With the announcement of a full-season 2020 NTT IndyCar Series ride with Ed Carpenter Racing, Rinus VeeKay stands poised to complete his meteoric rise through the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires development series ladder, graduating from karts to the premiere open wheel racing series in less than four years.
But who is this young Dutch phenom who will make his NTT IndyCar Series debut at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in March? Road to Indy fans already know him as the hard-charging protégé of fellow countryman (and two-time Indy 500 winner) Arie Luyendyk, who has made a name for himself on the international stage by finishing in the top two in all three of his Road to Indy seasons.
VeeKay’s success is well documented, with his recent history closely tied to that of fellow Road to Indy graduate, 2019 Indy Lights champion Oliver Askew. VeeKay finished a close second to Askew in the 2017 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship, then captured the 2018 Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires. He finished second to Askew this season to complete his Road to Indy career with some impressive statistics in 46 races, including 16 wins, 14 poles and 36 podiums (78 percent). As did Askew, who several weeks ago signed with Arrow McLaren SP, VeeKay appreciates the part the Road to Indy played in his growth.
“Without the Road to Indy, I wouldn’t be the driver I am today,” he said. “I really appreciate all of the opportunities these past three years, especially the Mazda scholarship for 2019. I was glad to be able to compete on this kind of level, learning off-track as well as on track. I feel as though I’m prepared going into interviews, public speaking, social media, dealing with the fans. It’s unique, to have a ladder system that teaches you all of that.”
The native of Hoofddorp, Netherlands grew up at the racetrack as he, his sister Michelle and mom Evelien cheered on his father Marijn in Formula Ford, Benelux Racing League and BOSSGP races for much of his younger years. But on his eighth birthday, his father gave Rinus a Tony Kart, and his fate was sealed.
VeeKay entered the international racing ranks at age 12 and won the Dutch Rotax Max Junior class (the youngest Dutch junior champion in history) before moving to Italy and finishing third in the CIK-FIA Karting Academy. Numerous championships in Holland and Europe followed, and in 2014, he earned entry into KNAF Talent First, an Olympic-style training program for young athletes. The KNAF Talent First training facilities included a racing simulator, giving VeeKay his first taste of American racetracks and planting a seed as he began to make decisions regarding his future.
“The Road to Indy ladder system and the scholarships were quite an important factor as I decided where to go,” he said. “It’s very special that drivers get the chance to go all the way up the ladder, and the scholarship program really helped me. That’s one of the factors that initially made me want to come to the United States.
“And as I trained on the simulator, I thought Road America was so cool, and when I came to the U.S., it ended up being my favorite track. It has a European feel, like Spa-Francorchamps, but with an American atmosphere. When you race there, you can smell the barbecues.”
When a Road to Indy karting advancement program awarded the young VeeKay a USF2000 test, the VeeKay family began to look at America in earnest. He drove for Cape Motorsports in the Chris Griffis Memorial Test in 2015, held that year at Circuit of The Americas but given his tender age (only 15 at the time) and the fact that the Tatuus USF-17 would come online a year later, he spent another year in karting as he prepared for his race car debut. VeeKay announced his plans to compete in the series at the USF-17 reveal just prior to the 2016 Indianapolis 500, a weekend that is forever etched in his memory.
“Being at the 100th Running of the Indy 500 – and seeing what my future might be – was amazing,” he said.
VeeKay competed in the Rotax US Open Senior championship that year and along the way encountered another young driver who would become his primary Road to Indy rival: Floridian Oliver Askew.
VeeKay made his USF2000 debut in 2017 driving for Pabst Racing, earning a pole, three victories and 12 podium finishes, never finishing lower than his qualifying position in all 14 races. Askew launched into the season with a torrid pace, scoring five victories in the first five races, but VeeKay snapped back into the championship race with a sweep of both races at the team’s home track, Road America. Finishing the season only seven points behind Askew, VeeKay credits the Pabst team for giving him the tools to succeed that first year.
“I am so happy with the opportunity they gave me just two weeks before the season started, after the Carlin-Benik team I had signed with decided to stop their USF2000 program,” he said. “I still have a good relationship with Augie and the whole family. They’re such a great racing family and I’m so grateful for what they did for me in USF2000.”
In tomorrow’s second part, VeeKay continues his rise up the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires ladder.