INDIANAPOLIS, MAY 26 -- Emerson Fittipaldi first came to Indianapolis six years ago, bored, retired from a legendary career in Formula One and driving a funny looking pink race car that told people he didn't want to make the commitment or deal with the pressure of the world's most famous auto race.

Now, the 43-year-old Brazilian has the pressure of being the defending champion and the pole sitter at this 74th Indianapolis 500, a race that hasn't had a repeat winner since Al Unser Sr. in 1970 and 1971.

Fittipaldi, who surpassed 225 mph during time trials, is the favorite but not an overwhelming one. When the 33 gentlemen start their engines Sunday (noon EDT, WJLA-TV-7), seven other former champions will be at the start line, five in the first three rows.

All the familiar faces figure to seriously challenge Fittipaldi, including three-time winner Rick Mears running from the No. 2 position, 1986 champion Bobby Rahal running from No. 4 (inside second row), and the Andrettis -- Michael and father Mario -- who complete the second row. The third row isn't too shabby either, with Al Unser Jr., four-time champion A.J. Foyt and 1985 winner Danny Sullivan.

"I would say you have about seven, eight drivers with a good chance of winning this 500," Fittipaldi said. "Rick Mears, Danny, Al Jr., Mario, Michael, Bobby Rahal; I mean, I think there will be a lot of competition there. Arie Luyendyk qualified very well. He's on the front row. He's a surprise to everybody, he's really doing well. . . . There will be many cars running at about the same speeds."

The drivers and crews are having a hard time knowing what speeds to expect, largely because they've been hampered the last two weeks by rain and gusting wind. It has rained virtually every day this week, but it's expected to be dry and less breezy by race time.

If any serious challenge is made from the back of the pack, it figures to come from Raul Boesel (Row 6), who has gotten better each year, going from 18th as a rookie in 1985 to 13th in '86, seventh two years ago and third last year; or Roberto Guerrero (Row 10), who had a shaky qualifying weekend, but in four of his five Indianapolis appearances has finished second, third, fourth and second. His only finish out of the top five came last year, because of an accident just after the start.

Still, everyone in the field will be watching Fittipaldi closely. Only four men have repeated here, but Sullivan said earlier in the week: "Emmo's out there and he's hot. We're going to just have to beat him."

That is the kind of pressure Fittipaldi sought to avoid when he decided to end his retirement in 1983. "When I came here {in 1984}, I took the pink car as a joke. It was funny," he said. "And I think a lot of the drivers took it as a joke. I could not be serious. And I think, for me, it was great to do it that way. I came here with no pressure, no commitment to do well. It was the best way to have the first Indy 500 experience. I think it was great to come with a low key operation."

Sullivan, asked to dicuss why it's so difficult to repeat here, said: "Probably the demands on your time, the functions, the media requests. That's greater here than any place we go. That's the question asked in the NFL, the NBA, every sport. I know with me in '86, I spent so much effort trying to qualify, we ran the car too much. It was so loose, we couldn't fix it. It was my fault."

Fittipaldi, now part of the Roger Penske team, has sought advice from practically everyone in attempting to deal with the pre-race demands. The other drivers have talked about his work habits this week, marveling that this is a man who thought he'd be nearly 10 years into retirement now.

"Well, I do feel a lot of pressure," he said. "It has been very difficult. What I can say is that I'm trying to take the pressure in a constructive way. The pressure made me work harder. I knew before I came back here what I'd be facing. I'm concentrating now more than I did last year. I work more closely with this team than I worked last year. I spent more time in the garage. Always in my garage. I mean, not very often I was walking around or doing anything else except staying with the mechanics, with my chief crew, with Roger, making sure every minute I was here in Indianapolis, I was dedicated to the team."

Of course, all that means nothing if Fittipaldi is the victim of the kind of accident that propelled him to victory last year. With two laps to go, he was wheel to wheel with Al Unser Jr., who went spinning into the wall.

Many people here look for Unser Jr. or Michael Andretti (fourth place last year) to set the pace with their aggressive styles. Unser says nothing else much matters in his life except winning this race, and he and Andretti (bothered by flu all week) are at the stages of their careers at which they are expected to move past their fathers and their peers who have dominated the scene here since the 1960s.

