Wednesday, June 1, 2022

INDYCAR: VeeKay becomes first Dutchman to finish last in Indy 500

PHOTO: Sporting News
by William Soquet Staff Writer

Rinus VeeKay scored the 1st last-place finish in his NTT IndyCar Series career in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway when his #21 Bitcoin Racing Team Chevrolet crashed out of the race after 38 of the race’s 200 laps.

The finish came in VeeKay’s 35th career start.

Born as Rinus van Kalmthout, VeeKay started his racing career in his native Netherlands, finding success in the junior karting ranks. He ran across the European continent at age 15 in the 2015 season, finishing second in the Rotax Max European series. Van Kalmthout moved to single-seater formula racing in 2016, running in Formula Renault cars in 2016. He hopped across the pond for 2017, rebranding himself as Rinus VeeKay for a USF2000 drive in 2017 with Wisconsin-based Pabst Racing. After three wins and a second-place finish in the championship, VeeKay moved to the Pro Mazda Series with Juncos Racing and won an astounding seven of 16 races on the schedule in 2018, winning the championship over Parker Thompson and Oliver Askew. That earned him a scholarship to Indy Lights in 2019, and he stayed with Juncos for that season. Despite winning a third of the races on the schedule, VeeKay lost an epic championship duel with Askew by a mere 21 points.

On the heels of that season, Ed Carpenter Racing signed Askew to replace Spencer Pigot in the team’s #21 entry for the 2020 season. After a rocky start to the season that included crashes in both practice and the race at Texas, VeeKay progressed throughout, landing on the podium in one of the fall races at the Indianapolis road course. ECR renewed him for 2021, and he made good on that extension, winning the May race on the Indianapolis road course, the site of his first podium the fall before. A broken collarbone sustained in a bicycling accident forced himto miss the race at Road America, and a string of poor results in the back half of the year hampered his season. Despite that, he finished 12th in the final standings, an improvement upon his rookie year, and was brought back by ECR for a third season, this time funded by Bitnile, a cryptocurrency holding and mining company. VeeKay showed flashes of brilliance in the early portion of the season yet again, winning the pole and landing on the podium at Barber before heading into the Indianapolis 500.

A noticeable absence at this year’s 500 was that of bumping. There were exactly 33 entrants, and the last of those - Stefan Wilson’s Cusick/DragonSpeed entry - wasn’t confirmed until less than a month before the race. A.J. Foyt Racing did not enter a fourth car this year, with J.R. Hildebrand running one of the team’s regular entries. Carlin exited IndyCar entirely, and Paretta Autosport has not made any attempts this year. Despite that, the smaller teams in the IndyCar paddock did deliver in a big way. The aforementioned DragonSpeed made a late entry, and Dreyer & Reinbold Racing contributed two entries to this year’s field, too.

Ed Carpenter Racing usually brings fast entries to Indianapolis, and this year was no different. VeeKay wound up 13th and 15th in open testing, and then landing sixth on the charts in the opening day of practice. The variations of tow and no-tow strategies during different practice sessions saw a number of drivers at the bottom of the charts at the end of the various practice sessions, including Colton Herta, Santino Ferrucci and Stefan Wilson.

Wilson was the only driver not to make a qualifying attempt; the engine in his car expired during the morning tune-up session that preceded qualifying on Saturday, May 21. Despite not taking an attempt, with only 33 entrants, his #25 Cusick Motorsports with DragonSpeed entry was guaranteed a spot in the race, albeit in the 33rd and final starting spot.

Starting on the outside of Row 11, Wilson quickly made a move on Indy 500 rookie Christian Lundgaard, a Danish driver piloting a Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing entry for this IndyCar season, and it was Lundgaard who was last across the stripe for Lap 1. The field then proceeded to gradually spread out, with very few cars losing touch with the one in front, just a steady stream of cars around the 2.5-mile oval. Wilson also eventually worked his way past Dalton Kellett, moving up to the 31st spot before the opening round of pit stops. Kellett eventually dropped to the final spot on the racetrack, falling behind Lundgaard at Lap 16.

Kellett’s teammate at A.J. Foyt Racing, J.R. Hildebrand, started the pit cycle on Lap 29, and the 33rd spot transferred among a number of drivers during the pit cycle. Hildebrand, Conor Daly, Kellett and Wilson all held last at points, with Wilson in 33rd at the completion of the pit cycle. VeeKay was running in second place behind Alex Palou on Lap 39 when he got loose in the middle of Turn 2, the car snapping around and backing into the outside wall before coming to a rest in the backstretch grass.

The Bottom Three was filled by Callum Ilott and Romain Grosjean, both victims of single-car incidents in the same corner that were eerily similar to VeeKay’s. Colton Herta retired with mechanical issues - the only driver to do so Sunday - in 30th place. Scott McLaughlin was the lone driver to crash in Turns 3 and 4 with two vicious impacts against the outside wall. Jimmie Johnson and Sage Karam both found the Turn 2 trouble spot as well in the closing stages of the race, bringing the total to six cars who crashed out of this year’s Indy 500.

33) #21-Rinus VeeKay / 38 laps / crash
32) #77-Callum Ilott / 68 laps / crash
31) #28-Romain Grosjean / 105 laps / crash

1st) Chevrolet (4)
2nd) Honda (2)

1st) A.J. Foyt Racing (3)
2nd) Andretti Autosport, Dale Coyne Racing, Ed Carpenter Racing (1)


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