IRL: Experience, skill help Luyendyk

EXPERIENCE, SKILL HELP LUYENDYK SECURE SPOT IN INDY 500 HISTORY INDIANAPOLIS, April 8, 1998 - Arie Luyendyk, two-time winner and defending champion of the Indianapolis 500, has been asked so often how his life has been changed by ...

EXPERIENCE, SKILL HELP LUYENDYK SECURE SPOT IN INDY 500 HISTORY

INDIANAPOLIS, April 8, 1998 - Arie Luyendyk, two-time winner and defending champion of the Indianapolis 500, has been asked so often how his life has been changed by capturing the world's most important automobile race that he has developed two answers: the quick one and the real one.

The quick one comes with a smile: "You seem to get recognized a lot more."

The real one is spoken slowly, softly, from the heart: "It's like putting the icing on the cake for any driver. Even though you may have already accomplished a lot in racing, winning that race means that now you have done the ultimate. People seem to respect you more, they put you on a pedestal."

But even that answer does not go deep enough. Luyendyk, who left his native Holland in 1981 to further his racing career in the United States, says: "It's really kind of hard for me to explain what being an Indy winner has meant. When I came to the States, the Indianapolis 500 was the race. Then I ended up winning it, not once but twice. Now it's like I'm part of the history of this race I've always heard about and always thought about. That's something I'm very proud of."

He remembers entering the race for the first time in 1985 and seeking the wisdom of a wizened Speedway veteran and race winner, Mario Andretti.

"I talked to Mario a little bit about Indianapolis, and he gave me one line which I'll never forget," Luyendyk said. "He told me, 'Always respect the place, because it can bite you.' That was some good advice. It wasn't a lot, but it was enough for me to know exactly what Mario meant. I never forgot that. I think about it even today when I'm there."

He paused, and then added: "In racing, you always try to learn from the experienced guys. You always watch what they do."

And now that he is 44 and a wizened veteran himself, Luyendyk is aware that he is no longer the watcher but the one being watched.

"I'm sure the younger guys look at me today, especially at a place like Indy, and say, 'Well, Arie knows his way around. Let's look at what he's doing,'" Luyendyk said.

        "But I'll tell you, they aren't letting up on me just because I'm
older,"  he said with a grin. "They're not giving me any breaks." 

He is correct about that, as proven by last year's 500, when any number of younger drivers did all they could to beat him to the checkered flag. The intensity of their effort, combined with the circumstances surrounding that particular edition of the race, make it a victory he cherishes as much as any other.

With Indianapolis being the first true long-distance test of the Indy Racing League's new-for-'97 chassis and engine regulations, Luyendyk and his Treadway Racing team elected not to test before the month of May and were set to employ a strategy involving as few practice miles as possible in anticipation of reliability problems.

"We went to Indy with the idea that we were just going to run on opening day and see how it went," Luyendyk said. "If we weren't as fast as some other guys, we were going to (More) concentrate on our race setup. Then it turned out that we had the fastest car on opening day, which really surprised us. That changed our focus. We decided we would go after the pole position."

His four-lap average qualifying speed of 218.263 mph did earn him that coveted starting spot, edging eventual IRL season champion Tony Stewart and surprising Italian rookie Vincenzo Sospiri. It was the second Indy 500 pole for Luyendyk in 13 qualifying attempts.

What made it possible, he believes, was that "our experience at the Speedway helped us sort out the new cars quickly. I have run a lot of laps there, of course, and our engineer, Tim Wardrop, has a lot of experience at Indianapolis, too. He's been there with me a couple of times, so together we can come up with a good combination for that track in a fairly short time."

In the race, Luyendyk had to contend with a fierce pack of contenders that included many of the "younger guys" he spoke about: Stewart, Sospiri, Buddy Lazier, Robbie Buhl, rookie Jeff Ward and Luyendyk's Treadway teammate, Scott Goodyear.

"The 500 is a long race, obviously," Luyendyk said, "but when it's as competitive as that one was, with a lot of cars fighting all day long, it goes by pretty quick. Sometimes in that race you get to the halfway point and you say, 'Man it's only halfway?' Well, that never came to mind last year. There was always something going on."

When a yellow caution flag waved with 189 of the event's 200 laps in the books, Luyendyk was running fourth behind Ward, Goodyear and Stewart. But Ward and Stewart were running low on fuel and ducked into the pits. On the restart, which came at Lap 194, Luyendyk stayed close to new leader Goodyear, shadowed him down the backstretch and then took control with an outside pass entering Turn 3.

The move looked absolutely daring, but according to Luyendyk it was actually "pretty easy." "I got a good run on Scott coming out of Turn 2, and I was able to get a good draft from him on the straightaway and pass him just before Turn 3," Luyendyk said.

And that, as they say, was that. The Flying Dutchman had won his second 500 in one of the wildest races seen in years at the fabled Brickyard.

"If you win the race, it doesn't matter to you how competitive it was," Luyendyk said. "But I probably had to drive harder last year than I did when I won the first time (in 1990)."

Now his attention turns toward the 82nd running of the 500, set for May 24. Luyendyk believes his team is up to the challenge. But he has learned over time that when it comes to Indianapolis - where in addition to the thrill of victory he has felt the sting of crashes and mechanical failures - it is wise to temper outright optimism with a sort of gallows humor.

"Last year we didn't work as hard as we could have, and we won the race anyway," Luyendyk said, his face deadpan. "This year we're going to work a lot harder … and we'll probably find ourselves chasing the other guys."

When it comes to those "other guys," Luyendyk admits to having one specific team and one specific driver in mind.

"For sure, Team Menard is going to be strong at Indy this year," Luyendyk said. "I have a feeling, deep down somewhere inside me, that this could be (team owner) John Menard's year. He's been plugging away for so long, trying to win that race, and they seem to really have everything in a row.

"And Tony (Stewart) is obviously very confident in himself. He has already won this year in the IRL, in midgets and everything else he's gotten into lately. So I see Tony and Team Menard as the main competition."

But Luyendyk acknowledges that most insiders probably would select him and Treadway Racing as the outfit to beat. It goes with the territory. With the casual confidence of a man who has already been to the motorsports mountaintop, Luyendyk confides: "Oh, I guess we could be considered the favorites. Because, you know, I've won it before."

He is, as he put it himself, "part of the history of this race," and he does not forget that for a second.

"It gives me a good feeling to know that in 20 years, I can always go back to the (Hall of Fame) museum, and my name will be in there," Luyendyk said. "People will still respect me for what I did at that track."

No question about that, none at all. *** Rookie, open tests: Teams entered for the 82nd Indianapolis 500 can participate in the first-ever open test at the Speedway April 14-18. Rookies will participate in the Rookie Orientation Program on April 14-15, with veterans testing on April 16-17. Firestone and Goodyear will also select teams to participate in a tire test scheduled for April 18.

*** Event schedule: Opening day for this year's Indianapolis 500 is May 10, with a full schedule of activities leading up to race day May 24. Qualifications have been shortened from four days to two this year, combining Pole Day and Bubble Day into one exciting weekend May 16-17.

Practice will take place from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. May 10-15, with Pole Day qualifications starting at 11 a.m. May 16. Bubble Day qualifications start at noon May 17.

Carburetion Day is May 21, with practice from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. and the Coors Pit Stop Competition from 1:30-3 p.m.

The 82nd Indianapolis 500 starts at 11 a.m. May 24. ***

Source: IMS Events

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Robbie Buhl , Buddy Lazier , Jeff Ward , Arie Luyendyk , Scott Goodyear , Vincenzo Sospiri