Road to Indy Helped Pave the Way for VeeKay at Indy
 August 16, 2020| 
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Rinus VeeKay first appeared on the open-wheel scene at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May of 2016, when the Tatuus USF-17 was unveiled as the first of three new chassis across the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires. The then 15-year-old Dutch karting phenom followed with his own announcement, that he would be heading to America to race that new chassis in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship in 2017.

Rinus quali SONAXFast forward four years and the now 19-year-old Indianapolis 500 rookie continues to grab headlines, as the only Chevrolet driver in Sunday's Fast Nine Shootout. Withstanding the enormous pressure that comes with a moment like this, VeeKay laid down four consistent laps to grab the fourth starting position for next weekend’s 104th running, with a four-lap average of 230.704 mph despite a dramatic change in weather conditions that saw the first substantial wind of the week.

“It was windy out there, which made it challenging,” said VeeKay, driving the No. 21 SONAX Dallara Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing. “I but the car felt great. Ed [Carpenter] really helped me with that, with what the wind would do here, and it really helped me be confident. The car got a bit loose on that last lap and you could feel the wind on the wings, but I stayed flat the whole way and that was my aim. I’m really happy with it – inside Row Two in my first Indy 500 ever! It’s amazing and it’s way above my expectations. I didn’t expect to be in the Fast Nine and to be the only Chevy. It was super close to the front row, but I’m happy to be the fastest rookie. But we still have a lot to do.”

Rinus 1VeeKay garnered an impressive set of oval statistics in three years spent climbing the Road to Indy ladder: four podiums (including a victory at World Wide Technology Raceway on his way to the 2018 Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires title) in five oval races. But even the closest observers were taken by surprise on Day One of Indy 500 qualifying when VeeKay eclipsed his quickest practice runs with an initial lap of 231.789 mph, and a four-lap average at 231.114, to momentarily hold the top spot. The speeds were good enough to eventually place him sixth – and one of only two rookies to make the Fast Nine Sunday pole shootout. His reaction to NBC Sports when he exited the car told the story of his emotions.

“I was shaking before I got in the car! I was nervous, but I went for it. The car has never felt as good as now all week. What a great car!”

VeeKay, along with fellow NTT INDYCAR SERIES rookies and Road to Indy graduates Oliver Askew (the 2019 Indy Lights champion), Pato O’Ward (the 2018 Indy Lights champ) and Dalton Kellett (the 2018 Freedom 100 pole sitter) came into the week with prior experience at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway under their belts. VeeKay emphasized the importance of having that knowledge base going into the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

Rinus candid“Having qualified and raced here in Indy Lights last year in the Freedom 100 really helped me. Indy is the most famous and the fastest track in America and if you have some experience – you know how it feels, how to qualify – it really prepares you for this kind of moment. Mentally, you know you can do it, and that’s key.”

But VeeKay knows the job is not over after qualifying: it’s just beginning. As the highest-qualifying rookie stood on pit lane after his run, he looked over his shoulder at the podium and one of the most famous trophies in sports, the Borg Warner trophy, and tried not to think what his future might hold.

“It’s the hardest thing to say as a rookie, that it’s my goal, but I know we have a good race car. We have to be realistic but it’s the Indy 500, and anything can happen. Ed and Conor have so many starts here and that’s so valuable, to have such teammates with so much experience. I’ll try not to think about it, because it would only distract me, but I think we could be close.”

All photos courtesy IMS Photo

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