Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Arie Luyendyk--World Class racer, fellow collector and enthusiast

The only driver to win the Indianapolis 500 in both the CART and IRL eras, and holder of most of the major Indianapolis speed records, Dutch driver Arie Luyendyk claimed his first CART win in the 1990 Indianapolis 500 in a stunning upset before becoming one of the most respectable all-around drivers in the United States in the 1990s. Luyendyk initially sought a Formula One career, winning the Dutch Formula Ford title in 1973, the European Formula Ford title in 1975, and the European Super Vee championships in 1977, before eventually switching to race in the U.S. Super Vee series, which he won in 1984. The following year, in 1985, he switched to the CART Series, where he drove for Bettenhausen Racing and he was named both Indy 500 and CART Rookie of the Year for that season. After a very similar season in 1986, he moved to Ron Hemelgarn's team for 1987, where he had one of the best seasons for the team in CART, scoring a podium and four 4th place finishes. Showing great promise he finished seventh in points ahead of Danny Sullivan and Emerson Fittipaldi. In 1988, he moved to Dick Simon's team, where he dominated at Portland, starting and finishing second, and led a good portion at Phoenix. In 1989, he stayed with the Simon team and scored points in eleven of the fifteen races despite questionable equipment, scoring a podium at Portland. In 1990, Luyendyk had his first shot at a potentially winning ride with Doug Shierson Racing, where Sullivan and Al Unser, Jr. had previously won races, and after a couple of decent races to start the season, he qualified third at Indianapolis and claimed his surprise triumph taking the lead from Bobby Rahal on lap 168 and winning by nearly eleven seconds. The race would go down in history as the fastest Indianapolis 500 ever, as he won with a record average speed of 185.981 mph. After a retirement at Milwaukee, he would not finish lower than sixth for the next five races. His excellent first half of the season placed him eighth in the standings, behind the seven major superstars in the series at the time (Mario and Michael Andretti, Fittipaldi, R. Mears, Rahal, Sullivan, and Unser Jr.), but ahead of everybody else. He and Teo Fabi were in fact the only drivers to lead that season besides the aforementioned seven, proving what a stranglehold the top teams and drivers held over this era. The Shierson team shut down after the 1990 season, as Shierson elected to retire as a car owner after winning Indianapolis. Luyendyk's team was sold to Vince Granatelli for the 1991 season.

1991 would be Luyendyk's finest season, as he scored a dominant win at Phoenix, and a win at Nazareth after a late-race pass of Michael Andretti. He also scored podiums at Indianapolis, Detroit, and Michigan. Along with several other points-scoring races, he finished sixth in the CART points, two points ahead of Mario Andretti and well ahead of Danny Sullivan, and he led more laps than Rahal and Fittipaldi, clearly establishing himself as a real contender with the greatest drivers in CART. Amazingly, Luyendyk was not able to find a full-time season ride for 1992, only running Indianapolis and Michigan in a second Chip Ganassi car as a teammate to Eddie Cheever. He retired from both races, but impressed Ganassi enough to name him as his replacement for 1993. Luyendyk scored his best performances at the highest-profile races, winning his first pole at Indianapolis, where he finished second after he followed Fittipaldi past defending Formula One champion Nigel Mansell, who made an error on a restart due to his inexperience in oval racing, and started and finished third for the team. He scored another podium in the season finale at Laguna Seca, leaving him a decent eighth, but not beating Cheever's results by very much. Ganassi would hire Michael Andretti, returning to CART from a failed attempt at F1, for 1994, and Luyendyk was forced to move to Indy Regency Racing, where he did manage to finish second (after starting 26th) at Michigan in a race that had heavy attrition.

Despite his focus on road courses early in his career, Luyendyk moved to the all-oval IRL from its inception in 1996, where he joined the little-known Treadway Racing team. He was by far the biggest name in the IRL when the series started and the only Indianapolis winner to compete regularly in the series. The IRL badly needed drivers and Luyendyk would always be assured of a ride there, which may be why he made that decision. He won the second IRL race ever held at Phoenix from the pole, and he won in dominant fashion. However, he retired from the other two races and was not in contention for the (very short) season championship. He set the fastest qualifying speed at Indianapolis in 1996 with a four-lap average of 236.986 mph, but did not win the pole as it came in a later qualifying session, as his car was ruled underweight in the initial qualifying session. In 1997, Luyendyk returned to prominence in a big way. Although he started with three DNFs in his first four races, he won his second pole position at Indianapolis in 1997, and made a late-race pass on Scott Goodyear to win. That race came under some controversy as a green flag came out ending a caution period with one lap remaining, and the green flag was thrown but the caution lights were still yellow. Goodyear was confused and slowed down while Luyendyk got a huge jump on the restart to win. The following week at Texas, there was even greater controversy, as there were a series of electronic scoring glitches and certain laps were not counted for certain drivers. A.J. Foyt's driver Billy Boat was ruled as the winner, but Luyendyk felt he had won, entered victory lane, and challenged Texas Motor Speedway's Eddie Gossage about the officiating. Foyt then pushed Luyendyk into some tulips, while Luyendyk still challenged the official race result. Ultimately, after an observation of the tape, it was ruled that Luyendyk had in fact won the race, but the whole charade did provide some mainstream attention for the IRL. Those two wins would be Luyendyk's only two wins of the season, but he was the only driver to win multiple races that season, as all the IRL teams in 1997 had wildly inconsistent seasons.

Arie Luyendyk has been a friend to arteauto.com for many years now, and he has graciously allowed us access to many items from his personal collection, including the helmet from his 1993 Indy 500 race, in which he took 2nd Place behind Fittipaldi. We are also featuring several of his ID cards and passes with lanyards from various races and tracks, as well as Racing Suits from his friends, including Didier Theys, Danny Sullivan, Paul Tracy, Jacques Villeneuve, and Stefan Johansson. We also have the autographed gloves worn by Luyendyk in his 3rd Place finish at Indy in 1991, behind R. Mears and M. Andretti.