With Win In Bag, VeeKay Ready To Take On The 500

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 16 2021

Rinus VeeKay of The Netherlands became an IndyCar Series winner on Sunday. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

The only NTT IndyCar Series driver poised to sweep the Month of May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway will have a decision to make should he win the 105th running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 30.

Will his bas relief portrait on the Borg Warner Trophy be accompanied by Rinus van Kalmthout, his full Dutch name, or the Americanized Rinus VeeKay?

“Let’s do both!” VeeKay said during a news conference celebrating his first series victory Saturday in the GMR Grand Prix on the IMS road-course. “That’s my goal. Yeah, we’re working on it. I feel super-confident. First race win is there and it takes a lot of pressure off, to be honest. Now I can just drive the 500. You know, 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, and yeah, I want to thank Ed Carpenter Racing for everything they’ve done for me so far, and yeah, Chevy for the great engines. Indy 500 coming up, lots of power, lots of speed. I’m sure we’ll be good. Ed Carpenter Racing makes very, very good Indy 500 cars and everyone is super-motivated. It’s the biggest race of the year for them. But to finish off the Indy Grand Prix just before with a win is a big, big confidence boost for everyone at the team.”

So, allow team-owner/driver Carpenter and his 20-year-old protégé from Hoofddorp, The Netherlands, to dream of adding “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” to their win list. VeeKay earned his first win in his 19th series start, wheeling the No. 21 ECR Chevrolet to a 4.9510-second margin of victory over pole-sitter Romain Grosjean of France. Alex Palou of Spain _ who scored his first series win in the season-opener at Barber Motorsports Park _  rounded-out a United Nations-like podium in third.

“Everyone knew at the team that they could win a race, that we could win a race. But we just had to show it,” VeeKay said. “Today was finally the day, and everyone in the world can see that Ed Carpenter Racing with Rinus VeeKay are race-winners.”

VeeKay became the sixth-youngest winner in INDYCAR history by delivering ECR its first victory since Josef Newgarden won in July 2016 at Iowa Speedway. VeeKay also became the first driver to win in the IndyCar Series and all three rungs of the Road to Indy ladder system _ Indy Lights, Indy Pro 2000 and USF2000.

The victory also continued a remarkable opening five races of the 2021 season, with three first-time series winners _ VeeKay, Palou and native Mexican Pato O’Ward (Texas Motor Speedway 2) _ for the first time since 2013. There also has been a different winner in each race this season, with Colton Herta prevailing on the Streets of St. Pete for Andretti Autosport and six-time/reigning series champ Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing posting a dominating victory in Race 1 at TMS in Fort Worth.

“Amazing day, and definitely one I will remember for the rest of my life,” said VeeKay, who was joined atop IMS’ unique raised Victory Circle by his parents, Marijn and Evelien van Kalmthout. “It’s great to have them over. Of course it’s big to have them here. It’s a lot to take in, but also they worked as hard as me to get where we are now, so it’s great that they can like soak-in this whole experience with me.

“I am very much looking forward to dinner, and especially the dessert (cheesecake). No, it’s amazing to have them here, and I love them, so it’s amazing.”

The 2020 series Rookie of the Year, VeeKay led 33 laps and averaged 116.096 mph. He took the lead for good on Lap 65 when Dixon made his final pit stop in the No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, as he cycled through a different pit strategy than the leaders.

VeeKay managed his gap over Grosjean and traffic over the closing 20 laps as very light rain began to splatter the Speedway. While the moisture never required a switch to Firestone rain tires, it kept VeeKay and the rest of the 25-driver field atop their respective steering wheels.

VeeKay extended his margin over Grosjean to 9.0106-seconds with 10 laps to go. Grosjean, aided by Firestone alternate “red” tires that were three laps fresher than VeeKay’s, sliced that gap nearly in half over the last 10 trips around the 2.439-mile/14-turn circuit but never threatened VeeKay, who also slowed in his final laps to save fuel.

“I was not concerned about the fuel,” VeeKay said. “I just hoped the rain was not going to get worse.”

Grosjean, meanwhile, topped his first series pole on Saturday with his first podium finish in open-wheel racing since 2015 at Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, with Lotus in Formula One. Grosjean, 35, joined Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing in early February after 10 seasons and 179 starts in the FIA’s Formula One World Championship.

“That’s really a good day,” said Grosjean, driver of the No. 51 Honda. “I think we’ve done really good work this weekend. We learned at the start of the race, and we were super-fast. We were a bit unlucky with the slower cars and traffic, but P2 in my third INDYCAR race is not too bad.”

Fans in the massive IMS front grandstand serenaded Grosjean with cheers as he was interviewed on NBC along pit lane. Grosjean garnered worldwide attention and popularity for his positive attitude after miraculously escaping his burning, torn-in-half No. 8 Haas F1 Team car after an opening lap crash during the Bahrain Grand Prix on Nov. 29. Grosjean suffered severe burns on his hands in that accident, which ended his F1 career with the team owned by American entrepreneur Gene Haas.

“It’s incredible,” Grosjean said as he saluted the crowd. “Bahrain, it was horrible, but for my life it’s been a great experience and people really are behind me, and I can tell. I can feel it. The support I’m having is incredible. You only see me smiling here in the U.S.”

VeeKay and Grosjean both used the Firestone primary “black” tires for only one stint, but their strategies differed. VeeKay started on primaries from the seventh grid position, while Grosjean led the field to the green flag on alternates from P1. That choice allowed Grosjean to rocket to a lead of more than four seconds over Palou, driver of the No. 10 Honda fielded by CGR, before both made their first stops on Lap 25.

Grosjean, who led a race-high 44 laps, regained the lead on Lap 28 after the field cycled through its stops. He made his second stop on Lap 43 and switched to the more durable but less grippy primary tires, handing the lead to Ryan Hunter-Reay, running a different pit strategy in the No. 28 Honda fielded by Andretti Autosport.

