Judging this driver purely on first entering the race with a broken finger, then being involved in a huge crash on lap one in one of the most competitive motorsport championships in the world, you wouldn’t hold out much hope for a positive result.
However, of 24 IndyCars on the grid, Rinus VeeKay suffered the circumstances above and manhandled his Chevrolet-powered Ed Carpenter Racing entry to sixth!
It was an incredible result for the Dutch driver, who hasn’t has the easiest time of his IndyCar career so far even though he won rookie of the year last year, ahead of the driver who won the Barber race last weekend, Alex Palou.
More headline results in his rookie year gave VeeKay the rookie title, but Palou made far fewer mistakes. Indeed, VeeKay took Palou out of last year’s Texas opener having also crashed in practice when a return from the COVID pandemic lockdown really required a bit more of a conservative approach.
Despite these shortcomings, VeeKay was at times one of the most spectacular drivers on the grid with daring overtaking moves that often stole the breath from your lungs in their audacity. Driving for a smaller outfit in Ed Carpenter Racing, giant killing against the series big teams hasn’t been easy and there have been mistakes along the way, but the talent is certainly there.
The week before the Barber weekend, VeeKay had a massive crash in the Indianapolis 500 open test, which caused his broken finger. You’ll be surprised to hear what impact it had on VeeKay’s race last weekend, though…
Note to self: don’t post on social media you’re ready for the season with testing still to go. Nasty wind from the side swept me into the wall. Broken finger, but good to go again. Sorry to the team, these days were meant to get as many laps and I’m gutted we can’t do that now… pic.twitter.com/MnLZ81uAFH
— Rinus VeeKay (@rinusveekay) April 8, 2021
“To be honest, I didn’t notice it when I was driving,” VeeKay says matter-of-factly, perhaps not realising quite how bizarre that sounds!
“No, I could just do anything I needed, like all the hand things that I normally do, like all the tasks are with all my fingers except my index so lucky with that.
“I felt actually pretty good and had no pain, didn’t distract me whatsoever.
“It broke in a good way so they don’t have to like reset it or anything so I just have to keep this brace on for, I think, two or three more weeks and then take it off and continue with life.”
So that’s the first bit of adversity covered, now onto the small matter of being involved in a massive crash!
Josef Newgarden lost the rear end of his Team Penske entry exiting Turn 4 in uncharacteristic fashion, and began a huge pile-up from eighth on back. There’s a fantastic picture from the start of the race where the leaders are rounding Turn 5 serenely, while Felix Rosenqvist (left side) is in the air and VeeKay (right side) is totally sideways to the direction of travel!
“Actually I was braced for impact, like all the cars were going everywhere,” VeeKay recalls.
“I hit the brakes, and my rear tyre got on the grass because I had to move out for, I think it was Josef’s car. Then I spun and I got hit straight by Colton Herta, only suffered a left front puncture.
“I tried to stay out until the pit lane opened but something came off and it was slapping around and I preferred to come in and get back to the tail end of the field instead of having damage on the floor because of trying to stay out.”
— Rinus VeeKay (@rinusveekay) April 18, 2021
The crash went viral on Monday after Ryan Hunter-Reay released images of his onboard, where he ploughed into Newgarden’s front right and dislodged his wheel, which then clobbered RHR’s aeroscreen.
The dangers of a wheel hitting a helmet at that speed don’t need to be explained, and Hunter-Reay was quick to credit the device with saving its life.
Well that was a race weekend to forget. We struggled w/drivetrain (straight line speed) issues through practice & qualifying. Then our race ended before it really started, taken out in 1st lap pile-up. Extremely grateful for the @IndyCar Aeroscreen. Likely saved my life pic.twitter.com/KnDe4XwAZH
— Ryan Hunter-Reay (@RyanHunterReay) April 19, 2021
The device may have appeared ungainly when it was first introduced and similar to the halo in Formula 1, some sections of the fanbase criticised it for the look and closed-cockpit feel contradicting ‘open-wheel racing’, as silly as that sounds.
VeeKay was part of the Iowa crash with Herta last year that really felt like it shifted the interpretation of the aeroscreen to necessary and life-saving from talk of its aesthetics.
Asked his take on the Barber crash, VeeKay said: “Yeah I think it definitely showed it [safety benefits] again now.
“Even in F1 I think with Bottas and the halo, it’s just that extra safety around you which is really nice. Of course, you never know if something’s going to be fatal, but you always see that something can go very wrong, like if you see the onboards from Ryan [Hunter-Reay].
“So, yeah, I think it’s a great invention to have the aeroscreen on, and especially having the screen on the ovals also, with flying debris sometimes, you know it’s gonna be a very, very nice thing to have.”
Back to the race at hand, VeeKay pitted and caught the back of the field. This was a free pitstop that allowed him to make his race a two-stopper from there and he didn’t have to save any fuel.
Many other drivers attempted a similar three-stop strategy including front-row starters Patricio O’Ward and Alexander Rossi. However, their first stops were made under green-flag conditions and so they lost time.
The leading group emerged on a two stop strategy, but had to save fuel to make it work.
VeeKay and the other drivers who had pitted under the early caution – notably Sebastien Bourdais who avoided the early crash and was further forward than VeeKay – were now on the same strategy but didn’t have to save fuel, so could push harder and use push-to-pass to make up time.
Bourdais managed to move up to fifth by the end of the race, and VeeKay was one spot behind in sixth.
Owing to the early crash though, VeeKay had even more work to do to get into that position.
“I think the crossweight was a little bit off, but it was quite a straight hit so no, car was feeling pretty good, actually,” he says.
“Also, like, especially on the blacks [harder tyre] – in testing we felt that the tyres scrubbed up super fast there [at Barber], but actually in a race like the balance got more towards how I liked it so I only got quicker and quicker so I felt really good.
“I kind of liked passing on this track, even though it was very hard. I was one of very few that could make passes into Turn 12 and it didn’t take me too long to get past someone so once I got clean track, I was pretty fast.
“Second fastest lap time of the race was, was quite good looking at, [given] how the whole weekend was.
“So yeah, I think we just had very good pace in the race and the car stayed very, very similar through the whole run.”
It was a miraculous recovery given the adversity, and we haven’t even mentioned that he’d been out qualified by team-mate Conor Daly who was 10th while VeeKay started 14th.
Before the race the weekend was shaping up not dissimilar to his IndyCar debut at Texas last year.
The practice crash – he got too high on the oval where there was no grip – meant he couldn’t qualify, and then he crashed in the race.
It’s well documented but Ed Carpenter, VeeKay’s team boss, had stern words and made it blatantly clear his rookie driver’s weekend was unacceptable, and VeeKay has used that as motivation ever since.
— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) June 7, 2020
When asked about whether that experience at Texas helped at Barber, Veekay replies: “Definitely.
“Like, I learned in the past two years, to never give up. So much can happen and you’ve seen it this race.
“I was actually surprised to be honest with me running in the top 10 at one point, even leading the race. It was definitely crazy but you know IndyCar is crazy and anything can happen. It’s a big strategy game too.”
VeeKay now faces a St Petersburg street race this weekend which he thinks suits his style, and while the race didn’t go his way last year he still showed strong pace.
We know what VeeKay can do coming back from adversity, so you have to wonder what he’ll be able to do if he can qualify better and have a more normal race.