Luyendyk Blisters Indy 500 Field : Auto racing: Dutchman flies at record-setting pace in victory, his first in an Indy car. Tire troubles end hopes of other contenders.
The most blistering pace in Indianapolis 500 race history blistered the right rear tires of pace-setter Emerson Fittipaldi and would-be challengers Rick Mears and Al Unser Jr., enabling Dutchman Arie Luyendyk to make the Indy 500 his first Indy car victory.
Luyendyk’s winning speed Sunday in the 74th Indianapolis 500 of 185.984 m.p.h. was more than 15 m.p.h. faster than Bobby Rahal’s 170.722 record set in 1986.
The speed was forced by Fittipaldi, the pole-sitter, who led the first 92 laps and 115 of the first 117 while appearing ready to gain a runway victory in defense of his win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year. Fittipaldi was running a record 213 m.p.h. after four laps and the dizzying pace never let up.
But speed had its downside as the swift Brazilian had to make three pit stops to change rubber during one 36-lap stretch while cars were running 200 m.p.h.-plus laps under the green flag. This dropped him one lap down after holding than a half-lap lead earlier. It left the result to be determined by Rahal--who inherited the front spot from Fittipaldi--and Luyendyk.
Luyendyk, driving a Chevrolet-powered Lola for Doug Shierson, passed Rahal on the low side going into the third turn of the 2 1/2-mile rectangular oval on the 168th lap and pulled away to take the checkered flag. In a race more reminiscent of Formula One, Luyendyk’s pass of Rahal was the only one during the entire race involving the lead car--except during yellow flag situations when the leader went in for a pit stop.
A shirt-sleeved crowd of more than 400,000 jammed the Speedway on one of the few sunny days during a rainy May in Indiana to watch Luyendyk, 36, become the first since England’s Graham Hill in 1966 to win his first Indy car race at Indianapolis.
Rahal finished second, 10.7 seconds back. Fittipaldi, who got his lap back by passing Luyendyk four laps from the end, finished third, the only other driver on the same lap with the winner.
“The Woman in Red (Fittipaldi’s name for the red-and-white Penske-Chevy he drives) was beautiful today,” Fittipaldi said. “She just needed a different pair of shoes.”
Unser Jr. was fourth, one lap back, and three-time winner Mears was fifth, another lap behind. Both were also plagued by blistering tires.
Mears, who started between Fittipaldi and Luyendyk on the front row, was the first to be victimized by hot tires. He came in after only 40 laps to get a new set.
“We kept on making changes every pit stop, but the car was still loose,” Mears said. “I thought Emmo (Fittipaldi) was long gone.”
Unser had his problems around lap 70.
“I came out running hard (after a pit stop) to maintain second position, and that’s when my tires blistered,” Unser said. “When the tires blistered, I had to back off if I wanted to finish. Have you ever been sideways between (turns) three and four at 200 m.p.h.? That gets your attention.
“The blistering is not Goodyear’s fault. When everybody’s tires are blistering, then it’s the tire company’s fault. But when first and second (finishers) don’t blister, they’re doing something right and I don’t know what it is.”
Luyendyk had no tire problems and made seven routine pit stops.
Leo Mehl, director of racing for the Goodyear Tire Co., which supplies tires for all the cars in the Indy 500, said that the cars’ set-up was the culprit. The cars are run “loose” he said, and part of the set-up package involves over-inflating the right rear tires.
Luyendyk’s crew used a different strategy. During the race, they put a slightly larger tire on the right rear to give the car better balance.
“Once we put on the big tire, we really took off and the race came to us,” Luyendyk said. “We had fantastic tires all month long. We went 80 laps on some during practice and never had a problem. Our car was so well-balanced that it never blistered the tires.”
Curiously, the fastest laps in the race, two of 222.574 m.p.h., were made by Luyendyk, on lap 162; and Fittipaldi, on lap 91.
