the rain, so I am happy with my performance. All in all it was quite a learning experience. I would love to run the Daytona 24-Hour event again next year. I want to express my thanks to the SpeedSource team for the opportunity they gave me to drive in the Rolex 24 At Daytona this year!"

Will this experience in the Rolex 24 At Daytona race give you a higher degree of confidence if and when the Indy Racing League decides to add road courses?

"The experience will translate for sure. That is one of the main reasons for running this Daytona race. I don't know when it will happen in the IRL, but road courses will be added and I need to be prepared for that. I was there to learn, but also win the race."

What are your 2004 racing plans other than the Rolex 24 At Daytona? "We are still working on a 2004 IndyCar program. That is my main goal for this year - to run a full season in the Indy Racing League and have the opportunity to race in the Indy 500. There are variations of that plan, but for now, because the season is still about a month away, we'll continue to work toward that goal."

*****

Quotes from teammate and car owner Paul Mears Jr. after early January test session with Arie Jr.:

"I've got to say that Arie has been a delightful surprise to work with. You are always nervous about an open-wheel-trained 22-year-old driver, but Arie has been a consummate professional. He takes things one step at a time and he's not trying to prove anything to anyone. He has been a true professional to work with - I can't say enough about him.

"He got up to speed was going quickly right off the bat. He's doing a fantastic job in the car. He's going to be a huge asset to what we're trying to accomplish. He's a talent, no doubt about it, and not just in the car - he's got a good head on his shoulders. He's just a lot of fun to be around, too. He's one of those rare guys that an hour after your meet him you feel like you are his friend. He's a rare find, and we're lucky to have him.

"There's a lot of ego around a race track, and a lot of testosterone, and a lot of young guys acting like young guys. I'm sure he's got an ego, but he keeps it in check. I'm very pleased to have him as a teammate, and looking forward to having him again. I've got a full-time driver that runs with us for the other series races, but there are two other six-hour races and I'd love to have him as my teammate again if his IndyCar Series schedule does not conflict."

Keep up with the progress of Arie Jr. during 2004 by checking out his new "Latest Racing News" section on his website, where regular updates will be posted about his racing adventures. Click on www.ArieLuyendykJr.com, then on "Latest Racing News" at the top of the page for the News Updates.

-alj-

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Boris Said , Didier Theys , Arie Luyendyk , Christian Fittipaldi , Andy Pilgrim , Justin Bell , Paul Mears Jr. , Forest Barber , Nick Ham , Gianpiero Moretti , Arie Luyendyk Jr.
Teams SpeedSource