Brilliant fuel saving delivers P10 to VeeKay at Texas
Rinus ‘VeeKay’ van Kalmthout has secured his second top-ten finish in the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series. For a long time, the 21-year old Dutchman battled for the top positions at Texas Motor Speedway before having to make radical fuel savings. Miraculously, he still salvaged tenth place.
Three weeks after the season’s opening race on the streets of St. Petersburg, Rinus VeeKay and his IndyCar rivals would need to get ready for the first oval race of the year, as the one-and-a-half mile Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas, would serve as the battleground for the second race of 2022.
For VeeKay, it was all about continuing the momentum from St. Pete, as the driver of the Ed Carpenter Racing #21 SONAX Chevrolet had taken a fine sixth on the street circuit close to his hometown of Fort Lauderdale. In qualifying practice for the race at Texas, the Dutchman showed his strength once more by recording eighth fastest time in a field of 27 drivers. Team mates Conor Daly and Ed Carpenter took 16th and 21st on the grid respectively.
After the green flag was waved, around noon on Sunday, VeeKay was forced into defensive mode from the start, as strong headwinds caused an imbalance in the car, so during his first pit stop, after 54 of 248 laps, the ECR driver had his front wing position adjusted.
This proved to be a smart move. A series of full-course yellows forced VeeKay to be patient enough to let his new setup come to life, but when the race was finally released for a longer period after three consecutive incidents around the halfway point, the one-time race winner surged to the front. VeeKay was still in sixth place on the fourth restart on lap 150, but had taken the lead just nine laps later.
In the process, VeeKay showed his well-known prowess by overtaking Ganassi drivers Marcus Ericsson and Scott Dixon, as well as the Penske trio of Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin from the outside. During the overtakes, the Dutch driver equally proved to be a shrewd strategist.”Do I really want the lead now?” VeeKay was heard wondering aloud, as he took into account fuel consumption, headwind and tyre wear.
As VeeKay battled for victory, the Ed Carpenter Racing team decided to call him in for a final stop on lap 186. In hindsight, that turned out to be too early. At Texas, IndyCars can carry fuel for about 50 to 55 laps at racing speed. If caution periods would stay away after VeeKay’s last pit stop, the ECR strategy condemned the Dutchman to saving fuel radically.
With 20 laps to go, it looked as though VeeKay might not even be able to finish due to his fuel shortage, but thanks to some brilliant economy driving he reach the flag on fumes – for the second consecutive race. Since the talented twentysomething could do anything but race at full speed in the final part of the race, he was forced to allow several rivals past. In the end, VeeKay finished tenth, as the win went to Newgarden, who passed McLaughlin on the line.
“If the environmental organisations of this world aren’t happy with me now, I don’t know what else they need”, said a smiling VeeKay from Fort Worth. “At the end of the race I had to save a lot of fuel and that cost me a podium finish. Of course I’m upset about the missed opportunity, but I’m happy. We have a car that can fight for the top positions and, with a view to the next oval race – the Indianapolis 500 – that is a very nice thing.”
“Today we started off too conservative in terms of set-up, which cost me places in the early stages. The aerodynamic changes at the first pit stop were exactly what I needed, after that I was flying. Our problem in this race was not fuel consumption, but tyre wear at the front due to excess levels of understeer. Straight out of the pit lane it’s easy to set fast lap times, but during the stint it becomes more difficult to keep up with the pace at the front.”
“That last pit stop was a gamble”, VeeKay acknowledged. “The team brought me in hoping for a late caution – then we would have won. In the end I had more bad luck than good fortune today. On the other hand, if you still finish in the top ten on a day like this you did well. I could have been a little less eager in taking the lead, but practice makes perfect. I have a good feeling about this race, not least because of those five consecutive overtakes shortly after the restart, when I finally grabbed the lead. This gives me confidence for the next few races.”
As VeeKay has finished in the top ten for the second time in two races, he occupies a place in the top ten in the standings, the Dutchman sharing seventh place with Colton Herta, both having collected 50 points after two races.
IndyCar racing will resume in three weeks’ time, with the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach on the calendar for Sunday, April 10. The start will be at 21:30 Dutch time, the 85-lap race can be followed live on Ziggo Sport.