Get Up to Speed With Indy 500 Champ Arie Luyendyk
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because he’s the fastest Dutchman we’ve ever met.
He moves with the swagger of a two-time Indianapolis 500 champ and eschews handshakes for kisses and fist bumps. Born in Sommelsdijk, the Netherlands, Arie Luyendyk — aka “The Flying Dutchman” — is now based outside of Phoenix. At 62, the Indy 500 qualifying speed record holder still refuses to slow down: He continues touring with IndyCar, helms the Pace car at races and coaches drivers.
We recently had a chance to catch up with Luyendyk at the Goodwood Revival in West Sussex, England, where he took part in the weekend’s classic car racing. While he didn’t win, he still happily talked to OZY about speed, safety and his passion for motor sports.
OZY: What matters more for winning, car or driver?
Arie Luyendyk: If you don’t have a good car, a good driver’s not going to win. If you don’t have a good driver, you’re not going to win with a good car. [laughs] So it’s a combination of both, but I would say that the car has to be good in order to win. It’s a team sport when it comes down to it — not only driving but also engineering, getting the car to work well for you, the handling and engine performance.
OZY: Engineers are really hoping that next year — for the 100th edition of the Indy 500 — they’ll enable a driver to break your record. Do you think they will?
A.L.: It’s really hard to say, because this year they had thoughts of maybe breaking the record, but then they had some huge accidents, and they reduced the horsepower and changed some things on the cars aerodynamically so that they couldn’t break the record. I hope they don’t just focus on the record, because the 100th running is not about the record; it’s more about the race. I think the fans would flock to the gates on Saturday if they know the record is going to be broken. The fans still love to see the high speeds.
OZY: Will we see electric cars on the Indy 500 track?
A.L.: That’s quite a possibility because they have an electric Formula championship. It’s called the Formula E Championship, and there are a lot of prominent ex-Formula One drivers and ex-sports car drivers who race in that. They start the race in one car, then they have a mandatory pit stop and they actually get out and into another car. The first car can’t last with its battery, so they have to use another car. Electric cars could definitely be something of the future.
OZY: Any other engineering changes we might see in the future?
A.L.: The closed cockpit thing has been discussed many times, but the problem is that if the driver lands upside down and they can’t get him out because there’s a canopy, then the canopy becomes a death trap. There’s a lot of pros and cons with canopies. But I would say it’s definitely something that might be at Indy in the future.
OZY: You’ve had an accident before in qualifying, and then we’ve had the recent death of Justin Wilson, just reminding everyone how dangerous racing can be. What are the most significant developments in terms of safety on the IndyCar circuit?
A.L.: Well, despite all the safety things they put into the cars and tracks, there are still big accidents. Unfortunately, poor Justin was hit by a piece of a car. One of the drivers crashed, and the car lost a nose, and the piece went flying through the air and hit him in the head. And that was just being, really, at the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s a freak accident and those things rarely happen.… The wheels used to bounce off the race cars, but they made tethers so the wheels stay with the car rather than fly into the stands. Now everything is tethered — except for the nose box. So I think they’re going to do that as well. They always learn from these accidents.
OZY: Are there any up-and-comers we should keep an eye on?
A.L.: I could mention, from my own country, Max Verstappen, who’s in Formula One right now. He’s only 18 and he’s done some amazing things this year. I think he’s gonna be the star of the future on a global basis.
An earlier version of this story misidentified the Pace car.