RJ: With some drivers, you ask them how they got interested in racing ? with yourself, it was quite obvious, following your father, Jaap’s footsteps. However, did you ever consider any other career instead of racing, or was it the natural thing to do?
AL: Well, when I started racing, I was really just with my Dad. I’d be with him for his races, helping him out with the car and just there to help. I never really thought at that time about actually racing. We’d just sit around talking about cars and racing, but never really looked into doing it for myself. But then my Dad convinced my brother-in-law to buy a racing car and eventually they decided to keep the car for me to go to the racing school at Zandvoort, which took place over the winter months, and took place over 16 weeks over the winter months so you would race in rain; snow even. So I went ?Sure, I’ll try it.? So, it wasn’t like I always wanted to race from the start, it was always like yeah, I’ll give it a go. But then when I did try it, I enjoyed it so much that it pretty much took over my life from there.
RJ: One of your first major races for you came in British Formula 5000 at a very early stage in your development in Sheridan Thynne’s McLaren M18. What led to you racing in this series at such an early age?
AL: Yeah, well, back then, that was already an old car! A fun team but an old car! Yeah, it came way too early in my career. I’d only had a couple of Formula Vee races, and then a couple of Formula Ford races and it was thought to be a good idea to put me in that car without any testing or anything. I remember that on the Friday, I drove round and I had to lift halfway through the straight because I was a gear too short, that’s what I remember. I was a kid so I kind of just drove round the issue, but I wasn’t very quick. I didn’t know enough. I mean, the way my Dad used to coach me about understeer and oversteer was ?Well, just throw it in the corner a bit harder!? That was how I was coached!
RJ: You tested a McLaren M26 Formula 1 car in 1979. How close were you to ever driving in Formula 1, and was it where you saw your future career?
AL: Well, yes, I did, but it wasn’t really a proper test. It was a one-lap kind of thing, on a car on slicks in the wet, not a proper test at all. I was interested in Formula 1 but in the Netherlands, there wasn’t really the budget to go past Formula 3. I didn’t have the budget to do Formula 2 and so all hope kind of scattered and disappeared. I didn’t have a team of people round me to help me move up at that stage; it was pretty much me and my Dad, self-made guys who weren’t really very good at putting sponsorship together or getting a team round me to go forward. I mean, I wanted to be professional, which later happened in the States, but in Europe, I didn’t have the money. There wasn’t a lot of support in the Netherlands at the time, or not that once-in-a-lifetime sponsor that would take you to Formula 1.
RJ: How did the move to America in 1981 come about as it was quite a significant shift in your career at quite a crucial stage?
AL: Yeah, I started Super Vee in 1981, I was asked to drive, so I went for it. I didn’t get paid and they didn’t pay my expenses but it was an opportunity. So that’s where I learnt the American way, like oval racing, and got really interested in it. Then my next goal was to try and get into Indycars and just focused on that, knowing Formula 1 wasn’t going to happen. I had help from a company that already had an Indycar team ? Provimi ? they sponsored me and with that help, I won the Super Vee Championship and then they put me in the Indycar the following year and I stayed with them for a long time. They were really loyal sponsors.
RJ: Which of the 17 Indianapolis 500 that you competed in was your favourite?
AL: Well, I would have to choose the win in 1990. It was my first Indycar win and it was done with a smaller team as opposed to say, Newman Haas, and it was really a phenomenal month of May back then, as you’d use to practice so much. You’d practice in the rain, you’d practice when it was really hot, because the weather used to change so much. Under every condition, my race car was really well set up and I had a lot ? I would say an extraordinary amount ? of confidence going into that race thinking I would win it... and I won it!
RJ: In truth, were you surprised that you won at Indianapolis in 1990, considering it was your first ? although deserved ? win in Champ Cars?
AL: Well, like I said, I was so confident going into that race from practice that, no not really. It was, I guess, a surprise that I did win because I hadn’t won, but it wasn’t unexpected from me and from my team. We knew we had everything in order to do it, it was just up to me to not get too nervous and screw up and I didn’t!
