Rinus VeeKay rebounding well from ‘the biggest setback in my career’


Rinus VeeKay was unfamiliar with oval racing before his inauspicious IndyCar debut June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway, where he wrecked two cars in roughly seven hours.

But the rookie Dutchman was familiar with the consequences for “the biggest setback I’ve had in my career.

“It’s like being young: you do something wrong and your parents, they make sure you don’t do it ever again,” VeeKay, 19, said Tuesday in a news conference via Zoom. “Yeah, we had a month to work on it, make sure my preparation was as good as it could get.”

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The youngest driver in the NTT IndyCar Series rebounded from the last-place finish in his debut with an impressive fifth place (after starting 18th) last Saturday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

After a month of poring over onboard data, VeeKay made sure to avoid overstepping the boundaries as practice began at Indy – learning from his mistake of going below the white line 15 minutes into practice at Texas.

“I just started off with braking points that were safe for me,” the Ed Carpenter Racing driver said. “I started easy. Moments where I thought, ‘If I go further, it will snap or I will lose the car,’ I just built it up very slowly.

“At the end of the weekend, I got a top five in my second INDYCAR race. Very happy with it.”

Certainly happier than Texas, where VeeKay went into the high lane against the advice of teammate and car owner Carpenter, who delivered a nationally televised scolding in a politely firm and very public manner.

“Everything I kind of asked Rinus to do, he didn’t really do,” Carpenter said in the NBCSN postrace show. “I wanted him to just be patient, be careful. Last thing I told him before the race was, ‘Don’t go high.’ So we’ve got a little work to do there on the sponginess of him, but he can drive the car. He was coming forward with virtually no practice and never running an oval IndyCar race. He’s going to get there, it’s just going to be challenging here at times. But we still love him.”

VeeKay’s first season in IndyCar already had gotten off to a rough start before he climbed behind the wheel of the No. 21 Dallara-Chevrolet.

He was in Europe in May when IndyCar confirmed its 2020 schedule would begin at Texas. Because of travel restrictions from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, VeeKay was unable to enter the United States.

He flew to Mexico instead and spent two weeks quarantining in Cancun while desperately trying to secure an entry visa through the help of his ECR team and IndyCar (which enlisted the help of Indiana Sen. Todd Young).

The stressful ordeal meant “many weeks of no sleep” for VeeKay, who arrived in Texas only a few days ahead of the race.

“That wasn’t ideal,” he said. “I think that kind of affected my focus throughout the (Texas) weekend.”

Road America will be a much more welcoming environment — it was the site of his first U.S. victory in the USF2000 Series in 2017 (part of a weekend sweep that kicked off a string of 16 victories and 36 podium finishes in 48 starts over three seasons in the Road to Indy ladder series).

Last year, he started on the pole position in both Indy Lights races at Road America, winning the second.

“Road America is my all-time favorite track,” he said. “I cannot wait to go there and drive one of the quickest cars in the world on that track.

Ryan Hunter-Reay hired as replacement for Conor Daly at Ed Carpenter Racing

Ryan Hunter-Reay Carpenter
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Ryan Hunter-Reay was named to replace Conor Daly in Ed Carpenter Racing’s No. 20 Dallara-Chevrolet, starting in the NTT IndyCar Series event next week at Road America.

Hunter-Reay is the 2012 series champion and 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner. He finished 11th for Dreyer & Reinbold last month in the 107th Indy 500, his first start since the 2021 season finale. He drove full time for Andretti Autosport from 2010-21.

“We need to improve our competitiveness and I wanted to add a fresh perspective from a driver like Ryan who has a massive amount of experience and success as well as a reputation as a team leader. I am excited to welcome Ryan to the team,” team owner Ed Carpenter said in a team release. “We have worked together in the past as teammates and he tested for ECR at Barber Motorsports Park in October 2021, where he made an immediate impact as we were able to qualify one of our cars on the pole following that test. I am confident that his experience and technical abilities will be an asset to ECR as we move forward toward our goals as a team.”

Hunter-Reay has 18 IndyCar victories, most recently in 2018. He also is a winner in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, having been a part of winning entries in the 2020 Twelve Hours of Sebring and 2018 Petit Le Mans. Last year, he was an endurance driver for Cadillac Racing while being on standby for Chip Ganassi Racing.

He replaces Daly, whose departure was announced a day earlier in what the driver and team said was a mutual decision.

“I was surprised when I got the call from Ed,” Hunter-Reay said in a team release. “He described how frustrated he was that his team has not been able to realize its potential despite their efforts, investments, as well as technical and personnel changes over the past few years and asked for my help. Ed and I are very close friends and have been for a long time. I’ve worked with the team in the past and they are a very talented group with high expectations and a committed partner in BITNILE.COM.

“This will certainly be a challenge for me as well. It’s a tough situation jumping in a car in the middle of the season without any testing in what I believe to be the most competitive series in the world. Certainly, part of my motivation in saying ‘yes’ to Ed is the great challenge ahead. The last time I turned right driving an NTT IndyCar Series car was in October of 2021 with this team at Barber. However, I remain very confident in both my driving and technical abilities and believe by working with the talented people at ECR and Team Chevy, while representing BITNILE.COM, we will make progress. I am going to do everything I can do to help the team achieve its long-term objectives.”

Said Milton “Todd” Ault, the chairman of sponsor BitNile.com: “It is great for BitNile.com to be aligned with an Indy 500 Winner and an NTT IndyCar Series champion. I have followed Ryan’s career for years and I am confident he will challenge the entire ECR team to perform at higher levels. I wish everyone luck at Road America.”