Dutch Rules: Rinus VeeKay joins Arie Luyendyk among fastest in Indy 500 history

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INDIANAPOLIS – Rinus VeeKay and Arie Luyendyk feel tremendous Dutch pride in their shared homeland of The Netherlands.

When VeeKay, the 21-year-old NTT IndyCar Series driver from Ed Carpenter Racing, was told that his four-lap average of 233.655 mph in Saturday’s first round of qualifications was the third-fastest qualification average in Indianapolis 500 history, he was quick to point out the record is held by Luyendyk, a fellow Dutchman.

“It’s cool to have two Dutch guys in the top three in history, so it’s cool that I can be part of that,” VeeKay said.

HOW TO WATCH POLE QUALIFYINGSunday schedule for Peacock and NBC

The great Arie Luyendyk of The Netherlands holds the four-lap record of 236.986 mph set in 1996. Scott Brayton of Coldwater, Michigan, has the second-fastest qualifying average of 233.718 mph (also set in 1996 before the pole-sitter was killed in a practice crash).

VeeKay’s speed knocked Columbus, Indiana’s Tony Stewart out of third place. Stewart’s four-lap average of 233.100 mph also was set in 1996.

VeeKay ran the fastest qualification laps for the Indy 500 since 1996 – that’s over four years before he was even born.

“Those are historic numbers, and I think we bumped a lot of guys out of those charts today,” VeeKay said Saturday. “I think everyone was on their ‘A’ game, and it’s all about who improves most this year, so I think we did a great job and hopefully I can move up to P2 in those history standings.”

The irony of VeeKay’s near-record speed is it gave him the provisional pole for just one day. He advanced into the “Fast 12” group of drivers that had to go back out on Sunday and do it all over again to narrow the field to the “Fast Six.”

Those six drivers then had to return to the track and make one last four-lap average to determine the pole winner, setting the first two rows for the 106th Indy 500 on May 29 (11 a.m. ET, NBC).

Luyendyk was the “Driver of the 1990s” at the Indianapolis 500, winning in 1990 and again in 1997 (the only other driver during that decade with two Indy 500 wins was Al Unser, Jr.  in ’92 and ’94). Luyendyk got the nod because his one-lap and four-lap qualification attempts have stood the test of time since that fateful year of “The Split” in 1996.

Luyendyk has served as VeeKay’s racing mentor and advisor. He is also one of two IndyCar stewards (along with former driver Max Papis) who work alongside race director Kyle Novak.

When VeeKay’s first lap exceeded 234 mph, Luyendyk was in race control and admitted he was stunned.

“I looked up and I thought, ‘Holy (crap), where did that come from?’ ” Luyendyk told NBCSports.com in an exclusive interview. “I talked to him about his car, and he thought he could do really well. He knew what he had in hand and that happened today, as well.

“I was very impressed and really happy to see him do well, but of course, Ed Carpenter has given him a good car for Indianapolis. He took to Indy immediately when he was a rookie, and he likes to run here. Liking it is a big thing.

“He is working really well with his engineer, and they do a good job together.

“The funny thing is, I haven’t even spoken to him the whole week. We talked about stuff, but not about racing. There comes a point where you stop giving them advice because they learn a lot of it on their own.

“I’m still there as a supporter and a friend, but I’m super happy as well.”

Luyendyk also feels that “Dutch Pride” in racing that also includes Formula One champion Max Verstappen (who won Sunday in Spain).

“It’s cool to see the orange car with the Dutch flag on the front wings,” Luyendyk said. “All around, I’m still patriotic to The Netherlands as I am to the United States. I’m still patriotic and it gives me pride to see another Dutchman achieve success in racing.”

Luyendyk’s records have stood for 26 years, partly because IndyCar intentionally slowed down the cars during the Indy Racing League years that began with a new formula in 1997 and have been fairly regulated ever since.

But engineering expertise and new engine formulas have seen the speeds creep up into the 230 mph range.