RJ: During your career in the States, did you have one particular favourite circuit?
AL: I would say my favourite track was Elkhart Lake, which is on the list of many people’s favourites. As far as ovals are concerned, I would say Indianapolis. I would also say what is now my home town, Phoenix, as I won that race a couple of times on the one-mile oval, a great track. I liked Elkhart Lake particularly as it has a lot of fast corners. When I was young, I enjoyed the fast corners, of which there are many, at Zandvoort and the old Zeltweg circuit too, and Elkhart reminded me of that.
RJ: You were one of the bigger names to switch to the IRL in 1996. Why did you decide to switch to a fledging series when you were a top driver in CART?
AL: Well, I’m not afraid to see the reality in racing and the reality was that I couldn’t really get a good ride any more. I was offered a ride, but it wasn’t a great car and I didn’t want to become a test driver, a kind of crash test dummy ? which was one option ? at that stage of my career and my age. Then I had this good offer from the IRL, and I still wanted to do the Indianapolis 500, so it worked out for me. I had a couple of things happen since my first Indianapolis 500 win that stopped me getting a second win, so I was really hungry for that second win, which eventually came in 1997.
RJ: Other than the wins that you had, what was your personal highlight or biggest achievement during your time in the US?
AL: I had a couple of races where I thought I could’ve won ? one of them that stands out was Milwaukee in 1988. I was driving for Dick Simon, which was a small team and Rick Mears was leading lapping pretty much everyone else but I was really close to him, only a second behind and that was really cool. I didn’t finish, something burnt up in the car, and I don’t think I would’ve won but to be second in that position at the time was really good. I felt really good about that, and I also should’ve won at Portland. You know, I never did actually win a road course! Portland, I could’ve won but the car broke down, I lost second gear, and so I had to limp home for second place. The highlight was being so dominant.
RJ: Just touching on Dick Simon there. You raced for him, Vince Granatelli and Chip Ganassi, amongst many others. What are your favourite memories of working with these three gentlemen?
AL: Dick Simon had a lot of energy, he gave people a lot of stimulation to want to perform and he basically made a dollar and 25 cents out of a dollar because he knew how to manage the numbers. But he would skimp on things were important, and so the car would break down. That’s the trouble with Dick because he would run too many cars at one event, say at Indianapolis, he would run five cars and each car would be affected by that overload. He was incredibly enthusiastic, very enthusiastic but not always realistic with that particular aspect.
Vince Granatelli was the probably the most thorough team owner I ever drove for. I think he produced the best prepared cars for me. We should’ve been in the running to win Indy in 1991 but we went a lap down at the beginning of the race and never really recovered but the car was really good. Chip Ganassi I raced for in the early days of his team and he was good to drive for. Sure, we had our struggles. I remember really well we were no good on any road courses and then there was a big change made to the suspension of the car which made the difference, but by then (this was 1993) he had hired Michael (Andretti, who would return to Indycar after a difficult spell in Formula 1) so I never really benefitted. I mean, Mo Nunn, the engineer could be quite stubborn and not always believe the driver when they said about issues with the car. He’d used to sit in the car and say ?This is how you should drive it? and I’d think ?Really? How many races have you won!??
RJ: You’ve won, which often seems overlooked, at both the Sebring 12 Hours and Daytona 24 Hours. Which of the two, for you, was the most challenging and why?
AL: Sebring is more challenging than Daytona because of the track, and especially because of how bumpy it is. It’s a very physically demanding track to drive on. That said, I didn’t really drive that much at Sebring, I kind of jumped in as a relief for Geoff Brabham at a crucial time and I drove round pretty safe, not wanting to lose the win. I always enjoyed the long distance races. I love driving at night so always liked the 24 hour races. The first time I ran it with (AJ) Foyt, Preston Henn and Dan Sullivan in 1986; we finished second in a Porsche 962 and came close to winning that race a few times before I eventually did. I did Le Mans one time; I think Le Mans is a brilliant race track. I don’t think you can compare Le Mans and Daytona, each one has its own individualities. Not a lot of people realise that, because when you win Indianapolis, it is the cherry on top of the cake for so many people, they often forget, but I very much enjoyed winning those two events as they are classics.
