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My Favorite Car: Arie Luyendyk

Note: This continues a series of interviews with Indianapolis 500 legends about the favorite car they drove in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” and why, in their words. “My Favorite Car” interviews will appear on IMS.com on Mondays through the spring. Read other installments of "My Favorite Car" here.

Q: What was your favorite car you drove in the Indianapolis 500?

Arie Luyendyk: I had a lot of good cars there. I had lots of favorites. I had a great engineer with Tim Wardrop. Tim Wardrop was a guy that I worked with for the first time in 1987 at Hemelgarn. We were competitive there. He worked with Scott Goodyear when they almost won in ’92. I worked with him at Menard in ’95, when the car was really good. I wanted to really have him as my engineer when Fred Treadway started his team and asked me, ‘Why don’t you put together a team of the guys who you think are the best?’ and I was adamant about getting Tim Wardrop. He’s really the reason why I choose ’96 as my favorite car. Not because of the high speeds but because of the way the car handled, the way the car responded, the window it gave me to drive it. My primary car, I got near a wreck Saturday morning, and something went into the radiator. That engine was cooked, and when the team put another one in, that thing overheated. So, we had to rush to the backup car. The backup car was not as fast, not as good, as handling goes. Then they obviously forgot to weigh the damn thing, and it was 7 pounds light, so I got disqualified from qualifying in the second spot. Then I went back to the primary car, which was a great car all week. We had been going super-fast with it. What I was able to do with that thing in qualifying, I was playing with the lines. As I got going through the run, I kept going a bit quicker. That car gave me the window. I could afford to turn in a little earlier or I could afford to turn in a little later. That car was working like magic. To me, that was the best car that I ever drove at the Speedway. That would be my choice.

Q: You had a lot of laps on that car during practice, right?

AL: Yes. That was the car we were going to qualify with and race with. But then (hole in radiator) that happened on Saturday morning. But that was the car we had focused on. I had not done very many laps with the other car, which I got disqualified with.

Q: When you rolled the car out of the truck, did it feel good immediately?

AL: That was the car I did 239 (mph) on Friday. That car was ready and set up to go. There were no surprises. But when we rolled on the track for the first time with that car, it was immediately fast. 234, 235 – I don’t remember. Then we just kept tweaking at it. Kept doing little things to it. Kept taking downforce out. Every time we took downforce out of it, we would lower it a bit and adjust what needed to be adjusted. Every time you take wing out, you’ve got to tweak it here and there with camber, toe-in and all that stuff. Tim (Wardrop) was just massaging the thing as far as setups. He and I worked together well. He got good feedback. There was one change we made, in particular, that I’ll never forget from the beginning of that week. In the beginning, when we rolled it off, it had a little bit of a tendency to be a little bit positive on the front end. Once we cured that with that change, it was just magical to drive. From then on, it was just fine-tuning it to make it quicker.

Q: When a car is that balanced and smooth to drive, do you know it was that fast even without looking at the readout on the wheel?

AL: You know it because the car is free. The car is not bogging down in the corners. You can set up a car to go around the Speedway flat out, but it’s bogging down. It has too much downforce. You’ve got to the free the car up. It’s all about losing the minimum amount of revs through the turns. So, the moment you turn in when you have a car that’s too planted, you can really hear the engine sound drop. When it’s freed up, it keeps that RPMs up. It keeps that winding up. Initially the RPMs will go down a little bit and as you continue through the turn, the RPMs will stay flat if it’s not free or the RPMs will then start to go up again throughout the corner because it’s so free. That’s what you’re looking for. Whenever you turn the steering wheel, you lose RPM. When I coach drivers, I say, ‘The less you turn the steering wheel and the sooner you can come out of the steering wheel, that’s when you get the RPMs.’ That’s what I could do with that car.

Q: That must be a great feeling to have a car like that.

AL: Yes. I never had a moment with that car, a moment where it was unsettled through the turn. The only issue I had with that car was that it had a little too much push in the beginning of the week, but we got rid of that. Still, it always had that positive feeling the moment you turned in. So, what happened was we were just taking downforce out because when you do that, it’s free money on the straightaway. We got to the point – and I always remember this because Tim (Wardrop) was such a cucumber-cool guy – he said we can’t take any more wing out. He said, ‘What do you think about taking the wing off?’ I said: ‘(Bleep) you, I’m not doing that. That’s easy for you to say. No, we won’t be doing that.’

Q: Did the rules then allow that?

AL: I think they did. Years before, I think (Tom) Sneva tried it.

Facts about Arie Luyendyk’s 1996 Indianapolis 500 car:
Car name: Jonathan Byrd’s Cafeteria/Bryant Heating & Cooling Reynard/Ford Cosworth XB
Car number: 5
Team: Byrd-Treadway Racing
Started: 20th (Set track-record qualifying average of 236.986 mph on second day of qualifying)
Finished: 16th
Laps Completed: 149
Laps Led: 0
Status: Damage
Arie Luyendyk career ‘500” starts: 17 (1985-99, 2001-02)

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