“The cars have been slower all of those years and I probably don’t give myself enough credit, but you have to be realistic they have less horsepower,” Luyendyk said. “They aren’t going to break it Sunday, either, because they aren’t going to find 3 miles an hour overnight.”

Luyendyk is rooting for the day when another driver breaks his long-standing speed records at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“I’ve always said I’m looking forward to the days when they get close to it and break my record during qualifying. It would be great if they broke it in practice on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday and then officially broke it on Saturday or Sunday during qualifications. That would be good for the sport.

“That would be cool, and I’d be OK with that.”

VeeKay was a racing prodigy when he arrived in IndyCar as a 19-year-old rookie in 2020.

He made the “Fast Nine” for the 2020 Indianapolis 500 and holds the record as the fastest teenager in Indianapolis 500 history when he qualified fourth fastest during his rookie season with a four-lap average of 230.704 mph.

Last year, he started on the outside of the front row after running a four-lap average of 231.511 mph.

“He showed speed right away, but not always finesse,” Luyendyk said. “He goes for it. He’s not afraid to attack. Sometimes, it has bit him in the butt. We know he has the speed on any type of race track. He’s definitely a star and a star in IndyCar.

“I can see him staying for a long time and we are going to enjoy his talents. It’s good to see. I’m really happy for him and his family because they put a lot into it and sacrificed a lot. He certainly has the talent.”

Like Luyendyk, VeeKay likes the fast corners at Indianapolis. Both drivers developed a knack and a rhythm for getting around the demanding 2.5-mile oval. It’s a feeling that both share.

“It’s a matter of feel,” Luyendyk said. “When you look at what happened last year in qualifying, he saved the car, was able to keep going and put it on the front row. Those reactions and the quick reaction he had; you can’t teach anybody that. You either have it or you don’t.

“He has that feel for what to do at that place.”

That feel was on full display during qualifying weekend for the 106th Indy 500.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500

NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E and Ian James set to race ahead of electric motorsports’ curve

James McLaren Formula E
NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team
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As Formula E enters their ninth season and McLaren Racing is set to compete in last year’s championship winning car, Ian James is passionate about pushing electric motorsports forward at a critical stage as race technology begins surpassing that of the street cars.

Midseason, McLaren acquired the assets of the Mercedes-EQ team as they were already on their way to winning a second consecutive championship. With those assets in place and coming off a successful debut in the Extreme E series, James is set to usher in a new era in electric car racing.

Last week’s announcement that Jake Hughes will join Rene Rast behind the wheel of the NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team was the last piece of the puzzle.

McLaren’s electric portfolio is building with the Formula E team coming one year after they entered the Extreme E rally series in 2022 with Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour. There were a lot of lessons to learn in that series with growing pains during the first three of five rounds. Rounds 4 and 5 were a completely different matter with the team crossing the finish line first in Chile before being assessed a time penalty.

In the final round in Uruguay, they scored an elusive podium.

“McLaren kicked off the season in Extreme E at the beginning of this year, so our first [electric] race took place Neom, actually out in Saudi,” NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team Principal James told NBC Sports. “At the time, we were in very early discussions about opportunities with the Formula E team. I actually went out there to meet with Zak [Brown, CEO McLaren Racing] and that was my first taste of Extreme E.

“Since the transition, I joined them in Chile in Atacama Desert, and then Uruguay last weekend. [The second-place finish was] a lovely way to round out the season. The fact that they got that podium. It was very well deserved. It’s a great team and a great series actually. It’s just so very different from anything else. The team’s done a great job in getting set up, and it’s nice now to, we’re trying to use that momentum that we’ve got from Uruguay to get us into next season when it kicks off next year, which will be great. I think we’re mid-March is looking like the first race, so a little bit of time to get things prepped for that.”

 

James McLaren Formula E
The NEOM Mclaren Racing Formula E Team was created through the acquisition of last year’s championship team from Mercedes-EQ. – NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team

Synergies exist between the single seater and rally series. Lessons learned about battery power and sustainability in the electric SUV carry over so long as one is mindful of keeping focus on the individual needs and nuances of each series.

