Getting to Texas was stressful ordeal for rookies making IndyCar debuts


Rinus VeeKay was among the first IndyCar drivers to arrive in Texas this week for Saturday night’s season opener (8 p.m. ET, NBC; schedule below).

The extra time to decompress is welcome for the Dutchman After a wild odyssey to make his NTT IndyCar Series debut, VeeKay could use the rest.

“It was very complicated,” VeeKay said Thursday during an IndyCar Zoom media availability. “I’ve had many weeks of no sleep.”

INFO, PLEASE: Details for Saturday night’s opener at Texas

VeeKay, 19, was in Europe when IndyCar confirmed last month its 2020 schedule would begin at Texas Motor Speedway.

Because he was restricted from traveling to the United States by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, VeeKay flew to Mexico and spent two weeks quarantining in Cancun (bringing along his personal trainer to stay fit) while working through the hurdles of U.S. entry.

“It took a long time to get the approval,” said VeeKay, who finished second in the 2019 Indy Lights points standings with six victories. “We tried to (be) safe, go to Mexico (and) at least be there (to) be closer to the U.S. If we don’t get an approval, I can stay in Mexico and  then travel to the U.S. That was just trying to be sure that I made it. Once I was there, I got the approval.”

Car owner Ed Carpenter said the team worked closely with Indiana Sen. Todd Young’s office to get VeeKay’s entry approved. While pro athletes have been exempted from travel bans, motorsports initially wasn’t on the list until the lobbying of IndyCar, IMSA and NASCAR, Carpenter said.

“There was a whole lot of people that helped make that happen, do it the right way,” Carpenter said. “Really thankful for everyone that played a part in getting Rinus and many other drivers back in the country.

Spaniard Alex Palou also will be making his IndyCar debut at Texas after getting cleared to travel from his native country to Texas last week. Palou has been staying at his residence in Austin, Texas, this week and planned to drive in Friday afternoon to Texas Motor Speedway and stay overnight ahead of Saturday’s full schedule of practice, qualifying and racing.

“Just to be sure I get there safe,” Palou said Thursday. “Now that I came from Spain, I don’t want to have a (tire) puncture or something because for sure that’s the typical things that happens to me, so I’m going to be there Friday night and wake up and just drive to the track.”


IndyCar practice: 1 p.m., NBC Sports Gold

IndyCar qualifying5 p.m., NBCSN, NBC Sports Gold

Countdown to Green: 7:30 p.m., NBCSN

IndyCar Genesys 3008 p.m., NBC

IndyCar postrace coverage: 10 p.m., NBCSN

Miguel Oliveira wins MotoGP Thai Grand Prix, Bagnaia closes to two points in championship

MotoGP Thai Grand Prix
Mirco Lazzari / Getty Images

Miguel Oliveira mastered mixed conditions on the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand to win the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix. Oliveira showed the adaptability as he navigated a race that began in wet conditions and turned dry over the course of the race. Oliveira won the Indonesian GP in similar conditions.

“It was a long race, but I can’t complain,” Oliveira said on CNBC. “Every time we get to ride in the wet, I’m always super-fast. When it started raining, I had flashbacks of Indonesia. I tried to keep my feet on the ground, make a good start and not make mistakes and carry the bike to the end.”

All eyes were on the championship, however. Francesco Bagnaia got a great start to slot into second in Turn 1.

Meanwhile Fabio Quartararo had a disastrous first lap. He lost five positions in the first couple of turns and then rode over the rumble strips and fell back to 17th. At the end of the first lap, Bagnaia had the points’ lead by two. A win would have added to the gain and for a moment, it appeared Bagnaia might assume the lead.

Early leader Marco Bezzecchi was penalized for exceeding track limits, but before that happened, Jack Miller got around Bagnaia and pushed him back to third. Oliveira was not far behind.

After throwing away ninth-place and seven points on the last lap of the Japanese GP last week, Bagnaia did not allow the competition to press him into a mistake. He fell back as far as fourth before retaking the final position on the podium.

“It’s like a win for me, this podium,” Bagnaia. “My first podium in the wet and then there was a mix of conditions, so I’m very happy. I want to thank Jack Miller. Before the race, he gave me a motivational chat.”

Miller led the first half of the Thai Grand Prix before giving up the top spot to Oliveira and then held on to finish second. Coupled with his Japanese GP win, Miller is now fully in the MotoGP championship battle with a 40-point deficit, but he will need a string of results like Bagnaia has put together in recent weeks – and he needs Bagnaia to lose momentum.

Miller’s home Grand Prix in Australia is next up on the calendar in two weeks.

Bagnaia entered the race 18 points behind Quartararo after he failed to score any in Japan. The balance of power has rapidly shifted, however, with Quartararo now failing to earn points in two of the last three rounds. Bagnaia won four consecutive races and finished second in the five races leading up to Japan. His third-place finish in Thailand is now his sixth MotoGP podium in the last seven rounds.

Aleix Espargaro entered the race third in the standings with a 25-point deficit to Quartararo, but was able to close the gap by only five after getting hit with a long-lap penalty for aggressive riding when he pushed Darryn Binder off course during a pass for position. Espargaro finished 11th.

Rain mixed up the Moto2 running order in the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix as well. Starting on a wet track, Somkiat Chantra led the opening lap in his home Grand Prix. He could not hold onto it and crashed one circuit later, but still gave his countrymen a moment of pride by winning the pole.

Half points were awarded as the race went only eight laps before Tony Arbolino crossed under the checkers first with Filip Salac and Aron Canet rounding out the podium.

American Joe Roberts earned another top-10 in eighth with Sean Dylan Kelly finishing just outside the top 10 in 11th.