“When I passed Bobby (Rahal), I expected a dogfight to the end,” Luyendyk said. “I could handle Emmo, so I used him as a cushion between me and Bobby. I let Emmo pass there at the end when I saw how Bobby was slowing down.”
Despite the record speeds, the race was a relatively clean one with only three single-car accidents. Danny Sullivan spun into the wall on the 20th lap, Pancho Carter crashed in Turn 4 on the 63rd lap and John Andretti’s Porsche barely grazed the wall on the 141st lap. None of the drivers were hurt.
In all, there were four caution periods--the fourth came when Tony Bettenhausen’s car stalled on the track--for 26 laps, and 16 cars were running at the finish of the 2-hour 41-minute 18.248-second race.
Even though he qualified on the outside of the front row, Luyendyk was generally overlooked in pre-race discussions that revolved around Fittipaldi, Unser Jr. and Mears as likely winners.
“I should have made a big bet (on myself) in Las Vegas,” Luyendyk said with a laugh. “I said last week that just being on the front row here was a dream come true. Now, I have won the biggest race in the world, and it’s really unbelievable to me.”
Luyendyk, who has been driving Indy cars for six years, said he picked up the racing bug from his father, Jaap, who raced as a hobby in Holland in the ‘50s and ‘60s.
“My dad’s sort of the A. J. Foyt of Holland,” Luyendyk said. “He still works on cars for other people and rents them out. He’s 68 and he ran three seconds faster than the driver he’s working with--and he’s 21.
“I was a big Formula One fan when I was young. I first heard of the Indy 500 when Jimmy Clark, who was my idol then, came here in 1963. That’s when I really started following the Indy 500, but it wasn’t until I ran out of opportunities to drive in Europe that I decided to come to the United States.”
That was 1981 when he and his father came over and campaigned a Super Vee. Luyendyk attracted the attention of Aat Groenevelt, a fellow Dutchman who owned Provimi Veal, and near the end of the 1983 season Groenevelt offered him a full year of Super Vee racing.
Luyendyk won the series championship in 1984 and moved up to Indy cars with Groenevelt in 1985. He was named rookie of the year.
“I owe a great deal to Aat for sticking it out with me through the years when we weren’t winning,” Luyendyk said. “He helped me keep my dream of winning an Indy car race.”
He drove two years for Hemelgarn Racing and two years with Dick Simon before he was signed last winter by Shierson’s Domino Pizza team to replace Raul Boesel.
Shortly after the move, Shierson received word that his team had been selected by Chevrolet to use its Ilmor V-8 engine. It was a significant development because Chevrolet engines had won 13 of 15 races last year and finished in the first seven positions this season at Phoenix and Long Beach--just as they did here Sunday.
“Doug (Shierson) never mentioned the Chevy engines when he talked to me,” Luyendyk explained. “When we got them, I knew it put more pressure on me, because there would be no excuse if I did not do well. But pressure is what racing’s all about.”
Luyendyk’s last victory was in a Nissan GTP car driving with Geoff Brabham and Chip Robinson in the 1989 12 Hours of Sebring. Before that, his previous win came in a Super Vee race in 1984.
“I said before the race that if there was a track where we were suited to win, it was Indianapolis, and that’s how it turned out,” Luyendyk said.
The best-in-class prize for non-Chevy powered cars went to Scott Brayton, who finished eighth in a Lola-Cosworth.
Former Formula One driver Eddie Cheever, in the Penske-Chevy that Fittipaldi won in here last year, was the first rookie finisher. He was seventh, but Canadian Scott Goodyear was an impressive 10th in a older model Lola with a Judd engine.
“This is only the second oval race in my life,” Goodyear said, “and I finished it at Indianapolis. I didn’t know what it would be like, but this was great. I learned a lot today, especially from A.J. Foyt. I followed behind him quite a bit.
“Like I said, I learned a lot. I felt like I went through grade school, high school and college all in one day.”
Foyt, at 55 the oldest driver in Indy car history, finished sixth, six laps behind Luyendyk.
