Indy Field Stacked
April 17, 2001 | 12:00 A.M. EST
Among them, two-time winner Arie Luyendyk, CART champion Gil de Ferran, defending Indy Racing Northern Light Series champion Buddy Lazier and former CART champion Michael Andretti. The powerful, productive foursome heads the list of entries for this year’s Indy 500.
The deadline for Indy 500 entries was last Wednesday, but entries postmarked by April 11 were accepted. In all, 50 entries totaling 94 cars were on the final official list, with the bulk of them flooding IRNLS offices in the past two weeks.
Luyendyk didn’t waste any time, though. Treadway-Hubbard Racing entered the two-time winner and rookie Felipe Giaffone on March 1, the same day entry invitations were mailed.
Luyendyk hasn’t competed at Indy since 1999, when he won the pole and led 63 laps before crashing while passing a slower car. Still, he’ll be a favorite in May because he’s a saavy veteran who knows how to get around the 2.5-mile oval.
“My desire to keep racing at Indianapolis has never stopped," said the 47-year-old Scottsdale, Ariz., resident. "You can put it this way: I'm coming back for the love of the sport, and especially, the love of Indy."
Other early entrants included former IRNLS champions Greg Ray, Scott Sharp and Buzz Calkins.
CART team owners Roger Penske, Barry Green and Chip Ganassi return this year, but Ganassi’s one-two punch of Montoya and Jimmy Vasser have been replaced by rookies Bruno Junqueira and Nicolas Minassian.
Both Ganassi drivers passed their Indy 500 rookie test this past weekend, with Junqueira turning in the fast lap of nine rookies participating and Minassian meeting the wall on the front stretch. He was OK.
“I am still learning how to drive this very difficult oval, but every lap that I make I feel more and more comfortable,” Junqueira said. “We were able to turn the fastest lap of the two-day session this morning (219.978 mph) and I think that the car still has a lot more speed left in it.
“I'm looking forward to the month of May. To race here has been a dream of mine ever since I was a child. And now my dream is coming true."
Minassian didn’t come away with quite the same feeling, although he did pass his four-phase test on Friday morning before crashing in the afternoon.
“The car was very fast and easy to drive,” Minassian said. “We went 216 mph in only 20 laps, which I was very happy with. I am feeling fine after the accident but my neck is still a little bit sore. I am going to rest it so that I am 100 percent when we come back here to test."
Penske’s Helio Castroneves also competed in the rookie test, but he wasn’t required to pass the four phases because he has competed in 500-mile races in the CART Series. He participated anyway.
“The weather was definitely a factor, but I need to learn more about this track,” said Castroneves, who nearly crashed between turns 1 and 2 on Saturday. “That's why we're here, to learn more about this place. We still have a ways to go."
De Ferran also will compete under the Penske banner. He has one Indy 500 start under his belt.
Casey Mears, nephew of four-time Indy 500 Rick Mears, Didier Andre, Jon Herb, Brandon Erwin, Cory Witherill and Shigeaki Hattori will join Minassian, Junqueira, Giaffone and Castroneves in the 10-driver rookie class of 2001.
Andretti will try for his elusive Indy 500 win and try to shed the famous Andretti family Indy jinx in the process. The son of 1969 winner Mario Andretti, Michael has led 382 laps of Indy competition, the most of any driver who has not won.
NASCAR Winston Cup castoff Robby Gordon will attempt to right his stalled career with A.J. Foyt. Gordon started the season with Morgan McCLure’s Winston Cup team but was let go after five races and a best finish of 20th.
Gordon has competed in six Indy 500s since 1993. His best finish came in 1999, when he finished fourth. He also has two fifth-place finishes, coming in 1994 and 1995.
Another veteran, Scott Goodyear, will also take a stab at his first Indianapolis 500 win. Goodyear will drive for veteran Eddie Cheever’s team in what could be his last Indy appearance. The 41-year-old was expected to retire after the 2000 season, but Cheever offered Goodyear a ride at Indy.
“I’m delighted to be with the team,” said Goodyear, who has two-runner up finishes in the Indy 500. “I’m having a lot of fun. Overall I think we’re going to be very competitive the month of May. I’m looking forward to it.”
John Paul Jr. returns to the Indy 500 after a two-year layoff. The veteran first competed at Indianapolis in 1985, the same year Luyendyk came to Indy. Paul’s best finish is a seventh in 1997. He’ll drive the No. 81 Zali Racing-Team Pelfrey entry.
1996 winner Lazier and 1992 and 1994 winner Al Unser Jr. are also among the entries, as are IRNLS veterans Jeff Ward, Eliseo Salazar, Billy Boat, Robbie Buhl, Mark Dismore and Jeff Ward.
Sam Hornish Jr., current IRNLS points leader and winner of the first two IRNLS races of the season, goes for Indy start No. 2, as does Sarah Fisher, Jeret Schroeder and Airton Dare.
Also among the entries are 11 cars with no drivers listed. Candidates for those rides include Donnie Beechler, Jimmy Kite, Roberto Guerrero, Lyn St. James, Steve Knapp and Raul Boesel, among others.
IMS opens up May 6 for the first day of practice.