IRL: Arie Luyendyk still enjoys the Indy 500

Indianapolis, IN, May 24 - Arie Luyendyk is back at the 500 for his 17th time. His first time was 1985, when he was Rookie of the Year. He's been back (and in the race) every year since then, except 2000, when he tried retirement. Arie had ...

Indianapolis, IN, May 24 - Arie Luyendyk is back at the 500 for his 17th time. His first time was 1985, when he was Rookie of the Year. He's been back (and in the race) every year since then, except 2000, when he tried retirement.

Arie had problems qualifying for this year's race. Between bad weather and a last-minute engine change during qualifying, he wound up 24th on the grid. Gearbox problems made yesterday's final practice less than enjoyable. Despite these difficulties, Arie is confident and looking forward to what he considers to be the best moment in racing, getting into the car on Sunday morning.

"Just walking out there and getting ready to sit yourself in the car," he explained. "That's always the biggest thrill of any race I've ever run. It's still there every year. That's what I always look forward to, and that's what makes it special."

During his retirement from racing in 2000, he worked as a race commentator. But watching the start of the 500 that year brought back the feeling, and the knowledge that he was not done with racing.

"(It was) enough to want to come back. That was the moment when I said to myself 'I want to race again here.' That moment, being up in the booth two years ago, in 2000, that's when I realized I really missed it."

At 48, he's the oldest driver in the field. There are inevitable comparisons with the new generation of younger drivers and whether an "old man" is still fit to drive. Arie does not consider himself to be all that old, nor does he consider the new drivers to be all that young.

"A lot is made of young drivers, and rookies," he explained, "but the young drivers these days have been around so long - they start racing karts at 8 or 9 or 10, and by the time they're 20 they have a wealth of experience and are pretty level headed.

"They have a lot of adrenalin and they make Betty ballsy moves, of course. But there's always a balance between being too aggressive and being somewhat conservative and relying on your experience. I have a lot of experience and I probably won't make the really last ditch kind of effort. But it also depends on what you're going for. If the race is on the line with 10 laps to go, I'll probably be as aggressive as any 20 year old out there.

"I don't feel old at all."

Getting in shape is not a problem for him, either. "The very first time I get in the car," he admits, "I'm pretty stiff. But it gets less and less as I drive more and more. That's another thing about Indy. It's not just a weekend event - it's a month. You get to drive hundreds of laps. That's why I can do this race."

Despite starting 24th, and being 31st on the time charts in yesterday's final practice, he was satisfied with how his car handled and feels good about the race. What occupies his mind is strategy, and how to overcome an eighth row starting position in a very strong field.

"This looks like one of the best fields that's been here in a long time. The teams are all high quality teams. Starting back in 24th, it's not going to be a matter of just having a good car and driving to the front. It's going to be quite a bit of strategy, some luck with the yellows, maybe not coming in when everyone else comes in to gain track position. Of course then you have to have the break of a yellow in the end. For me, starting back there is going to be tough because it's such a strong field.

"I've always enjoyed starting as close to the front as possible because of the fact that back in the last couple of rows you're behind so many cars that the turbulence is unbelievable the first few laps. The methanol that gets into your eyes. The dust, too. It's amazing how they clean the track here, but yet when they get all these cars together and they're running in places that they never really run, there's quite a lot of dust kicking up in the air. You get it all in your face in the back of the field. I'd rather be up front.

"Strategy... We lay out plans: if there's a yellow on lap such, we do this. If there's no yellows you stop within your fuel window. You have a possibility of different strategies, based on what happens out there. You don't have just one plan. You have many plans. If my car is unbelievable and I can drive in the first 10 laps from 24th to 15th and it looks like we're picking them off one by one, we might not go to the plan where there's an early yellow and when others come in we don't. If we're not making much improvement, then you stay out and gain track position and then you hope for another yellow. You just have to play it by ear, based on how good your car is.

"I will probably be in traffic more than by myself. It will take quite a while before the field stretches out, or it might not even stretch out at all. It usually takes a couple of laps, once everything is up to where it should be, the temperatures and the pressures are, then you know what you have."

Despite the challenge, the Flying Dutchman would rather be here than anywhere else. It's Indianapolis. "It's always been great to be part of the race. The race is made by the drivers and teams, of course, but Indianapolis stands alone as a great event."

Be part of something big

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Arie Luyendyk