This is Part 2 in a two-day introduction to new Ed Carpenter Racing driver Rinus VeeKay.
Rinus VeeKay made the move in 2018 to Juncos Racing, winners of the 2015 and 2017 Indy Pro 2000 Championship, and the move paid dividends immediately as VeeKay swept the season opener in St. Petersburg, Fla. But by the halfway mark of the season, the title chase began to look like a movie he’d seen before, as the struggle for pace placed him once again into a back-and-forth battle, this time with Canadian Parker Thompson as Askew struggled in the early going.
The team and VeeKay found their way in the season’s second half, reeling off five victories in the final seven races to capture the championship title – and the Mazda scholarship that earned VeeKay entry into the 2019 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires season. At season’s end, his tally included six poles, seven victories and 10 podiums in 16 races.
“We started so well, with the sweep in St. Pete, but it went downhill so quickly, with no podiums in six races,” he said. “The team and I worked so hard to get back on top and the speed was just amazing in the second half. To make such a comeback, from over 40 points back to over 60 points ahead, was a great learning experience.”
Early in the 2019 Indy Lights season, it became clear that this would be another VeeKay/Askew fight for the title as both drivers earned three victories in the first nine races of the season. Askew then went on a tear, capturing four straight wins, but he could not distance himself from VeeKay, who finished on the podium in all but one of those races. Despite VeeKay’s sweep of the season finale at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, he could not make up the ground, finishing 21 points back with six wins, seven poles and 14 podiums in 18 races. While he regrets the lost scholarship opportunity, VeeKay knows how much the experiences of 2019 have contributed to the success he is now experiencing.
“I think I’ve really grown this season,” he said. “I had a few bad starts early in the season and had some issues to overcome, but I think I’ve done that. I’ve gotten more confident and gained so much more experience, and that will all help me next year. I’ve gotten a year older and my English has gotten way better.”
And while VeeKay would prefer to see the championship victories weighed more in his favor, he believes that his rivalry with Askew has helped shape him into the driver he is now.
“Trying to beat Oliver Askew and Andretti Autosport was one of the things that kept pushing me to get better and better – and I think I pushed him, too,” he said. “It’s one of the instances when you can learn from your rivals. I beat him, but he beat me a lot as well. We make each other better.
“I’m always trying to do my best no matter what, but you can’t help but look to see what the other guy is doing. Oliver was always someone I looked to as a reference, even when we were racing against each other in karting. We’ve been competitive in karts and on every step of the ladder, and I think that’s good for the series. It shows how similar the cars are and that a driver has to be a true contender. If you’re fast and if you progress, you can move up.”
With the rulebook providing additional test days for NTT IndyCar Series teams testing Indy Lights drivers, VeeKay earned two opportunities with Ed Carpenter Racing: the first back in August at Portland International Raceway, and the second last month at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. VeeKay once again found that the Road to Indy program had laid the foundation for him to progress to that final step on the ladder, as he was able to get up to speed in the Indy car in impressive fashion.
“Every step is very well planned, from car to car,” he said. “The steps you go through, to progress from the Tatuus to the Dallara, from a normally aspirated car to a turbo, each step gets quicker and that really helps a driver evolve. Especially this last step – the Indy car handles somewhat similar to an Indy Lights car, just with more of everything. You can really feel the brakes, the downforce, the tires and the power, but it’s right in step with the progression you’ve already had. You go into the corner with 30 mph extra in the Indy car. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not easy, but it’s a reasonable jump from the Indy Lights car. “
Ed Carpenter noted VeeKay’s impressive speed and ability to adapt quickly to the Indy car.
“His pace, feedback and demeanor inside the car was very impressive for such a young driver,” Carpenter said. “We’re very excited for the 2020 season to get here and have an ECR car return to Victory Lane.”
Indeed, the future looks bright for this Dutchman. As VeeKay prepares for that final step up the development series ladder, he has advice to those following him.
“Keep pushing and never give up,” he said. “It’s not always easy, but if you give it everything you have, and if you have the talent, you will get there, in any way possible.
“I learned that when I just lost out in the championship in 2017, then went on to win in 2018. I just came up short this year, so it’s not easy at all, but in the end, it all pays off.”