Rinus VeeKay takes sixth after impressive race in Alabama
Rinus ‘VeeKay’ van Kalmthout has started his second season in the NTT IndyCar Series with a stunning sixth place. On the back of a successful race strategy, the 20-year-old Dutchman produced a strong comeback in the season opener at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama.
The Rookie of the Year of the 2020 IndyCar season, VeeKay had to settle for 14th on the grid after a somewhat disappointing qualifying session. Not for the first time, the crowded IndyCar midfield proved a dangerous place to be on the opening lap of the race. A spin by Josef Newgarden provoked a chain reaction, with VeeKay suffering a puncture.
As a result, the Dutch driver had to come in for a tyre change earlier than planned, leaving the red-and-black #21 SONAX Chevrolet at the back of the pack. The Ed Carpenter Racing team, however, was able to give their driver a helping hand with a clever strategy, as VeeKay, who during the caution period following the Newgarden-invoked multi-car pile-up had come in for fresh tyres, pitted again at the next caution, but this time for fuel only. This proved to be a strategic masterstroke that would pay off in the remainder of the race.
VeeKay would still be in with a chance of securing a promising position if he worked his way to the front by combining a series of ultra-quick lap times with passing several other cars. In his eager to do so, the Dutchman once again showed his fighting spirit as he passed his rivals in his trademark attacking style. At the end of the day, the counter stopped at no less than sixteen overtaking moves. This ensured that VeeKay crowned himself as Alabama’s overtaking king of the day, as none of his rivals managed a similar amount of overtakes.
So, after 90 intense laps at the physically demanding Barber Motorsports Park, VeeKay crossed the line in a very respectable sixth position. The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by AmFirst was won by Alex Palou, the Spanish driver that VeeKay had beaten to the Rookie of The Year title last year.
“After the incident at the start my engine stalled, and for a while I thought it was all over,” said VeeKay. “The engine went into anti-stall mode, but because I was still in sixth gear it immediately stalled again. Luckily I was still rolling and just got it started again.”
“Initially I suspected a broken front suspension, but with only a flat left front tyre the damage was not too bad. Unfortunately we had to change the tyre before it was officially allowed – the pit lane was still closed during my first stop and I got a penalty for that later. I was able to work my way through from the back, kept pushing and finished in an excellent sixth place.”
“The strategy was great. I think this strategy that is often used by Ed Carpenter Racing suits my race pace perfectly. I was in good spirits as well, as after Saturday's qualifying disappointment I felt that a good result was in the air. After the messy opening stage I was really at one with my car, I could overtake everywhere and was totally in control.”
“My most important overtake was that on polesitter Pato O'Ward. He and I have a similar style, so I knew he wouldn't just give way to me. My move on O'Ward proved crucial as it allowed me to keep the leading group in sight.”
“Next weekend we race in St Petersburg where the last race of my rookie season was held. In 2020 I had the speed but not the luck. If I can ensure a good qualifying result this year, I think I can have a go at the podium”, a determined VeeKay concluded.
The next event on the NTT IndyCar Series calendar is the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg this Sunday, April 25. The race in the streets of St. Petersburg will start at around 18:00 Dutch time.