Rinus VeeKay isn’t going to let one NTT INDYCAR SERIES season define him. He’s not giving up. He has way more to prove.
Despite having what he calls the toughest season of his racing career in 2023, VeeKay hopes to use what went wrong in 2023 as a springboard to finishing up front more consistently in 2024.
Adversity always will strike a professional athlete or an organization. What separates the best from the weak is how they respond. VeeKay and Ed Carpenter Racing are choosing to not hide from last year’s low point, which resulted in VeeKay finishing 14th in points with no top-five finishes after placing 12th the previous two seasons and recording his first career victory in 2021. They’re using it as fuel for improvement.
“It makes you learn even more because you really have to have to make everything count,” VeeKay said of 2023. “So, I think as a driver it's helped me get better throughout the season. I think also, on feedback standpoint, it helps the team. I think as a team, we've gotten stronger in the communication and the feedback – the driver to engineers’ connection throughout the year.”
VeeKay admits when last season went awry, the team focused on development. That put the car back on the right path by the final five races of the year. He had four top-11 finishes in that span.
“As a team, I think we have a lot to improve over the offseason,” VeeKay said. “So, we're working on that hard. We definitely know what we need. We know what we need to match those kind of results for the rest of the season next year. That's something we're working on.”
It’s not the first time that VeeKay has had to battle back. Just 11 practice laps into his NTT INDYCAR SERIES debut practice session at the Texas Motor Speedway in 2020, VeeKay went below the white line in Turn 4 and spun, making heavy left-side contact with the wall. Thirty-four laps into the race later that night, he crashed in Turn 2.
Two sessions, 45 combined laps and two wrecked race cars. That drew the ire of team owner and fellow competitor Ed Carpenter.
VeeKay admits now he doesn’t think that he was in the right mindset for that race weekend, mostly because of outside factors beyond his control.
That was June 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic raged. When the season was put on pause when the pandemic started that March, VeeKay, like many other drivers, returned to his native country, the Netherlands.
Then word came that the series would return the first weekend of June. During that time, anyone entering the United States had to quarantine for two weeks before entry. So, VeeKay flew to Mexico to quarantine alone before flying to Texas.
“I think that didn't help,” VeeKay said. “I think I wasn't really in the right state of mind to get the best results.”
After the disastrous night at Texas, VeeKay had a month to stew before the next race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. VeeKay, already under intense pressure, delivered a fifth-place performance.
“That makes you learn,” he says. “I look back at the debut, and I wouldn't change it. It gave me some experience that I really, really needed later in my career.”
Now, here he is, 62 starts later and still with the same team in the same car. It says a lot about how he responds to adversity and about his skill behind the wheel.
“I've grown a lot as a driver, I think especially now compared to that debut,” he said. “In the car turned out to be a lot harder than I then already imagined. Coming from the Road to Indy, where a bad result might be a P4 or P5, where most weekends in INDYCAR, if you get a podium that's incredible, incredible results, and sometimes even top 10.
“It's definitely just learning your weaknesses fast when you race at this level. I think throughout the years I've just learned a lot. I think I've gotten a lot more patient, and in my race craft, I think a lot more about the end product.”
That’s helped him grow as a leader of ECR. With owner Carpenter again racing just the ovals in 2024 and splitting the No. 20 Chevrolet with defending INDY NXT by Firestone champion Christian Rasmussen, VeeKay will be looked upon as a team leader.
Is he ready for that role?
“Last year I already feel felt like I was a team leader,” he said. “Now, of course, there was some driver shuffling going on in the 20 car last year. So, yeah, I think I really was the driver with the most experience for the second half the season. I was getting Ryan (Hunter-Reay) familiar with stuff and you know, it's kind of the same thing with Christian.
“I've been there, and I know that I have a role and I have important roles with the team to make everything better. I have the most data in my mind and the most experience now to be sure that we get what we need to be successful.
“I believe I am capable of helping this team and making sure we get frequent top-10s and hopefully podiums.”
VeeKay embraces this role as a newly married man. He tied the knot in the fall with his longtime girlfriend, Carmen, and is enjoying a rather quiet offseason with his bride. That moment was the biggest of his life personally. He’s hopeful to add to this joy professionally in 2024.