PORTLAND, Oregon – The 2018 Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires season could be remembered years from now as the official rise of Rinus VeeKay.
The 17-year-old Dutchman enjoyed a phenomenal campaign for Juncos Racing, capturing six poles, seven wins and 10 podiums in 16 races en route winning the title.
However, the achievement wasn’t without adversity.
VeeKay opened the season with a weekend sweep in the doubleheader on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida, but the next seven races saw VeeKay reach the podium just once. The tide turned dramatically in July. Starting with the doubleheader weekend in Toronto, VeeKay ran off five consecutive victories to climb into the championship lead that he never relinquished.
“It's been a chaotic, but enjoyable season,” VeeKay said. “I had a lot of fun with my teammates, Carlos (Cunha) and Robert (Megennis). I just enjoyed every minute with the team at Juncos Racing. They got the car right and they are just like a big group of friends and family.”
Making VeeKay’s victory streak more impressive was the fact they came on a street circuit (Toronto sweep), permanent road course (Mid-Ohio sweep) and an oval (Gateway). The success, VeeKay said, was due in large part to the experience he gained last year driving in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda – the first rung of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder system.
“Just because you've (already) been on a lot of tracks that we go to this year,” VeeKay said. “But also just driving-wise, you get more experienced, you get better at handling the car.
“You get better at your feedback and that's what I really learned this year – to get good feedback out of the car and make it my car instead of the team's car. So it's been pretty enjoyable.”
VeeKay delivered the second consecutive Pro Mazda title and fourth overall for team owner Ricardo Juncos, whose team has become adept and finding and developing strong talent.
“We started the season with the three drivers, all three good drivers, and they push each other in the beginning, and I think that was the key,” Juncos said. “When you have a good driver lineup, you can do that.
“Rinus, for the second half of the season, he just dominated. He was so focused and executed everything. He started the relationship-building with the team and him, and really more and more with engineers. So now we saw more clicking and I think that was a key in this championship.
“Every championship is different and it's so hard to win it, so obviously I'm very happy.”
A common thread with Juncos through its successful Mazda Road to Indy years has been loyalty. After winning Pro Mazda championships with Juncos Racing, both Spencer Pigot (2014) and Victor Franzoni (2017) remained with the team as they progressed to the top rung of the ladder, Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires.
Juncos’ focus is to do the same with VeeKay.
“No question,” Juncos said. “I would love to have Rinus with us in Indy Lights.”