Capitalizing on a few daring moves Saturday in the GMR Grand Prix, Rinus VeeKay became the third first-time winner in the NTT IndyCar Series this season with an inspired drive at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
The 20-year-old Dutchman became the fifth winner in five IndyCar races and fourth who is younger than 25 (along with Colton Herta, 21; Pato O’Ward, 22; and Alex Palou, 24).
He also joined O’Ward and Palou as the third first-time winner in five IndyCar races in 2021.
VeeKay started seventh and seized command by taking the lead in a flourish from pole-sitter Romain Grosjean and leading 33 of the final 38 laps. Grosjean led a race-high 44 laps after the Formula One veteran qualified first Friday.
FULL STATS PACKAGE: Points, results for the GMR Grand Prix
In becoming the sixth-youngest winner in IndyCar history at 20 years, 8 months and 3 days, VeeKay delivered the first victory for Ed Carpenter Racing since Josef Newgarden at Iowa Speedway, July 10, 2016.
“We had an awesome start to the weekend, best start I’ve ever had,” VeeKay told NBC Sports pit reporter Marty Snider after winning in his 19th IndyCar start. “I knew we had the car, and we were so fast. Just the perfect day. It’s amazing.”
Grosjean finished second by more than 6 seconds in his third IndyCar start, and Palou was third. The international podium (of a Dutchman, Frenchman and Spaniard) was followed by Americans Josef Newgarden and Graham Rahal.
The last IndyCar season with three first-time winners was 2013: James Hinchcliffe, Mike Conway, Takuma Sato, Charlie Kimball
Earlier, VeeKay set himself up for the victory with a daring pass of the Chip Ganassi Racing cars of Palou and Jimmie Johnson. Both cars were exiting the pit lane on cold tires, and VeeKay needed to pass Palou for the position.
So he split the middle between them with his No. 21 Dallara-Chevrolet.
— IndyCar on NBC (@IndyCaronNBC) May 15, 2021
“Man, that was close,” Palou said. “That was close, but that was a good move by him. We were on the out lap on black tires and he was like six laps already with the reds, so I knew I couldn’t brake as late as him.
“Yeah, that was exciting. He was there in between Jimmie and I, so I just gave him enough room so he could fit there, and I was covering the inside. That’s all I could do I thought at that moment. But yeah, there was nothing really I could do. When you’re on the out lap on the blacks and he’s already with the reds, you cannot do anything.”
Passing Palou helped VeeKay to scoot away and cycle into the lead when Grosjean pitted under green five laps later — which made the risk worth taking.
“I saw they were coming out of pit lane, but I knew they were teammates, so they have cold tires,” VeeKay said. “I had just kind of the peak on my tires on the reds, so I knew I had to get by and kind of get a gap.
“Alex defended on the back straight. Jimmie drove the normal line. There was just about one car width space between them, and I went for it. I knew there were a lot of marbles on track, so didn’t want to get the tires too dirty, so I stuck it between there, and I know Jimmie is a smart driver, same for Alex, and yeah, kind of hoped they would see me, and they did.
“I was very happy that I could stick that move, and definitely gave me a big adrenaline kick.”
It’s the type of move that is building a reputation for VeeKay (whose overtake on Simon Pagenaud in the Carousel at Road America was one of 2020’s best moves), and he likes it.
— Rinus VeeKay (@rinusveekay) July 13, 2020
“Oh, yeah, definitely, as long as it’s clean, which it is,” he said. “I like passing. As spectacular as possible would be nice. I’m very, very happy that I’ve got the car to do it with. Definitely makes passing a whole lot easier.”
VeeKay was fastest in the Saturday morning warmup at IMS, whose road course layout has meshed well with his style.
The 2021 season got off to a tough start for VeeKay, who had a heavy crash last month in Indy 500 testing on the IMS oval that broke a finger. But he finished in the top 10 of three of the next four races.
“Everyone knew at the team that they could win a race, that we could win a race,” VeeKay said. “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.”
Told ya https://t.co/OJje6QbhxK
— Rinus VeeKay (@rinusveekay) May 15, 2021
He also had his parents, who have been big supporters of his career, present for the victory. Visiting from the Netherlands, they have been staying at his place in the nearby town of Speedway.
“Of course, it’s big to have them here,” he said. “It’s a lot to take in, but also they were worked as hard as me to get where we are now, so it’s great that they can soak in this whole experience with me.
“I am very much looking forward to dinner, and especially the dessert. No, it’s amazing to have them here, and I love them, so it’s amazing.”
What’s for dessert?
“Cheesecake,” he said with a smile. “It’s a deal I have with my trainer, when I get a podium I can eat a cheesecake, so I’m very excited, and I think I kind of deserve one.”
The race’s only yellow flag came on Lap 1 when Conor Daly’s No. Dallara-Chevrolet stopped in the grass adjacent to Turn 1 after contact with Simon Pagenaud. IndyCar race control reviewed the start but took no action.
The race restarted on Lap 4, and Grosjean quickly pulled away to a comfortable lead.
Though he later was slowed by traffic and some average pit stops, Grosjean was pleased to be on the podium for the first time in six years and less than six months after nearly being burned alive in a fiery crash in Bahrain that ended his F1 career.
“That’s really a good day, we’ve done really good work,” Grosjean told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee. ” We led the start of the race. We were super fast. Bahrain, it was horrible, but for my life, it’s been a great experience, and people are really behind me, and I can feel it, and the support has been incredible.
“The team did a super good job today. P2 for the third race in IndyCar is not too bad. Leading races is what I came for, and that’s what we’ve done today.”