NTT IndyCar Series rookie, Rinus VeeKay, has hailed his second outing in the championship as the best race of his career. VeeKay took his #21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet to fifth-place at the GMR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway after having started down in eighteenth.
VeeKay entered the weekend of his second-ever NTT IndyCar Series hoping that he would not have a repeat of his debut weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. Rinus crashed early in practice for June’s Genesys 300 and was forced to miss qualifying as a result of the damage. Then, VeeKay would be involved in an incident early on in the race when fellow rookie Alex Palou crashed in front of him. Rinus was unable to avoid hitting Alex, with both drivers then being sent into the inside wall and, subsequently, into race retirement.
“Texas was really tough,” Rinus said of the Texas race. “It was a nightmare to me. Everything I didn’t want to happen, happened to me. It was all on myself. I had a good month to think about it and reset my mind.”
In the sole practice session for the event, VeeKay would complete thirty-six laps and would post the seventeenth-fastest time; with just under a tenth separating him from his team-mate, Conor Daly, in twentieth. Qualifying would not go his way, however, with Rinus only managing to complete one lap on the Firestone alternate tyres when he and the team had intended to run twice. His lap-time of 1:10.7070 would only be good enough for ninth-place in the session, thus seeing him fail to advance to the next round and forced to start the race from eighteenth place.
“It was a tough first qualifying in INDYCAR,” VeeKay said on Friday. “We had a pretty good first run on blacks, then went to reds. I anticipated having two flying laps, but at the end of my first one I caught the checkered. It’s a bummer. I think there was more time the car if we’d had a second lap. We’re starting 18th, which isn’t where we wanted to be, but we’ll make the best of it.”
The strategy for much of the field heading into the race had been to try and complete the event with just two pit-stops. However, high temperatures and tyre degradation would make this very difficult. As a result, many abandoned the two-stop strategy early in favour of a three-stop strategy.
The first driver to move onto a three-stop strategy would be VeeKay. He would pit early on lap five and would soon be followed by much of the field when Scott Dixon pitted and started lighting up the time-sheets with excellent laps.
VeeKay’s laps on fresher rubber paid off. By lap twenty, he was up into the top ten as more cars came into the pits and emerged behind him. He would make his second stop of the race on lap thirty-one, just three laps prior to a caution caused by Arrow McLaren SP‘s Oliver Askew.
With the second pit-cycle halfway completed at the time of the caution, those who had not yet made their stops were forced to do so during the yellow flag. This would cycle those who had already pitted towards the front, with VeeKay taking the restart in sixth place. He would soon pass his team-mate, Daly, who was running slower on the two-stop strategy, to take fifth-place before making his final stop and dropping outside of the top ten. However, once the rest of the field pitted for the last time, he would cycle back into the top five once more.
In the end, VeeKay would cross the line to hold onto his fifth-place despite a late challenge by Marcus Ericsson. Post-race, VeeKay would be delighted with his performance, with the Dutchman claiming to be “the happiest guy on earth.”
“I drove the best race of my whole career!” VeeKay said on Saturday. “The team just gave me a great car, great strategy to go from P18 to P5. I drove my butt off! I have never been this tired after a race, but that’s what you get when you give 110 percent. Thank you to my guys and everyone at SONAX and Autogeek. I’m the happiest guy on earth right now!”
“Even this morning, I knew I had a good car. But we really nailed the strategy, and I felt great driving the car, too. I felt super confident and super controlled in the car.”
VeeKay went on to praise the strategy he was given in the race, saying that he believed he could have even stood on the podium had the chips fallen slightly better.
“We were the trendsetters with this setup,” VeeKay said. “Once I got into pit lane, almost all of the other guys went. It was a great call by them. It was super professional.
“I felt comfortable with the car. I started on the blacks and went the rest of the way with reds. It suited the car. The car/driver combination was incredible today. We made the switch around Lap 6, and that is what I planned to do with the team. It all worked out. With a little more luck, we could have had a podium. I’m super happy. P5 is the best we could do today.
After the disappointment at Texas, VeeKay had been on the receiving end of some criticism from his team boss, Ed Carpenter. Rinus spoke after Saturday’s top-five finish that he had taken Carpenter’s advice and put it to good use at Indianapolis.
“Ed really let me know what I did wrong after Texas,” VeeKay said. “It was the right thing for him to do. He is the team boss and the leader. He made sure I learned from my mistakes. Looking at this race, I really learned from my mistakes. In this race, I made a few calls that may not have been the smartest at the time, but I’m still learning.
“To get a top-five, I’m super happy. It’s an amazing weekend to start off my INDYCAR road course debut. I can’t wait to go to my favourite track, Road America, for a doubleheader next week.”
The REV Group Grand Prix weekend will consist of a pair of NTT IndyCar Series races. The first will take place on Saturday, July 11, with the second following on Sunday, July 12. VeeKay will enter the weekend with confidence having previously won at Road America in Indy Lights last year.