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Rookie VeeKay Balancing Expectations Entering First Month of May

Note: This continues a series of feature stories focused on competitors in the 104th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge and GMR Grand Prix this May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Stories will appear at IMS.com on Tuesdays and Thursdays through May.

Rinus VeeKay started to pump the brakes in mid-February when he was asked about his expectations for his first Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge this May, driving as an NTT INDYCAR SERIES rookie for Ed Carpenter Racing.

“My first Indy 500 will be something special,” VeeKay said. “I’ve been lucky enough to sign with Ed Carpenter Racing; I know what they’re capable of on speedways, especially in the ‘500.’ It will be very good, I think, for the ‘500.’”

But then Dutch driver VeeKay couldn’t help himself.

He knows he has finished second or better in all three rungs of the Road To Indy ladder, including winning the 2018 Indy Pro 2000 presented by Cooper Tires championship. He knows Carpenter’s three cars started second, third and fourth last year in the Indy 500 and that team boss and driver Ed Carpenter has won three Indy 500 poles.

So VeeKay put his foot back on the gas when it came to revealing his goals for his first “500” start.

“I don’t want to put expectations too high because it’s going to be all new for me … but I want to win so badly,” Veekay said. “I think we have the car to do it, and I think it’s all possible. I’ll do my very best to get the best out of it, and, of course, whatever happens I’ll have the most fun I’ve ever had.”

Who can blame VeeKay for his optimism? Did anyone predict Alexander Rossi would win the 100th Indianapolis 500 as a rookie in 2016? And few, if any, teams have shown more consistent speed around the 2.5-mile oval at IMS than ECR in the last five years.

VeeKay, 19, joins the NTT INDYCAR SERIES full time with ECR after one of the most successful careers in Road To Indy history.

He finished second in the Cooper Tires USF2000 title race in 2017, falling just seven points shy of Oliver Askew. VeeKay dominated the Indy Pro 2000 series in 2018, romping to the title with seven victories in 16 starts. He fell just 21 points shy of champion Askew in the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires title race last season despite winning six races.

VeeKay and Askew have been among the main protagonists in dramatic Road To Indy championship chases in each of the last three seasons, developing a spirited, healthy rivalry. That will continue in the race for NTT INDYCAR SERIES Rookie of the Year honors in 2020, as Askew also has jumped to the big time, with Arrow McLaren SP.

“We both always have been on top of the game in the series that we have driven in,” VeeKay said about himself and Askew. “We always looked at each other as a reference, so we have made each other better all throughout the Road To Indy.

“So, coming into INDYCAR together, we’re both here because of each other. It’s a healthy rivalry. We’re just two drivers trying to beat each other, but we will always have respect for each other.”

VeeKay has a deep background in motorsports. His father, Marijin van Kalmthout (VeeKay is a shortened version of Rinus’ surname), raced in various open-wheel formulas, so young Rinus spent a lot of time as a young boy in motorsports paddocks.

“When my dad was racing cars, I was racing my quad,” VeeKay said. “Full throttle all over the paddock until they didn’t let me.”

VeeKay started karting at age 8, and his talent was recognized quickly. The KNAC National Autosport Federation in his native The Netherlands selected VeeKay for its KNAF Talent First program, which offers support to young racers as they climb the ranks of motorsport.

He won Dutch and Benelux titles in karting and decided in 2016 to come to America to continue his racing career. VeeKay entered the Road To Indy in 2017 and has been on a rocket ride toward the NTT INDYCAR SERIES ever since.

VeeKay is trying to make a name for himself in The Netherlands as an INDYCAR rookie in 2020 and raise the profile of the sport in his homeland, and he freely compliments a Dutch racing legend with helping to accelerate his career in America – two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk.

The VeeKay and Luyendyk families have been connected for a long time. Arie Luyendyk’s father serviced the gearboxes of Formula Ford cars raced by VeeKay’s father.

Arie Luyendyk has provided plenty of guidance and tips to VeeKay since he began his path to Indy. VeeKay thinks that will continue this season even though Luyendyk may be forced to lay down the law with his pupil in his role as one of INDYCAR’s race stewards.

“He’s done a lot for me; I have to keep in mind that he can give me penalties,” VeeKay said with a smile. “It’s great to have Arie around me. I can ask him anything. He’s been like my second father, actually, these last few seasons.

“He has made some mistakes in the past, and he tells me those so I don’t make the same mistakes. Whatever happens in the future, I have to thank Arie for what he has done for me.”

Visit IMS.com or the IMS Ticket Office for tickets to the 104th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, GMR Grand Prix and all other Month of May activities at IMS.

 
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