VeeKay shows fighting spirit on his way to eighth and eleventh in NTT IndyCar Series’ Mid-Ohio round
Rinus VeeKay has again scored valuable points in both the overall and rookie standings of the NTT IndyCar Series. In the first race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, the 20-year-old TeamNL driver was among the quickest on track for almost the entire race, his eighth-place finish not doing justice to a strong performance. What’s more, VeeKay’s outside pass was among the most spectacular of the race. In the second race, the Ed Carpenter Racing driver suffered from handling issues and was forced to settle for eleventh. In both Honda Indy 200 races VeeKay was classified as the highest ranked rookie, in the process consolidating his lead in the standings.
After five consecutive oval races, the NTT IndyCar Series returned to a road circuit for rounds ten and eleven of the championship. The Honda Indy 200 on the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course was the fourth double header this season, with two full 75-lap races in one weekend. For TeamNL talent VeeKay who celebrated his 20th birthday on the Friday before the race, the track has a special place in his heart, as the Dutchman completed his second test for Ed Carpenter Racing at Mid-Ohio last year, earning him his 2020 IndyCar seat. VeeKay has also been on the podium at Mid-Ohio in all six races in his three seasons of Road to Indy.
In a qualifying session of just 12 minutes, Van Kalmthout clocked up fifth fastest time of his group, taking ninth place on the grid. "Maybe there was more in the lap – I was surprised by the grip of the red tire. Sadly, there was no more time to complete another lap," VeeKay said, looking back on his qualifying performance.
VeeKay started the first race on the harder black tire, his tire strategy giving him a hard time in the early stages. The Dutchman lost a position before getting stuck behind a slower competitor, dropping him down to P13. Once past the slower car, VeeKay showed good pace and was among the fastest drivers on track. On his black tires, Van Kalmthout was able to go for a long first stint, and before making his first stop on lap 27 the Ed Carpenter Racing driver briefly took the lead.
Returning in 13th place and on the faster red tires, the TeamNL driver quickly moved up to tenth, setting excellent lap times. As his rivals pitted, Van Kalmthout was in second place for a while before coming in for his second stop on lap 49 to switch back to the black tires. After everyone had made their second stop, Van Kalmthout returned in ninth place.
Once again, the TeamNL driver continued to string together fast laps, closing the gap to the car in eighth. With a great move around the outside, VeeKay took eighth and then quickly closed down the seven-second gap to seventh. The Ed Carpenter Racing driver ended up a second short from seventh place to cross the line in eighth. The Dutchman was by far the best rookie.
VeeKay’s speed was evidenced by the fact that his deficit to the winning car was less than on the moment he was still trapped behind the slower car on lap 10. "On the whole, it was a good race. I had some trouble getting past the slower cars at the beginning. After I got past it went really well. It wasn't the perfect race but I'm happy with the speed we showed. If qualifying goes better tomorrow, the race will be a little easier," said the Dutchman, who notched up his third consecutive top-ten finish.
However, it didn't get any easier. In a chaotic wet qualifying session, to say the least, with two red flags leaving only four minutes to set a time, Van Kalmthout got stuck down in sixth place of his group and was forced to start the race from eleventh on the grid. The Ed Carpenter Racing driver made up two places in the first corner when two of his rivals collided before going on to make his first stop on lap 15, similar to the entire top-eleven. At the stops, the Dutchman lost one position but moments later took advantage of a rival’s off, handing him back ninth place on lap 33 when everyone had made their stop.
The TeamNL driver was able to follow the driver in eighth while inching away from his pursuers before coming in for his second stop on lap 47. Over the radio, the Dutchman had already reported understeer, so a small adjustment was made to his front-wing setup. The pit stop cost him another position, so Van Kalmthout was tenth after the second series of stops. However, it soon became apparent that Van Kalmthout was increasingly suffering from handling issues, the Ed Carpenter Racing driver unable to keep pace with the driver in front while Scott Dixon on new tires was approaching fast. In the final five laps, Van Kalmthout worked hard to defend his tenth position but was forced into defeat on the final lap, crossing the finish line in 11th place. As in race one, Van Kalmthout was the highest ranked rookie, thereby strengthening his leading position in the standings.
"It was a very difficult race. It may have been the rain this morning, but the track felt very different from yesterday. My car behaved very differently as well. I had to dodge a couple of cars at the start of the race, so I wasn't able to gain that many positions. It wasn't a great race, but 11th isn't so bad either. We now return to the Indianapolis Grand Prix circuit, the place where I scored my best road-course finish of the season so far. So I'm ready for it," said VeeKay, showing his fighting spirit.
Rinus van Kalmthout is supported in 2020 by Ed Carpenter Racing, Sonax USA, Autogeek, Jumbo, La Place, Basic-Fit and KNAF TeamNL.