Especially now that electric racing technology has caught up, and is ready to surpass, the existing technology that has gone into building street cars.

When internal combustion engines gained the upper hand soon after automobiles were invented, racing paced alongside. The pressure of competition pushed the development of their commercial equivalents. The same has not necessarily been true of electric cars. Street cars were not designed to undergo the same stress as racecars – and that vulnerability showed up on the racetrack.

“Formula E has come along a long way,” James said. “I think one of the most notable developments is in the battery technology. In Gen 1, you had the drivers jumping from one car to another car midrace because the battery technology and capacity simply wasn’t where it needed to be to do the full distance. That obviously changed in Gen 2 and we saw a power increase as well to the 250 kilowatts.

“Now going to Gen 3, we have 350 kilowatts in a smaller battery. But that means that we’re relying on the regeneration of energy and for that reason, we’ve got also the opportunity to regenerate on the front axle as well as the rear axle now. So, there’s all sorts of things that are developing in the right direction.

“In terms of throttle response, actually, we’re now in a situation with electric racing and the motors that it’s instantaneous. And one of the advantages of electric over combustion engine is that the torque is instantaneous as well, so that gives you a lot more room to play with.”

No matter the power source, racing has always been about resource management. Drivers and teams select tire strategies they believe produce the fastest elapsed time and fuel conservation comes into play.

On one hand, electric racing is the same, but there is a critical difference. With the battery as both the power source and an integral part of the engine, there are multiple reasons to manage it.

In electric racing, the brain of the car is the software – and that is where James sees the greatest room for advancement.

“As we are working with our drivers and engineers – and start to look at functionality to improve our efficiency and our performance, that’s something we’ll continue to push because that development is open throughout the season,” James said. “That’s going to be our focus going forward and provides enough of a challenge for us to get our teeth into.

“What’s going to be fascinating is as Formula E continues, is to really look at which areas of development on the car are going to be the most relevant and ensuring that we can focus on those together with the manufacturers so we continue and use the series as a platform for technical development that can then feed back into the road car side of things as well.

“At the end of the day, that’s what motorsports always been, a very powerful tool for, and I see Formula E as no exception.”

James McLaren Formula E
Jake Hughes and Rene Rast were chosen for their ability to drive fast and execute the necessary strategy for energy management. – NEOM McLaren Racing Formula E Team

Selecting Rast and Hughes as McLaren’s Formula E drivers was not simply because they know how to drive fast. James believes both drivers have the mental aptitude to execute energy management strategies throughout the race and squeeze maximum performance.

“As with many other motorsports, you’ve got a certain amount of energy that you’re able to deploy during the race and the management of that energy is absolutely crucial,” James said. “What we’re seeing typically in electric motorsports now is the hardware side of things. The efficiencies that we’re seeing in the powertrain as a whole, they’re getting up to the sort of 96%, 97%, 98% efficiency, so the gains that you get through that further and further become more marginal.”

With much more room for improvement, software is a different matter. To make the best decisions, the drivers need data, and that is where James believes McLaren Formula E will make their greatest impact.

“And then you really switch that focus to the software and that’s where you’re going to see the most the most improvement and the most gains,” James continued. “It’s then using that software to ensure that you’re deploying the energy in the most efficient manner during race, and thereby giving the driver the most performance. And that’s something which is incredibly complicated, but I find it a fascinating area to work in.

“The benefit of being involved in racing is you can really push the envelope in a way that you can’t do on road cars. And I think that that’s where that value comes in. It means that you accelerate the development a lot quicker. We will get ahead of the curve – and we are getting ahead of the curve now – and that will mean that the electric motorsports remain part of the overall development process.

“The key to that is also making sure that the racing’s exciting and fun for the fans. If we can, we can tick both of those boxes, then it’s got a very bright future ahead of it.”