But the golden oldies, especially 55-year-old Foyt with his new Chevrolet engine, and 50-year-old Mario Andretti, who seems invigorated with his son and nephew, John, running with him (another son, Jeff, is an alternate), appears to be as competitive as ever.

The winner, depending on attendance (which should be in excess of 400,000), probably will earn more than $1 million. That, and all that goes with 500 day, as Fittipaldi would attest, are enough to make a man push retirement a little further into the future.

...................THREE CARS PER ROW FOR PACE LAP................

St..Car.........................................Qualif..Indy..Best

Pos.No...Driver..............Chasis-Engine.......MPH....Sts....Fin

1...1....Emerson Fittipaldi..1990 Penske-Chevy..225.301...6....1st

2...2....Rick Mears..........1990 Penske-Chevy..224.215..12....1st

3..30....Arie Luyendyk.......1990 Lola-Chevy....223.304...5....7th

4..18....Bobby Rahal.........1990 Lola-Chevy....222.694...8....1st

5...3....Michael Andretti....1990 Lola-Chevy....222.055...6....4th

6...6....Mario Andretti......1990 Lola-Chevy....222.025..25....1st

7...5....Al Unser Jr.........1990 Lola-Chevy....220.920...7....2nd

8..14....A.J. Foyt...........1990 Lola-Chevy....220.425..34....1st

9...7....Danny Sullivan......1990 Penske-Chevy..220.310...7....1st

10.41....John Andretti.......1990 March-Porsche.219.484...2...21st

11.86....Dominic Dobson......1990 Lola-Cosworth.219.230...2...18th

12.12....Randy Lewis.........1988 Penske-Buick..218.412...3...15th

13.16....Tony Bettenhausen...1989 Lola-Buick....218.368...8....7th

14.25....Eddie Cheever.......1989 Penske-Chevy..217.926.Rookie...

15.11....Kevin Cogan.........1989 Penske-Buick..217.738...9....2nd

16.23....Tero Palmroth.......1989 Lola-Cosworth.217.423...6...16th

17.19....Raul Boesel.........1989 Lola-Judd.....217.381...4....3rd

18.51....Gary Bettenhausen...1989 Lola-Buick....217.264..17....3rd

19.21....Geoff Brabham.......1989 Lola-Judd.....216.580...7....4th

20.70....Didier Theys........1989 Penske-Buick..214.033...1...20th

21.28....Scott Goo year......1989 Lola-Judd.....213.622.Rookie....

22.29....Pancho Carter.......1990 Lola-Cosworth.213.156..15....3rd

23..4....Teo Fabi............1990 March-Porsche.220.022...4...23rd

24.39....Dean Hall...........1990 Lola-Cosworth.216.975.Rookie....

25..9....Tom Sneva...........1989 Penske-Buick..216.142..16....1st

26.22....Scott Brayton.......1990 Lola-Cosworth.215.028...8....6th

27.97....Stan Fox............1987 Lola-Buick....213.812...7....7th

28.20....Roberto Guerrero....1990 March-Alfa....212.652...5....2nd

....................................Romeo.........................

29.15....Jim Crawford........1989 Lola-Buick....212.200...4....6th

30.40....Al Unser Sr.........1990 March-Alfa....212.087..24....1st

....................................Romeo.........................

31.81....Bill Vukovich III...1988 Lola-Buick....211.389...2...12th

32.93....John Paul Jr........1989 Lola-Buick....214.411...1...15th

33.56....Rocky Moran.........1989 Lola-Buick....211.076...2...14th

.........................IN TOP THREE...............

Driver..........1st........2nd........3rd........Tot

Al Unser Sr.*.....4..........3..........3.........10

A.J. Foyt*........4..........2..........3..........9

Wilbur Shaw.......3..........3..........0..........6

Rick Mears*.......3..........1..........2..........6

Mauri Rose........3..........1..........2..........6

Bobby Unser.......3..........1..........1..........5

Rodger Ward.......2..........2..........1..........5

Ted Horn..........0..........1..........4..........5

*Entered in this year's race.