IRL: Arie Luyendyk, Robby Gordon Start Indy500 Preparations

LUYENDYK, GORDON START PREPARATIONS FOR SPECIAL INDY 500 By Dick Mittman INDIANAPOLIS, April 1, 1999 -- Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk hadn't turned a wheel in a Pep Boys Indy Racing League...


By Dick Mittman

INDIANAPOLIS, April 1, 1999 -- Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk hadn't turned a wheel in a Pep Boys Indy Racing League car since he took the checkered flag last Oct. 11 at Las Vegas. Robby Gordon hadn't circled the Indianapolis Motor Speedway since a fire forced him to the sidelines after 19 laps in the 1997 Indianapolis 500. On March 31, Luyendyk and Gordon joined with Greg Ray, Buzz Calkins and Eliseo Salazar for a Firestone tire testing session in preparation for the 83rd Indianapolis 500 on May 30. The Indianapolis 500 Rookie Orientation Program takes place April 8-9 at the Speedway, with the Open Test April 10-11. For Arie and Robby, the Indianapolis 500 will be special for different reasons. Luyendyk, auto racing's spectacular Flying Dutchman, will make his farewell appearance in the famed race seeking to become the ninth driver to win the race at least three times. Gordon, the versatile Californian, intends to drive in a CART oval race on May 29 at Gateway International Raceway near St. Louis, then hop from a turbocharged car into a normally aspirated car the next day at Indianapolis. Gordon already has driven at Indy and in the NASCAR Winston Cup Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, N.C., on the same day and thus would become the first driver to do two "doubles" involving the Indy 500. "Hey, it's a free world," Gordon said about competing in auto racing's two major open-wheel series on the same weekend. "You can do what you want to do nowadays. "I'm very fortunate that we have hooked up with John Menard and the people from Johns Manville. Without those guys, we wouldn't be getting the opportunity. It's something I've always liked to do. "We just like to race cars." Gordon, 30, with Menard as a partner, has formed Team Gordon. He's campaigning a Toyota-powered car in the CART series and will drive a G Force-Aurora-Firestone at Indy. In the CART season opener at Homestead Fla., on March 21, he dropped out after 112 laps in 19th place with an oil pressure problem. Menard said it will be at least a year until he feels his CART team will be competitive enough to contend for a win. He holds a different view for the Indy 500. "We want a win at Indy," he said. "We want a one-two finish." Menard's full-season Pep Boys Indy Racing League driver is Texan Greg Ray, who got the call to replace the NASCAR-bound Tony Stewart. Ray notes that although both teams have Menard involvement as a car owner, they mostly will be separate entities. "They're running different chassis, and they have a different team," said Ray, who started in the middle of the front row in last year's 500. "We've all sat down and said we are going to collaborate and try to help one another. Considering the circumstances and equipment, I'm not sure how helpful that's going to be." Gordon sees the Pep Boys Indy Racing League and CART cars as being close in the way they're built -- the balance, tire stagger, seating arrangement and steering-wheel placement. He noted that the big differences are in the wing geometry but feels he will have sufficient practice before the race to become comfortable with them. This will be his fifth Indy 500. In 1997, Gordon drove for Felix Sabates in NASCAR Winston Cup, and Sabates also fielded a car for him at Indy. Gordon says this will be easier, especially since the two races are on separate days and only 300 miles apart. "You're running both of them on high-speed tracks," he said. "That'll make it a lot easier. I mean, they're open-wheel cars. "I think a good goalpost right now is Greg Ray, who won the pole last weekend (at Phoenix), and we're within a mile (mph) of him right now." Luyendyk, who won the fastest Indianapolis 500 ever in 1990 at 185.981 mph and repeated in 1997, will be driving the familiar black, white and red No. 5 Sprint PCS-Meijer G Force/Aurora/Firestone for car owner Fred Treadway. Sam Schmidt, a pit spectator Wednesday, was hired as the full-season driver this year for Treadway and placed 27th and ninth in two races. "I was looking forward to today getting into the car," said Luyendyk, who is doing commentary for FOX Sports Net during its league broadcasts. "I'm not really fond of tire testing, but it's something we have to do. Since I'm going to be racing on Firestones, I want to be sure they are making us a good tire that fits our car. So I thought it was important to be here." Early in testing on a windy day, Luyendyk, 45, worked on getting his windshield at a proper height to cut down on the buffeting of his head. Luyendyk said a driver can't determine how the car is reacting when his head is being tossed around, and he needed to get the feel for the new bodywork installed since his last 1998 race. Luyendyk drove the same car that Schmidt guided to ninth in the MCI WorldCom 200 on March 28 at Phoenix. That car will be Schmidt's primary ride at Indy. "I think we'll be up to a fast speed here, because it feels good," Luyendyk said. Despite the 5 1/2-month layoff, Luyendyk said the rustiness rapidly disappears. "You usually get all those senses and feel that you need to know what's going on with the car and the track, and the wind like today, it comes back pretty quick," he said. "I've been driving a little bit in the offseason in shifter go-karts, and you really have to be fast and precise to go fast in those. And those kept my reflexes up a little bit. But I feel good in the car right away."

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Tony Stewart , Robby Gordon , Greg Ray , Eliseo Salazar , Arie Luyendyk , Sam Schmidt , Felix Sabates