BELLE ISLE, Mich — Rinus VeeKay is really showing his talent this season. Last year, it wasn’t like we questioned on how good that he’d be, but I don’t think anyone really saw the youngster being a legitimate championship contender just halfway through his second season in the NTT IndyCar Series.
VeeKay, finished sixth in the season opener at the Barber Motorsports Park in April. He backed that up with a ninth place run a week later on the streets of St. Pete. He was ninth in the second race at Texas before having a career weekend on the Indianapolis road course in earning his first career victory last month.
He backed that up with becoming the youngest front row starter in Indy 500 history eight days after that win, then led 32 laps in an eighth place effort for the 105th Running. That all propelled VeeKay to fifth in points heading into this weekend’s doubleheader on the streets of Belle Isle.
The thing is, VeeKay has never been to Belle Isle before. How would this weekend go on the challenging race track?
VeeKay, qualified 12th. He pit on Lap 2 like most of the other leaders to go from the Firestone Alternates to the primary tires and that changed his day for the good. He then hit pit lane on Lap 21, just a few laps prior to the frightening opening caution of the race on Lap 25. That maneuver put him in the top of the guys on that strategy as he leap frogged guys like Pato O’Ward, Alexander Rossi and Colton Herta.
While that group may not have a winner at that point, pitting when he did had him thinking a legitimate top five. Then, his No. 21 Chevrolet had pace and there VeeKay was in third with 10 laps-to-go. The Dutch driver though was passed by Takuma Sato for the final spot on the podium with seven laps remaining, then a caution comes out one lap later for Romain Grosjean’s crash in Turn 9.
INDYCAR displayed the red flag. VeeKay’s race was far from over at that point. Will Power was the leader but his car wouldn’t refire. Sato’s car wasn’t good on the initial restart. VeeKay jumped two spots to come home runner-up for his third podium in 21 career starts including five top five finishes now. He also has 11 top 10’s in those 21 starts and is fourth in points going into Sunday’s weekend finale.
“Well, I think it’s kind of a track that suits me,” he said. “You got to be a little bit crazy. If you don’t know the risks, you can’t give it all.
“I think for me, I like street courses. I think we also have a great car which helps me get up to speed. We also had a sim day last Wednesday on a sim.”
Is this the best he’s ever driven?
“I actually forgot about my win. I just give it all. I enjoy. I think that’s most important. I enjoy. I’m still pretty bouncy and happy in the team. Like all the spirits are very high, everyone is very motivated. I think that helps.
“I think just the whole team, like everyone together, just has made a huge step compared to last year. We have a consistently good-performing car.”