VeeKay had made his second stop on Lap 36, with a set of alternate tires. He used the extra grip to pass Grosjean for third in Turn 12 on Lap 44. But it was a decisive move because Hunter-Reay and Dixon were running 1-2, respectively, but on a different pit strategy.

VeeKay made his final pit stop on Lap 60, taking alternate tires. Grosjean stopped for the last time on Lap 63, also taking alternate tires, but VeeKay stayed ahead of him in Turn 1 as Grosjean exited pit lane.

“It felt like I could drive away from him,” VeeKay said. “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. But yeah, we got there, saved some fuel at the end and everything was awesome, like perfect down to the millimeter for the team. I don’t know how many times in a row they have given me a great strategy.”

IMS has been the site of several of VeeKay’s domestic open-wheel career milestones. In his second series start last July, VeeKay earned his first Top 5 finish in the GMR Grand Prix. When he returned to IMS in August, Rinus recorded the best qualifying result by a teen-ager in Indianapolis 500 history (4th) and was the fastest rookie in the field. In October, he won his first series pole position, led the first laps of his INDYCAR career and earned his first podium finish on the IMS road-course.

“We’ve seen this win coming for a while with the way he’s driven over the last year and the start of this season,” said Carpenter, an oval-track specialist also prepping for the Indy 500. “The team was great with strategy, but hats off to Rinus for doing everything he needed to do. He didn’t put a wheel wrong and stayed cool under pressure when he got out front. It’s always nice to get that first win and I’m guessing he will see more of them before too long. Very happy _ happy me!”

Two-time series champion Newgarden finished fourth in the No. 2  Team Penske Chevrolet, while Graham Rahal rounded out the top five in the No. 15 Fifth Third Bank Honda fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

Dixon retained his championship point lead, 176-163, over second place Palou. Dixon finished ninth Saturday after starting 16th.

First practice for the 105th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge is scheduled for Tuesday, with subsequent sessions through “Fast Friday.” Qualifying is booked for next Saturday and Sunday on the famed 2.5-mile oval.


Results Saturday of the GMR Grand Prix NTT IndyCar Series event on the 2.439-mile/14-turn Indianapolis Motor Speedway road-course, with order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, chassis-engine, laps completed and reason out (if any):

  1. (7) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 85, Running
    2. (1) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 85, Running
    3. (4) Alex Palou, Honda, 85, Running
    4. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 85, Running
    5. (11) Graham Rahal, Honda, 85, Running
    6. (10) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 85, Running
    7. (14) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 85, Running
    8. (5) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 85, Running
    9. (16) Scott Dixon, Honda, 85, Running
    10. (15) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 85, Running
    11. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 85, Running
    12. (19) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 85, Running
    13. (8) Colton Herta, Honda, 85, Running
    14. (9) Ed Jones, Honda, 85, Running
    15. (18) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 85, Running
    16. (17) Takuma Sato, Honda, 85, Running
    17. (13) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 85, Running
    18. (22) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 85, Running
    19. (20) Sebastien Bourdais, Chevrolet, 84, Running
    20. (24) Dalton Kellett, Chevrolet, 84, Running
    21. (25) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 84, Running
    22. (21) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 84, Running
    23. (3) Jack Harvey, Honda, 84, Running
    24. (23) Jimmie Johnson, Honda, 84, Running
    25. (6) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 50, Contact

Race Statistics
Winner’s average speed: 116.096 mph
Time of Race: 1:47:08.5773
Margin of victory: 4.9510-seconds
Cautions: 1 for 3 laps
Lead changes: 8 among 5 drivers

Lap Leaders:
Grosjean 1-24
Palou 25
Dixon 26-27
Grosjean 28-43
Hunter-Reay 44-47
VeeKay 48-59
Grosjean 60-63
Dixon 64
VeeKay 65-85

Point standings: 1, Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing, 176; 2, Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing, 163; 3, Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, 148; 4, Pato O’Ward, Arrow McLaren SP, 146; 5, Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, 137; 6, Rinus VeeKay, Ed Carpenter Racing, 135; 7, Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske, 130; 8, Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske, 123; 9, Will Power, Team Penske, 118; 10, Colton Herta, Andretti Autosport, 117.



Sunday, April 18 _ Barber Motorsports Park, Birmingham, Ala. (Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing)

Sunday, April 25 _Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. (Colton Herta, Andretti Autosport)

Saturday, May 1 _ Texas Motor Speedway Race 1, Fort Worth (Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing)

Sunday, May 2 _ Texas Motor Speedway Race 2, Fort Worth (Pato O’Ward, Arrow McLaren SP)

Saturday, May 15 _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course (Rinus VeeKay, Ed Carpenter Racing)

Sunday, May 30 _ The 105th Indianapolis 500-Mile Race (NBC)

Saturday, June 12 _ The Raceway at Belle Isle Park Race 1, Detroit (NBC)

Sunday, June 13 _ The Raceway at Belle Isle Park Race 2, Detroit (NBC)

Sunday, June 20 _ Road America, Elkhart Lake, Wis. (NBCSN)

Sunday, July 4 _ Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Lexington, Ohio (NBC)

Sunday, Aug. 8 _ Streets of Nashville, Tenn. (NBCSN)

Saturday, Aug. 14 _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course (NBCSN)

Saturday, Aug. 21 _ World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, Madison, Ill. (NBCSN)

Sunday, Sept. 12 _ Portland (Ore.) International Raceway (NBC)

Sunday, Sept. 19 _ WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, Monterey, Calif. (NBC)

Sunday, Sept. 26 _ Streets of Long Beach, Calif. (NBCSN)


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 16 2021
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