INDIANAPOLIS – For recently turned 20-year-old Rinus VeeKay, Indianapolis Motor Speedway has become his “Magic Kingdom.”
In July, the NTT INDYCAR SERIES rookie scored the first top-five finish of his career in just his second series race. Six weeks later, he became the fastest teenager in Indianapolis 500 history – at 230.704 mph -- while being the only Chevrolet driver in the Fast Nine Shootout round of qualifications.
This week has been more of the same.
Thursday, VeeKay scored his first career NTT P1 Award by winning the pole for the first race of the INDYCAR Harvest GP presented by GMR. Friday, VeeKay finished third in the 85-lap race after leading 15 laps for his first top-three finish in the series.
“First podium, very happy with it, but I think second was possible,” the driver from The Netherlands said. “I’m not 100 percent satisfied, but first podium – couldn’t be not happy with it.”
VeeKay’s 2020 season at IMS has become his personal highlight reel. Perhaps he should try to convince officials to add yet another race to the schedule in November.
“That would be nice,” he said. “This is basically my backyard of my apartment. I wake up a hundred yards from the Speedway every day. It's nice to be fast here on my kind of home track.
“I'm just happy that we have two more races here next season. I'm definitely very excited for that.”
Actually, VeeKay gets another chance at the 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course with Saturday’s back end of the INDYCAR Harvest GP. The 75-lap race is set for 2:30 p.m. (ET) on NBC and the Pennzoil INDYCAR Radio Network.
VeeKay drives for what has widely been considered the track’s home team. Ed Carpenter Racing features owner/driver Ed Carpenter, who has spent most of his life in Indianapolis as a member of the Hulman-George family. Carpenter competes on the oval tracks in the No. 20 Chevrolet, giving the road course driving duties to Conor Daly, a native of Noblesville, Ind.
Although most NTT INDYCAR SERIES teams are based in the Indianapolis area, many of the local fans have adopted Carpenter and his blue-collar, workingman’s team as the hometown team.
Add a youngster from The Netherlands who used to celebrate his Indy Lights victories by clogging in wooden shoes, and this is turning out to be a team with real character – make that characters.
And clearly there is something about IMS that fits VeeKay’s driving characteristics.
“I think the team has a really good car here,” VeeKay said. “I just like this place. I had a lot of practice here in the Road to Indy, which really helped. Yeah, I think I just feel confident on this track. I get a car that goes around quickly, and that makes the job easier.”
During VeeKay’s final stint of Friday’s race, he thought he was too far back on the track to even make it to the podium. But he drove with fierce determination and grit and was able to take over third place from Colton Herta, who had earlier gone into Turn 1 too hard, locked up the brakes and had to drive through the runoff lane before returning to the track.
That cost Herta some valuable time and in the end was enough for VeeKay to gain the coveted position.
“Actually, I didn't think about the podium anymore -- it looked too far away for me,” VeeKay said. “But then looking at my lap times, seeing how fast I ran into those guys, I just tried to do my best.
“I had some extra life in my tires. Unexpectedly, I got to P3 again. I’m very happy with it. I think second place was possible, so not 100 percent satisfied of course. But, first podium is always something to remember.”
Qualifications for Friday’s race are set for 10:20 a.m. (ET) on the INDYCAR Pass on NBC Sports Gold.
“I think tomorrow will be quite the same,” VeeKay said of his car’s pace. “Of course, it’s important to get a good qualifying (run) in. I think we have a good qualifying car. It's going to be tough in the race. Today showed to be really tough with car handling being everywhere.
“Anything can happen in the race. We were green all race today. Might not be tomorrow. Ten laps less, so we will see how that goes. Looking at what we learned today, tomorrow will be good.”