THE TOP 10 FINISHERS
Pos Driver Chassis-Engine Laps 1 Arie Luyendyk Lola-Chevy 200 2 Bobby Rahal Lola-Chevy 200 3 Emerson Fittipaldi Penske-Chevy 200 4 Al Unser Jr. Lola-Chevy 199 5 Rick Mears Penske-Chevy 198 6 A.J. Foyt Lola-Chevy 194 7 Eddie Cheever Penske-Chevy 194 8 Scott Brayton Lola-Cosworth 194 9 Kevin Cogan Penske-Buick 191 10 Scott Goodyear Lola-Judd 191
UNOFFICIAL INDIANAPOLIS 500 FINISH
Pos Driver Home Chassis-Engine Laps 1 Arie Netherlands Lola-Chevy 200 Luyendyk 2 Bobby Dublin, Lola-Chevy 200 Rahal Ohio 3 Emerson Brazil Penske-Chevy 200 Fittipaldi 4 Al Unser Albuquerque, Lola-Chevy 199 Jr. N.M. 5 Rick Bakersfield Penske-Chevy 198 Mears 6 A.J. Foyt Houston Lola-Chevy 194 7 *Eddie Phoenix Penske-Chevy 194 Cheever 8 Scott Coldwater, Lola-Cosworth 194 Brayton Mich. 9 Kevin Palos Verdes Penske-Buick 191 Cogan Estates 10 *Scott Canada Lola-Judd 191 Goodyear 11 Didier Belgium Penske-Buick 190 Theys 12 Tero Finland Lola-Cosworth 188 Palmroth 13 Al Unser Albuquerque, March-Alfa Romeo 186 N.M. 14 Randy Hillsborough, Penske-Buick 185 Lewis Calif. 15 Jim Scotland Lola-Buick 183 Crawford 16 John West Palm Lola-Buick 176 Paul Jr. Beach, Fla. 17 *Dean Hall Olympic Valley, Lola-Cosworth. 164 Calif. 18 Teo Fabi Italy March-Porsche 162 19 Geoff Australia Lola-Judd 161 Brabham 20 Michael Nazareth, Pa. Lola-Chevy 146 Andretti 21 John Indianapolis March-Porsche 135 Andretti 22 Dominic Fairfax, Lola-Cosworth 130 Dobson Calif. 23 Roberto San Juan March-Alfa Romeo 119 Guerrero Capistrano 24 Bill Fresno Lola-Buick 102 Vukovich III 25 Rocky Pasadena Lola-Buick 88 Moran 26 Tony Indianpolis Lola-Buick 76 Bettenhausen 27 Mario Nazareth, Pa. Lola-Chevy 60 Andretti 28 Raul Brazil Lola-Judd 60 Boesel 29 Pancho Brownsburg, Ind. Lola-Cosworth 59 Carter 30 Tom Sneva Paradise Penske-Buick 48 Valley, Ariz. 31 Gary Monrovia, Ind. Lola-Buick 39 Bettenhausen 32 Danny Louisville Penske-Chevy 19 Sullivan 33 Stan Fox Janesville, Lola-Buick 10 Wis.
Pos Comment 1 2 3 4 Running 5 Running 6 Running 7 Running 8 Running 9 Running 10 Running 11 Running 12 Running 13 Running 14 Running 15 Running 16 Running 17 Radiator 18 Transmission 19 Running 20 Vibration 21 Spin 22 Engine 23 Rear suspension 24 Engine 25 Engine 26 Engine 27 Engine 28 Engine 29 Crash 30 CV joint 31 Wheel bearing 32 Crash 33 Gear box
* Rookie driver
Time--2:41:18.248. Winner’s speed--185.984 m.p.h. race record, old mark, 170.722, Bobby Rahal, 1986).
Lap leaders--1-92, Fittipaldi; 93-94 Luyendyk; 95-117 Fittipaldi; 118-122 Rahal; 123-135 Fittipaldi; 136-167; Rahal; 168-200 Luyendyk.