Rinus VeeKay

Last week on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, Rinus VeeKay got his first experience with INDYCAR’s new hybrid system set to debut this summer. If he meshes with the technology, he could be poised for even more special moments at this historic venue.

With so much attention going to the more recognized stars of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, it’s easy to overlook how outstanding VeeKay has been at IMS in recent years, and it hasn’t mattered which circuit was in use.

Since the Dutch driver made his series debut in 2020, he has won a pole and a race on the road course, started on the front row for three Indianapolis 500s presented by Gainbridge and has led five of the past 10 races held between the two tracks.

No other venue on this calendar has been better for him.

“I feel very much at home here,” VeeKay said during the hybrid testing by six teams. “I just get in the car, and it’s like a (natural) thing I do at this track.”

VeeKay was so moved by this week’s return to IMS that he snapped footage on pit lane, posting it to his social media account. He said he rarely does that at any track. But the intimate view of Indy’s Pagoda and Scoring Pylon weren’t just for his followers; it was a soaking-in moment for a 23-year-old driver still coming into his own.

“It’s special,” he said, letting the sentiment sink in. “I’ve run so much on this track that it feels like coming home.”

Don’t forget, VeeKay spent his early NTT INDYCAR SERIES years living literally across the street from IMS. On the balcony of the Main Street condominium, he could see the back of the Turn 1 grandstand, and the sound of any race car circulating around the historic facility would override his thoughts.

VeeKay has since moved out of Indianapolis – and married this offseason – but like so many drivers, he is driven by this place. That he drives for Ed Carpenter, who has a rich history here, is fitting.

Perhaps not coincidentally, VeeKay and Carpenter are among the 16 drivers in history with three front-row starts in consecutive “500s.” Greg Ray and Scott Dixon are the only others to accomplish the feat in the past 30 years. In May, VeeKay can make it four straight, something only six drivers -- Harry Hartz, Leon Duray, Jack McGrath, Tom Sneva, Rick Mears and Ray – have ever done. Mears holds the record with six.

The Sonsio Grand Prix is the next race at IMS – on Saturday, May 11 – and VeeKay has plenty of reasons to be optimistic about it. He had a strong first race of the season, qualifying seventh and finishing 10th in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding, and then he had the third-fastest lap in his qualifying group in The Thermal Club $1 Million Challenge. Yes, his non-points event went awry when he got collected in the first corner of his heat race, but he left Southern California convinced the No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet is fast.

VeeKay’s time on the IMS road course last Thursday was more about getting familiar with the hybrid system and getting the car ready for rookie teammate Christian Rasmussen to take laps in it Friday.

VeeKay was pleased the system makes the car feel “fairly similar” to what he has been used to.

“It’s just a lot more buttons I need to press and a lot more things to go over (with engineer Matt Barnes),” he said. “Some balance shifting on braking, so some extra briefing. It’s just new.”

Still, it felt good to be back at IMS. The next time here will be the series’ Open Test on the oval April 10-11 – another chance for VeeKay to do what he does best, which is excel at his favorite venue.

“I have run well here,” he said, proudly. “The road course is a pretty simple track to be 99 percent fast, but to get that (last) little bit out of it is really tough, (and) most of the time (the field) is pretty stacked up. I think we always do very well on the setup.

“It’s IMS. It’s special.”