VeeKay loses Daytona win opportunity after teammate crashes from lead
Rinus ‘VeeKay’ van Kalmthout's first race of the 2023 season has ended in retirement. Although the 22-year-old Dutchman did a great job at the Daytona 24 Hours and even led the race, he had to watch the rest of the race from the sidelines after one of his teammates got involved in an incident.
An NTT IndyCar Series regular, VeeKay was invited to compete in the International Motor Sport Association (IMSA) series before his own championship kicks off. The TDS Racing team offered him a seat in the #11 car that would take part in the LMP2 class at Daytona, where VeeKay would join Danish Peugeot factory driver Mikkel Jensen, American silver driver Scott Huffaker and bronze amateur Steven Thomas, another American.
For VeeKay and the quartet in the #11 TDS Racing car, the Daytona 24 Hours got off to a hopeful start. Thomas, who under IMSA championship rules was obliged to take the start at Daytona International Speedway, due to his bronze license, easily managed to keep the yellow-and-red car within striking distance of the leaders before Huffaker easily consolidated their position at the front.
When Jensen was allowed to take over Huffaker, the VeeKay team even moved into the lead, and when the Dutchman was strapped in himself for his first stint around 7pm local time, he took to the challenge like a duck to water. It was only the Dutchman’s second active participation in an endurance race, but he effortlessly maintained the LMP2 class lead.
While the initial plan was for VeeKay to drive a double stint, TDS Racing opted for an alternative strategy during the race, and so the Dutch IndyCar driver was replaced by bronze driver Thomas after just one stint. Shortly after the American amateur driver took over, he collided with one of the GT cars, forcing the #11 TDS Racing car into the wall before it came to a rest further down on the grass.
The car was brought back to the pit lane, allowing the TDS Racing team to repair the car, the French team's mechanics performing an unparalleled feat by fixing the badly damaged machine in less than an hour. VeeKay was able to get back out and drove lightning fast laps during his second stint before the team requested him to come in and retire the car, as TDS Racing did not want to take any risks with regard to possible damage, considering their large time deficit and the resulting hopeless position in the race.
Thus, a disappointed VeeKay had to settle for having delivered an unrewarded strong personal performance. TDS Racing having a strong overall package was a fact proved by their teammates in the #35 car, as the quartet finished in fourth place, at close distance from the podium finishers.
“Bummer”, said VeeKay from the Daytona International Speedway, as he put his feelings into words. “This is the race you want to finish first and foremost, because in order to win you will at least have to see the chequered flag. My teammate Steven Thomas collided with a GT car while braking for the Le Mans chicane and was thrown into the wall. The whole left side of the car was broken.”
“It’s an understatement to say that we were in a good position. After Steven’s first run, Scott and Mikkel managed to deliver strong lap times and I kept our car in the lead. I think we had a good chance to write our names in the books, but unfortunately it wasn't to be.”
“The team did top-notch work by repairing the car, so I went out for a bit. We were 30 laps behind and so no longer had a chance of a good result. I was asked by the team to come in and give up in order to save the engine. After all, the car still has to last a full racing year.”
“I would like to thank Steven Thomas and TDS Racing for this wonderful opportunity to participate in the Daytona 24 Hours. I enjoyed it. It was nice to race again, and a good preparation for my IndyCar programme. Fortunately, I get to get behind the wheel of my Dallara-Chevrolet again tomorrow. I can’t wait for the IndyCar season to start”, VeeKay concluded in fighting spirits.
Rinus VeeKay will not have to sit still for long, as his season in the NTT IndyCar Series starts next Thursday with a collective test session at The Thermal Club short track in Palm Springs, California. There, the Dutchman will put his #21 Bitcoin Racing Team with BitNile Chevrolet through its paces for the first time in 2023, in preparation for the season opener that takes place on the St Petersburg street circuit on Sunday 5 March next.