INDIANAPOLIS — For the 11th straight year, Ed Carpenter Racing had a driver in the Pole Day Shootout. However, for just the second time since 2017, boss Ed Carpenter won’t be in it. Instead, the for the fourth straight year, it was Rinus VeeKay.
Without a teammate to utilize, VeeKay was left a still remarkable second in Sunday’s Fast Six Shootout which sees the Dutch driver now have three straight front row starting spots here.
“I think it definitely helped out like to have a teammate in there,” VeeKay told me when I asked if it was a detriment that he was one of just two drivers without a teammate in the Shootouts today. “It’s always nice to have someone with the same setup, same exact car, do a run before and making some little tweaks.
“But yeah, I wish Ed was in there and I could have battled with Ed or Conor. But I think for the underdog car in there, it was nice to have a good shot at it and almost hitting the bull’s eye.”
VeeKay lost the pole on the opening lap. Alex Palou went 235.131 mph on Lap 1. VeeKay was at 235.019 mph. On Lap 2, Palou went 234.399 mph. VeeKay was 234.403 mph. On Lap 3, VeeKay once again had the advantage 233.982 mph compared to 233.930 mph. Same for the fourth and final lap 233.444 vs. 234.217 mph.
It was Lap 1 that lost it.
“Yeah, it was very close. Wow, very happy, but also a bit bummed,” VeeKay said. “We had that shot, and I wish we could have done it. It would have been so great for the team. But also I’m bummed to be starting the Indy 500 second.
“Not bad, definitely, but yeah, I think it just has to sink in a little bit. What is in my head now is I lost.”
The loss is still better to be the first loser than where they’ve been this season prior.
There’s no doubt about it, the start to the 2023 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season hasn’t gone the way that fourth year driver Rinus VeeKay had expected it to. He sits mired back in 18th in points after five races on the heels of finishes of 21st, 11th, 26th, 16th and 13th respectively.
“Like a four out of 10, not happy,” VeeKay told me on Wednesday morning to grade the start of the season for him. “I’m happy with my performance, but we’re just not there as a team. We are just struggling a bit to keep up with the other guys.”
Now that he’s on the front row, how much does that change?
“Yeah, definitely,” he told me. “This is the best qualifying result for the team since I’ve joined, so definitely not bad, and yeah, just very, very happy for the team that we got this, and I think it definitely helps morale, not only for me but for all the three car crews.
“I will enjoy this one, and it’s my best starting position so far in the 500, which fourth, third, third and second, we all know what comes in my car number after second, and that’s a 1.”
VeeKay is most proud of the team that they were able to rebound from a mechanical failure in practice to salvage the engine enough to provide him with an opportunity to still win the pole hours later.
“Just very proud of the team, also. We had a tough morning, kind of went downhill for a bit, and we still — the team still made it happen,” he says. “The only thing I had to do was stay flat for four laps, and the ECR Bitnile crew gave me the best possible car for this moment.”