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IROC: Luyendyk, Stewart Take Stock in IROC Chances at Indy

28 July 1998

Arie Luyendyk
INDIANAPOLIS, -- They know their way around the big, old place. But this time, they aren't quite sure what to expect.

Arie Luyendyk and Tony Stewart are more than a bit anxious as they prepare for the first ever visit of the True Value Firebird International Race of Champions (IROC) at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 31, anxious because the tour now comes to their turf.

The four-race IROC series features 12 championship drivers from various types of motorsports, racing in identically prepared Pontiac Firebird Trans Am stock cars.

Luyendyk, 44, is a two-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 (1990 and 1997). Stewart, 27, is the defending Pep Boys Indy Racing League champion and the 1996 Indy 500 Bank One Rookie of the Year.

Stewart is seventh in the IROC point standings with 28 points. Luyendyk is ninth with 22. The four-race IROC series ends at Indy.

"I really don't think it will be a drafting track," Luyendyk said. "I think we'll see less of that than we have at other tracks. We should see lots of door-to-door racing, and I'm comfortable with that.

"With fenders, you can lean against each other a little, it's not the same as our cars."

But Luyendyk admitted that he enters the event at a decided disadvantage despite his years of experience at Indy.

"The stock car drivers have an advantage because they drive a car with a similar feel," he said. "For them, it's nothing new. For us, by the time you get into a car and adapt, you have to catch up."

Stewart, who has appeared in a number of NASCAR Busch Series events this season, agreed.

"It's pretty much the same thing we've had, the guys that have ran Winston Cup cars there have an advantage," he said.

"The Cup guys run these cars 33 weeks a year, some of them for 10 or more years now. There's a lot of depth and experience there. You don't learn that overnight."

In spite of all of this, both Luyendyk and Stewart are excited about what they expect to see July 31.

"This will be really cool, really different," said Stewart. "I like moving into lots of different cars, and this is along that line.

"There will be some drafting, everywhere we go with this series we've seen that. It should be a lot of fun."

Said Luyendyk: "I look at the series as trying to have fun and trying to stay with the group ahead of you. It's a crapshoot because there's so much shuffling at the end, so it's important to stay with the lead pack.

"It doesn't take long to get up to speed in the car itself, but you have to learn the racing a little bit. As you get going you tend to pick up speed because you learn to drive the car in deeper, that's where you pick up speed.

"You might see a guy break away or see groups form and run together. It will be very difficult to pass. Someone will have to be out front when the turn ends because it's pretty narrow at the exit of the turns. It will be very interesting, to say the least."

Both drivers now have multiple Indy 500 starts under their belts, but they insisted that adapting to the stock cars requires a completely different style of driving at the famed 2.5-mile oval.

"You have to change many things," said Luyendyk. "The cars are heavier, and your approach and exit of the turns will be different, and your passing opportunities are different. You have to adapt."

Stewart pointed out that "the way you drive the car so differently with a full-bodied car requires a complete change. It's the same racetrack, that's true, but you can't jump into the stock car and drive it the same way you do an Indy car around this place.

"A few years ago, guys like Arie and I would have an advantage because we've ran here before. But now, with the Brickyard 400, these (stock car) guys have a lot of experience here as well."

Stewart admitted that the more he races stock cars, the more it helps him as a race driver.

"A lot of the things I learned in the IROC car have helped me in the Busch car, and vice-versa," he said. "It just comes back to seat time, you just can't get enough seat time. There's no substitute for experience when it comes time to race."

Seat time, said Luyendyk, was something he hoped to gain by race day.

"I haven't yet been in an IROC car at Indy for testing, but I really hope to do that early in the week," he said. "If I don't get any practice before Friday, I'll be at a disadvantage."

Despite their desire to do well, both Luyendyk and Stewart said their primary goal with the series is to have fun.

"Obviously, I'd like to win one of these, but they're not easy," said Luyendyk. "You always try to do the best you can and have the best finish you can, and once you're in the car it gets serious.

"But it's a fun atmosphere, and it's fun racing with guys from other series."

Stewart pointed to the level of talent represented by his fellow IROC competitors, and said that is a big factor in his enjoyment of the series.

"Knowing all the guys we compete with are top-notch in their (respective) series, it makes it pretty special," he said. "That's what makes this series fun, because you're going up against the guys that are the stars in their class."


Event schedule: The inaugural IROC at Indy race is scheduled to start at 1:30 p.m. (CDT) July 31.

Practice sessions will start at 10 a.m. and 5:05 p.m. July 29, and 8:30 a.m., 12:05 p.m. and 4:50 p.m. July 30.

Broadcast schedule: The IROC at Indy will be televised on ABC at 4:30 p.m. (EDT) Aug. 1.

IROC tickets: General admission tickets for the IROC at Indy event July 31 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway are available for $25 from the IMS ticket office. Ticket forms can be obtained by calling (317) 484-6700.

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