VeeKay’s journey to INDYCAR win a wild one, how he won Saturday’s race with an inside look on his march towards the victory

INDIANAPOLIS — Romain Grosjean had a fast car. Lapped cars and pit strategy cost him the win though in Saturday’s GMR Grand Prix. Grosjean, started on the pole and led a race-high 44 of 85 laps at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, but when he caught lapped traffic, it was almost over from there on out.

“Blue flags,” he joked if looking back on the race if he’d have done anything differently. “Honestly, that’s the only thing we could have done differently today. We can gain a couple of seconds on pit stops and so on. Still feel like we can improve a bit there. But today we were leading the pack by a good margin, meaning I was going to be the first one to hit traffic, and we hit it quite hard.

“Really having that was the only thing that I would have changed today, putting away cars that were lapped cars out of my way.

“I think every series is different, and you’ve got blue flags issued everywhere. In Formula 1 I was shown the blue flags quite a bit over the last few years and it was terrible for us. The leader complained that it wasn’t good enough.

“Here today obviously I wish it was on more often because I was the guy that was chasing them, but it’s the rule that INDYCAR uses. Is there room for improvement? Probably. Is there a perfect solution? No. But definitively I think traffic cost us the win today.”

Grosjean, went with a different strategy than most of the rest of the cars in the field. He started on the Firestone Alternate tires and instead of going to the Blacks following his first stop to pit road, he went with Reds again. Most of the other drivers on Saturday went with the opposite tire compound between the start and first pit stop. Grosjean was one of three that didn’t.

So, he had to go on the primary tires after his second stop, then with being marred in traffic and Rinus VeeKay coming, it was all over from there. VeeKay, got by and Grosjean was in a fight to just hang onto second.

VeeKay, started off on the primaries, so he could go with the alternates the rest of the way. That was the winning difference other than lapped traffic.

“Yeah, I wasn’t well aware of where he was. I think he still came out with a good lead and also I was behind two cars leaving the pit lane back markers,” Grosjean said. “So it was a tough day in terms of overtaking people. I know it’s a really good track with a really good straight line, but when the lap cars are using their Push-to-Pass, it’s hard to get by, and then obviously you’re going to push harder on your tires and get a bit of a harder time, and you just can’t really do the pace you want.

“I knew Rinus was on the last — before the last pit stop, he passed me; I was on black, he was on red. I asked the team is he on the same strategy, and they told me yes, and therefore I knew I had to kind of try to stay close on the blacks from him, but couldn’t quite do it.

“On the last stint, as I said, I was stuck behind the No. 14, which was going fast, but too fast for me to pass him and just too slow to catch Rinus, so a bit in between.”

VeeKay, said when he got to the lead, he knew he had a shot at a win then.

“Yes, definitely,” he said following leading 33 laps on Saturday. “It felt like I could drive away from him. I heard I had a very, very nice gap to him, so I kind of took it easy, tried to save a little bit of tires, even though it was hard to keep them going, but yeah, we got there, saved some fuel at the end, and everything was awesome, like perfect down to the millimeter for the team. Yeah, very happy with them.”

The journey to this point though was a wild one. It started with him racing in his native country of Netherlands. He grew a mentor in Arie Luyendyk Sr. and it took off from there. The connection to him and Luyendyk is more than them sharing a Dutch nationality.

“Yeah, Arie was a big idol of me,” he said. “Still is. His dad made my dad’s gearboxes in Formula 4, so a long family connection.”

But, it wasn’t until 2016 that he and Luyendyk finally met to start this journey together.

“Well, Arie has been around for a very long time. I actually met him at the Indy 500 in 2016 here in Indianapolis at the Union Jack’s Pub in a meet-and-greet,” he said.

“It’s great to have Arie here, and yeah, he has given me a lot of tips but also very good guidance about watch out for any rule changes and him being an official or steward, he gives me good tips and many reminders that really help me out. Yeah, just little, little tips and a lot of good atmosphere he gives to me so I can win the race.”

VeeKay started off in the lowest ladder of the Road To Indy system in 2017, a year after meeting Luyendyk and now with the Flying Dutchmen in his ear as a coach. He’d them move up a rank to Indy Pro 2000 in 2018. By 2019, he was an Indy Lights driver. A year later, he’s in INDYCAR.

It was a rapid rise, one that had its bumpy road but led him to an NTT IndyCar Series in just his second year at the helm.

VeeKay, is the first driver ever to win in all four ranks of the open wheel system.

“It’s amazing,” he said of that feat. “Of course my first-ever test in U.S. F2000 in that new car was here. That was the Chris Griffis test in 2016. So yeah, just amazing to have so much experience on this track in a long time and go through all the ladder systems and win races and know how to race here.

“It was an awesome race, and just feels amazing, and I’m very grateful for what the Road to Indy has done to me.”

This track is great to him in general, so it’s no wonder why he won his first race on it. He lives in the shadows of the Speedway now, but he had four podiums in six RTI starts here. He scored his first top five here as a rookie last year. He scored his first pole and first podium last October. He became the fastest teenager ever in Indy 500 qualifying last August.

Now, it’s the place for his first IndyCar win.

“Oh, yeah, I like this track, especially when you have a good car. It’s always more fun,” he said.

“But yeah, just — you know, this is a track that really suits me. Got to be quick, but you can also attack and pass, and there’s many, many opportunities to move forward. That’s exactly what I could do today, so I’m very happy. Really have to thank the team. I’m very grateful for all the sponsors and very excited to start driving with Dale Coyne next week.”

Another ironic fact is that his win on Saturday was the first for Ed Carpenter Racing here. They’ve won a lot of poles, just no wins on his hometrack either.

“Yeah, it’s crazy,” VeeKay said. “It’s just great for the team. Everyone is so happy. They were already like super motivated, but I’m pretty sure now for the 500 everyone is just going to be next-level motivated.

“Yeah, it means a lot to the team. Everyone knew at the team that they could win a race, that we could win a race. But we just had to show it. Today was finally the day, and everyone in the world can see that Ed Carpenter Racing with Rinus VeeKay are race winners.”

Carpenter said that this was the first well rounded race that VeeKay has driven for him. I mean VeeKay was on thin ice with the team following two crashes in his first weekend last year in Texas. Now the kid is a winner.

“Well, I think pace was really, really big today,” VeeKay said of that. “We had awesome pace, which really helped make the strategy work. Passing was easy because of the pace.

“Every time someone came in my path I could attack and go for it, and yeah, that really put a few cars between me and Romain at the end, which gave me a lot of comfort.

“Yeah, definitely a nice way to win with a little bit of margin, and I could kind of breathe at the end, so that was very nice.”

Speaking of breathing easy in the end, that’s not something drivers do easily when a win is in sights, especially their first win. Did VeeKay have to calm his nerves being in that position?

“Yeah, I knew I could win the race, so didn’t want to think too much about it,” he told me. “I kind of wandered off sometimes about, okay, you’re going to be a race winner. Oh, I’m not. I just want to kind to take it easy. But yeah, just big goal was don’t make mistakes. I had a good, comfortable gap, and yeah, I knew the tires were going to go a little bit there at the end, so wanted to do everything to kind of save the rears, but yeah, did everything I could, and yeah, very grateful for everyone around helping me, especially the team Ed Carpenter Racing.”

VeeKay, has a couple of days to enjoy this before Indy 500 practice starts on Tuesday.

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