RJ: What triggered your return to racing in 2001?
AL: I was stupid. I felt I could still perform at Indianapolis. I was only doing Indianapolis by this time and in the back of my mind, I knew it would be difficult. I was always hoping for the best but it didn’t work out. The team could’ve been better prepared, and in hindsight it was the wrong move, but you know a lot of guys have retired, then they do it again and it all goes brilliantly. But it wasn’t to be.
RJ: Did you want your son to go into racing initially?
AL: Well, it was really my Dad, because my Dad was the one who put him into Formula Ford aged 14 and I asked him what the hell he was doing as I thought he (my dad) was crazy! Arie junior had never raced any kind of kart or anything before. I found out about the plans as I was in America, rang through and said about doing the karting at least, and my Dad said ?Oh, we did karting last week!? and I thought ?Really?!? So, we did go-karting with him and he went from there. He was a good driver, good on the ovals but then he had a couple of really nasty crashes and I couldn’t stomach watching him on the ovals any more. I didn’t feel good.
I’ve never actually told him this but I really didn’t mind when wasn’t able to continue in single-seaters. It’s an age thing, the older I get; the more concerned I get about everyone. As you know I’m a coach, a pace car driver, a safety car driver in the IRL and people like who you just saw there ? Scott Dixon (he passed and waved to Arie in the Drivers Club where we were based) ? they’re all like kids to me. I’m always relieved whenever there’s an accident and no-one’s hurt. That’s why it was so painful a couple of weeks ago with what happened to Justin Wilson, a few years ago with Dan Wheldon (RJ Note: Justin Wilson, longtime IRL driver was killed in a freak accident a few weeks before the Goodwood Revival; Wheldon, the reigning Indianapolis 500 winner died in a multi-car collision in 2011).
RJ: Well, I’ll admit both of them hit me a lot harder than some other deaths, like Bianchi for example, even though I didn’t know them. Justin was the same age as me, he had two daughters like me and I was looking at a picture of the funeral, where his daughter Jane had left a card about how much she missed him and I’ll admit I just burst into tears.
AL: Yeah, that’s the bit I get choked up about, the family. You know when Senna died, I was still racing very actively, and I was very much in that zone and you have to, for your own protection, not really think or see about what could happen. I was in a bubble. But now, now I’m not racing anymore... I never cried about Senna’s death at the time, but when I watched the documentary (the film Senna) about him, I couldn’t help it; I shed a tear and the same with the boys (Wheldon and Wilson). It affects me SO much, especially how it affects the families.
RJ: What do you do nowadays other than racing? I understand you’ve got interest in art galleries?
AL: Well, I used to have an art gallery but it was dedicated to racing and sports. I don’t have it any more. I’ve always had an interest in art; I just like cool things like paintings and sculptures, things that people make. One of my favourite artists is Salvador Dali, I still have a lot of his stuff; I like the unusual things he did and the level of detail he put in.
RJ: What is the attraction, for you, for events like the Goodwood Revival?
AL: Well, it is pretty much everything! I don’t want to go home but my wife does, but I want to stay ? that’s why I gave her the car keys! She’s not into racing at all and doesn’t appreciate all the cars. But I do, there’s so much to see and so many people to catch up with. I love how the people dress up and it’s really fantastic. Lord March has done a brilliant job, it’s like going back into a different era ? the soldiers for example, and it’s just the attention to detail. But next time I come, I’ll come with a buddy who is interested in cars, leave the wives at home and enjoy the racing, and just watch the races. Because, you know, with everything I’m doing this weekend, I don’t actually get the chance to watch the racing and I’d just like to sit and enjoy that. I’ll definitely be back! I don’t think I’ll be the only one ? I mean Scott Dixon is here, but not allowed to race because old cars can break badly, but he’s just here for the show and that says something.
Interview conducted on the 12th September 2015 at the Goodwood Revival Driver’s Club. Many thanks to Arie for his time and thanks also to Jamie O’Leary at Goodwood for arranging.