Al Unser Jr., Fittipaldi's memorable breakdance partner at last year's 500, suffered the same blistering fate as the speed-loving Brazilian. He stayed within striking distance for 150 laps but lost a lap when he changed his tires, then backed off, for the sake of survival, and finished fourth, one lap back. "If I had run as hard as I had been, I would have put the car into the wall," Unser said. "Have you ever been sideways between turns three and four at 200 mph?"
There's nothing comparable to the way a modern Indy Car driver is squeezed and strapped into his vehicle, a fit so tight that all he can move are his ankles and wrists. The buffeting from turbulence on the backstraight literally throws a car off its intended line. As the car screams toward Turn 3 at 230 miles an hour, the track appears to taper, and when the driver reaches the middle of that turn, a force of 65 G's tries to rip him from his protective cocoon of carbon fiber. No wonder tires grow blisters in protest.
After Fittipaldi's blisters did him in, Rahal took command of the race from Lap 136 to Lap 167. Luyendyk was lurking about a quarter mile back, but not for long. When Rahal came up on a pack of four cars, Luyendyk reduced the gap between the two leaders to zero, drafting and darting and weaving and dodging, skillfully positioning the nose of his Lola against Rahal's tailbone. They picked off the four slower cars—what a show those drivers must have gotten!—and then Luyendyk flashed past Rahal and into the lead in Turn 1. After the race Rahal would admit that he had not worried about the Flying Dutchman until it was too late. "I was concentrating on Emerson and Al Jr., and all of a sudden I saw this red car coming," Rahal said. "I really hadn't seen him much. But, obviously, as he went by, he was going like a bat out of hell."
In fact, Luyendyk turned a 222-mph lap while grabbing the lead—and his tires were just fine. "All month the engineers had been telling us our tires were beautiful," he would say. "So whatever we were doing with the chassis must have been right."
Rahal made his final pit stop on Lap 171. Having gotten wind of the trouble other cars were having with chunking tires, he and his crew decided to put on a set of tires they had used earlier in the race rather than chance trying four new tires that might blister. Meanwhile, Luyendyk stayed out on the track, leaving his crew badly worried. For two laps members of the team implored their driver to come in for a pit stop. "You need fuel! Pit! Pit now!" they screamed over the radio. In return, they heard Luyendyk say, "What? I can't hear you." Luyendyk's earplugs had fallen out, and the noise of his 750-horsepower engine was effectively drowning out radio communication. He finally came in on Lap 173, to the great relief of his crew, and went back out just ahead of Rahal. It appeared that the race might become a two-car shoot-out, as it had last year, but Rahal faded as his worn tires progressively lost traction. At the end, Luyendyk was pulling away.
Although Luyendyk, if judged by the numbers, lost for the past five years on the Indy Car circuit, he has been no loser. "Sometimes you've just got to be patient and wait until it's your turn to get good equipment," he explained, retelling an old story. He was the European Formula Ford champion in 1975 and SuperVee champ in '77, traveling and teaming with his racing dad. "He's like the A.J. Foyt of Holland," says Arie. "He's 68 and is faster than the driver he has working for him now, who's 21." The 55-year-old Foyt, a four-time winner at the Speedway, underscored Luyendyk's analogy by finishing sixth this year in his 33rd Indy start.
In 1981, the younger Luyendyk came to check out America and found a patron in Aat Groenvelt, a fellow Dutchman who owned the Provimi Veal Company in Wisconsin. Luyendyk won the Sports Car Club of America SuperVee championship in 1984, and Groenvelt put him in an Indy Car late that season.
"I had a few years without a win, and I know what it's like," Luyendyk said. "So this one is going to last me a long, long time." But now that Arie has broken the ice and has the right equipment, he may find that winning becomes a habit.