VeeKay-Winning this race just once changes your life

VeeKay-Winning this race just once changes your life



Rinus ‘VeeKay’ van Kalmthout will start the fifth Indianapolis 500 of his career from seventh on the grid. The fact that he is on the third row at all was one of the big stories of last weekend’s qualifying sessions. VeeKay talks about his prospects ahead of the 108th edition of ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing’, as the event has been known since 1955.



VeeKay’s P7 on the grid came about despite a massive qualifying crash on Saturday, after which all seemed lost. His team Ed Carpenter Racing assessed the damage and found that the monocoque and engine were undamaged despite the impact. The team then decided on rebuilding the car in three hours, helped by the fact that ECR saw more opportunity with this car than with its back-up car. In the dying minutes of the session, VeeKay went 11th fastest to qualify for the Fast Twelve session the next day before missing out on the crucial Fast Six by one spot as Foyt driver Santino Ferrucci proved to be just a touch quicker on his four-lap average.



We are curious to know how the Dutchman felt afterwards. Would he have loved to be in the Fast Six or was he simply happy to have come this far after Saturday’s blow? “Of course you still hope to get into the Fast Six. But the whole Sunday felt like a bonus after everything that happened the day before and the way we made it into the Fast Twelve. That was a mega performance, also to go from 11th on Saturday to seventh on Sunday. For me it felt like victory. When you look at the Penskes and the McLarens, they were just one step ahead of us, so we did very well. I'm really happy with that.”



VeeKay now knows what happened on Saturday. "Actually, it turned out that the car was just too loose, suffered from too much oversteer. It all happened very abrupt. I found in turn 3, and unfortunately, we were a bit too close to the limit there, but we learn from that as a team.” ECR completely rebuilt the car to make it quick enough to be in the Fast Twelve. Does VeeKay agree that this has to be Ed Carpenter Racing’s greatest achievement to date? “Yes, I think it is. It was a real team effort. I felt so sorry for the guys at the beginning of the day, because we put a lot of time into making the car fast. In the end, they got the car ready and we went for it – and then to have such a euphoric moment because of their work. That was so cool. As a team, I’ve never seen them so close and so happy.”



VeeKay has always stuck with the team, even when the going got tough, especially last season. They were always in it together. “We have the potential,” he replies. “It's just that every time something goes wrong. But this time we’ve already had our failures. So now we can go all out for the 500, hopefully with lots of luck.” Does the family atmosphere in the team help, just as VeeKay thrives on the presence of his family? “It certainly does. What we did as a team last Saturday was exactly what the team needed. That moment brought the guys so much closer together, now we have a very strong bond as a team. To have a huge setback like that and then produce a comeback like that – I think that’s the best pep talk you can have.”



Like his countryman Arie Luyendyk back in the day, VeeKay always knows how to find that little bit of extra speed at Indy. What in his own view makes him such an Indy specialist? “Indy just suits me. When I came here as a rookie, things went well right away. I felt comfortable even then. You have to respect the track, but at the same time you have to be confident. It’s going pretty well for me, it all comes very natural to me. Also, I think I have the confidence to make certain adjustments to the car, adjustments that other drivers might not consider because of the high speeds involved.”



Looking at the qualifying results, it is clear that in just a few years there has been a complete shift in the balance of power at Indianapolis. Three years ago, Will Power had to do his best to make the cut, now Penske has locked out the front row, while on the other hand, the entire Ganassi team failed to make the Fast Twelve. What, according to VeeKay, are the main reasons for this? “There has clearly been a change between Chevy and Honda. Honda have been better than us in recent years. Now Chevy is ahead of Honda, because the best Honda is ninth. Obviously, that’s a very good development for us! Also, until this year, I used to be the best Chevy driver but Penske has now teamed up with AJ Foyt, whose team has been strong here in recent years – just look at Ferrucci. Foyt has employed Michael Cannon who moved from Ganassi two years ago. He was the mastermind behind the Ganassi cars when they got the pole again and again. Penske now has access to that knowledge, with all the funds they have.” So to sum up VeeKay’s words, not only does Foyt benefit from working with Penske, but the reverse is also true. “Well, for the only time this year,” VeeKay says, adding some perspective.



And where does Ed Carpenter Racing stack up in this new environment? “I think we stayed pretty consistent, although I have to be honest – the back-up was fast but not ideal, as some parts weren’t perfectly aligned and the car hadn’t been a labour of love for months. So I feel we could have done a bit more to maybe have kept my spot on the front row.”


It did seem that some of the Chevy engines were losing power as the laps progressed. “That’s true, maybe the Hondas were not as fast, but they were very consistent. It could be that the engine temperature was kept in check better on them, because we got quite hot. When the engine gets too hot, you lose power. Chevy also suffered from 'plenum events' – so during downshifts the engine would stall for a moment and you would lose 5 to 10 mph. A very strange phenomenon. I ended up having to do the Saturday run in sixth without being able to change gear.”



Could these effects be felt during the race? “Yesterday we did the penultimate practice and on Friday we have the final one. Yesterday we were OK because we dialled down the power, so the engine is stressed less. The gear shift was fine, I never had any problems. So I really think it has something to do with stress that’s put on the engine.”



It is extraordinary to think back to an interview conducted seven years ago at VeeKay’s family home in Hoofddorp, when a very young Rinus was on the eve of his American adventure. Where does he feel he stands now when taking stock? “A lot has changed in seven years! I think many of my dreams and goals have come true, but one goal remains the same. And that is to win the Indy 500. That goal still stands.”



VeeKay’s first two seasons were hugely promising, but then he broke his collarbone and seemed to lose some of his rhythm. Did this perhaps slow him down right at a time when a big team might have been knocking on the door? “No, I don’t believe so. Our results did deteriote after that, but I have to say that since then we as a team have struggled to keep up with the big teams. It’s difficult to say, but I personally can’t see any reason why my collarbone fracture is related to that.”



Meanwhile, David Malukas and Linus Lundqvist are the new kids on the block, while Christian Rasmussen, who is now VeeKay’s teammate at ECR, is also part of that new generation, and guided by VeeKay as if the 23-year-old is a veteran - which begs the question whether he would have said yes if, say, McLaren had called him instead of Théo Pourchaire and Callum Ilott earlier this year to replace Malukas. “I’m a contracted driver anyway, so there was no way that I could. But this is the final year on my contract, so at the end of the season I will be a free agent. Who knows what will happen then...”



By then he will also have more experience with the hybrid engines that are on the verge of being introduced in IndyCar. How does he feel about this latest development? “I have had one test with the system on the Indianapolis Road Course. I liked it. It was not too bad, actually, it was quite easy to handle. I expected it to be more complicated because I have never worked with these things before in my life. Everything was new to me. But we got stuck in and I adapted to it very quickly. By the end of the day we were adjusting the dampers because we had the hybrid engine all figured out! So is it more fun? I don’t know yet. It does change the balance of the car slightly, but it also requires a bit more strategy.”


Looking ahead to next Sunday, if he had to choose between scoring ten podiums for the rest of the season or the milk and his name on the Borg Warner Trophy, which would it be? “Of course you pick the milk. Because once you win this race, it changes your life. It just does. And for the team too. So yes, winning a championship is important and it would mean a lot to me. But winning the Indy 500 means you go down in the history books.”