Just 17 days after breaking his collarbone, NTT INDYCAR SERIES driver Rinus VeeKay is ready to power through the G-forces this weekend at the winding and undulating Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
VeeKay has gone through surgery and new training regimens ahead of The Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Presented by the HPD Ridgeline and will wrestle the power steering-less car with eight screws in his left clavicle. But the Dutchman said he is in no pain after missing the REV Group Grand Prix presented by AMR June 20 at Road America.
“I'm feeling good. Feeling strong,” he said. “I got quite a good range of motion in my left shoulder again. I've been on the simulator and just felt great. No distractions from any weird feelings or pain. I’m ready to race and ready to win.”
VeeKay isn’t the only driver returning this weekend. Felix Rosenqvist will be back in the No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet after he, too, was cleared by the INDYCAR Medical Team after missing Road America and Race 2 of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit due to a heavy crash June 12 in Race 1 at Detroit.
VeeKay’s absence in the paddock was due to a bicycle accident just a day after the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit, when he attempted to ride his bicycle from Northwest Indiana to Chicago before making his way up to Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. VeeKay said roughly 15 miles into his ride on an ordinary biking path, his handlebars went sideways and threw him over the bike.
Fortunately and unfortunately, this is not new territory for Ed Carpenter Racing. Two-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Josef Newgarden suffered a similar injury in a racing accident while driving for the team in 2016 at Texas Motor Speedway. He was back in the car less than two weeks after his injury, at Road America.
VeeKay said he has leaned on Newgarden and members of his team who helped Newgarden find comfort in the car five years ago for advice. Newgarden assured the second-year driver that he’ll feel no pain after the surgery and said to expect his collarbone to feel good while driving the car. Newgarden also advised the driver to try different HANS Device pads that sit over his shoulder to relieve pressure.
The Ed Carpenter Racing team spent last Monday testing new safety devices for VeeKay to use this weekend. VeeKay also said he received a direct message from Australian V8 Supercars driver Shane van Gisbergen on Instagram, who injured his collarbone in a mountain biking accident this spring.
The Kiwi racer told VeeKay about hyperbaric oxygen treatments, which helped speed his recovery. These treatments involve breathing pure oxygen in a pressurized environment two-to-three times higher than normal air pressure. Under these conditions, the lungs gather more oxygen than normal, which carries more oxygen through the body and can promote healing.
This is one of several ways VeeKay’s training regimen has changed after his injury. He said he found a clinic that performs hyperbaric oxygen treatments, and he has done three-hour sessions every day. Additionally, VeeKay has cut out most of his upper-body strength training.
On Wednesday, VeeKay did his first push-ups in two weeks. Now, he has transitioned to cardio, having run a 5K on Wednesday, as well. But have no fear, VeeKay said he isn’t cycling yet and likely won’t until the offseason.
But even with a transition in his training routine, VeeKay doesn’t expect it will hamper his driving ability. He said on the Chevrolet simulator Wednesday he was four seconds faster than his 2020 performance at Mid-Ohio, where he finished eighth and 11th, respectively in the doubleheader.
“I think it's not going to be a problem,” he said. “I feel confident. I was first a little bit worried about maybe my neck would be painful with the pressure, with the G-forces, but I've done some neck training and felt nothing, feel super strong. Definitely no worries, and as long as I don't go overhead with my arms, it's going to be fine.”
While VeeKay sat out the REV Group Grand Prix presented by AMR at Road America, Oliver Askew drove the No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet to a 12th-place finish. Askew drove Rosenqvist’s No. 7 car to a 25th-place finish in Detroit after a mechanical problem ended his race early, and Formula One veteran Kevin Magnussen finished 24th in the Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet at Road America after mechanical issues ended his day early.
As VeeKay watched Askew race his car, VeeKay was adamant that his drive to win the Astor Challenge Cup starts anew at Mid-Ohio. But that was before Alex Palou scored his second win of the season. VeeKay fell to sixth in the championship standings, 106 points behind points leader Palou.
Now VeeKay said he is taking the rest of the season race-by-race. He believes he can make a late charge for the championship, citing Scott Dixon’s late-season surges in the past. At the end of the season, VeeKay said he will be happy with a top five in the championship.
“I think it's definitely possible,” he said. “You've got to be lucky yourself, and other guys got to be a little unlucky. But I'm not really focused on that. “You can work as hard as possible, but it's almost impossible. It's definitely going to be tough to catch up, but that's not really any of my worries. I'm just going to give it all and see where I end up.”
VeeKay will look to score his second win of the season starting with first practice at 2:30 p.m. (ET) Friday, July 2, live on Peacock Premium. A full weekend of action culminates with the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Presented by the HPD Ridgeline at noon (ET) Sunday, July 4, live on NBC and INDYCAR Radio Network.