Rinus VeeKay has showed strength early in his career at Indianapolis Motor Speedway regardless of the track configuration. (Chris Owens photo)

VeeKay Building An Early Legacy At IMS

INDIANAPOLIS – For most of its history since the event began in 2014, the GMR Grand Prix podium was dominated by Team Penske, with Will Power standing as a three-time event winner and Simon Pagenaud taking two of his three Indy Grand Prix wins for Roger Penske’s famed operation.

In fact, those two drivers had split the first six races on the 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, until Scott Dixon won last year’s race on July 4 last season.

That was also the day when a 19-year-old driver from The Netherlands had a spectacular rebound from an embarrassing NTT IndyCar Series debut at Texas Motor Speedway on June 6, 2020, when he crashed twice in the same day.

Rinus VeeKay finished fifth at IMS that day and showed the promise that many had predicted for the youngster. Later that season, he became the fastest teenager in Indianapolis 500 history when he qualified fourth for the 104th Indianapolis 500.

A return to the IMS road course in October for a doubleheader known as the Harvest Grand Prix saw VeeKay claim his first career Indy car pole for the first race and finish third to Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden and Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi.

Although he finished 17th the next day in race No. 2, it was apparent that the driver from Hoofddorp, The Netherlands – whose given name is Rinus van Kalmthout – had picked a great venue to master.

In Saturday’s GMR Grand Prix, VeeKay started seventh, raced aggressively, tracked down Romain Grosjean in a side-by-side battle for position and was in the lead by lap 48 after a pit sequence was completed.

VeeKay began to build a nice lead over the former Formula One driver, who is an NTT IndyCar Series rookie, before he pitted for the final time for four Firestone alternate tires and fuel on lap 60. That gave the lead back to Grosjean, but three laps later Grosjean came down pit road for his final stop.

With VeeKay running at speed on the track while Grosjean left his pit area, VeeKay’s No. 21 Chevrolet easily got by Grosjean’s No. 51 Honda and retook the lead for good.

On this day, VeeKay’s mastery of IMS was duly rewarded with his first NTT IndyCar Series victory.

“It felt like I could drive away from him,” VeeKay recalled. “I heard I had a very, very nice gap to him, so I kind of took it easy, tried to save a little bit of tires, even though it was hard to keep them going. We got there, saved some fuel at the end, and everything was awesome, like perfect down to the millimeter for the team. I’m very happy with them.

“I don’t know how many times in a row they have given me a great strategy.”

On Lap 85, VeeKay took the checkered flag and became the first driver to win a race on every rung of the Road to Indy ladder system, as well as in the NTT IndyCar Series. The 20-year-old driver also became the sixth-youngest winner in Indy car history.

It was a podium without the usual suspects. There were no drivers from Team Penske, Andretti Autosport or Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, although Graham Rahal did a yeoman’s job overcoming from an incident at the start of the race to race his way from the back of the field to fifth at the finish.

Chip Ganassi Racing was on the podium, but it was second-year driver Alex Palou of Spain instead of Dixon. Dale Coyne Racing with RWR was second on the podium with Grosjean in just his third IndyCar Series race.

But it was Ed Carpenter Racing – which has deep roots to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, including team owner Ed Carpenter’s three Indy 500 poles and a second-place finish in the 2018 Indy 500 – that scored its first ever victory at the greatest race course in the world.

VeeKay, a driver who either succeeds impressively or stumbles spectacularly, was in victory lane hoisting a bottle of champagne and one year too young to legally drink it.

“It was an amazing day,” VeeKay said afterwards. “To start with this morning, we started in the warmup fastest lap time. Of course, that doesn’t say too much, but the car felt amazing, very good on the long run, even though we only did Blacks (harder compound Firestone tires). But then we went to the Reds (softer compound), learned from last year because we had many races here, that the reds were very good in the long run. It was great, we had a great ability to pass other cars, and strategy was amazing by the team. 

“Everything was just on it. This is an amazing day, and definitely one I will remember for the rest of my life.”

IMS is becoming an important track for VeeKay. He had his first-ever test in USF2000 there during the annual Chris Griffis Memorial Test in 2016. That started a career with wins on every ladder of the Road to Indy, including the biggest rung of all – the NTT IndyCar Series.

“I like this track, especially when you have a good car,” he said. “It’s always more fun.

“This is a track that really suits me. You’ve got to be quick, but you can also attack and pass, and there’s many, many opportunities to move forward. That’s exactly what I could do today, so I’m very happy.”

Last year, VeeKay was the fastest teenager in Indy 500 history. Should he win the 105th Indianapolis 500 on May 30, he would become the youngest Indy 500 winner ever. Troy Ruttman was 22 when he won the 500 in 1952.

“That’s my goal,” VeeKay said. “We’re working on it. I feel super confident. The first race win is there, and it takes a lot of pressure off, to be honest. Now I can just drive the 500, and I don’t have to show that I can win because I’ve done it.

“Now it’s just going to be focusing on the best possible result. I want to thank Ed Carpenter Racing for everything they’ve done for me so far, and Chevy for the great engines. Indy 500 coming up, lots of power, lots of speed. 

“I’m sure we’ll be good.”