Luyendyk has high praise for VeeKay

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Like any young and ambitious driver, Rinus VeeKay has always dreamed of making a name for himself in racing.

That started when he arrived in the U.S. in 2017 with changing his Dutch name from Rinus van Kalmthout. Rinus VeeKay is easier to pronounce.

“And it sounds quick, too,” VeeKay said.

The 19-year-old talent quickly ascended through the ranks to earn a couple of NTT IndyCar Series tests with Ed Carpenter Racing, the most recent Tuesday at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

VeeKay had become a hot commodity for an INDYCAR ride after finishing second this past season in Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires, where he won four races and finished on the podium in 14 of 18 starts for Juncos Racing. In 2018, he was champion in the Mazda Pro Series.

“You’re dancing with the car,” he said during Portland’s race weekend in September. “I like it. Just one with the car and in the zone. I’m terrible at dancing. We have to start a program, ‘Dancing With The Cars’ instead of ‘Dancing With The Stars.’”

The son of Marijn van Kalmthout, who drove in Boss GP, BRL Light and Formula Ford with 38 career wins and four series championships from 1999 and 2012, VeeKay grew up at the race track. And his racing family has a strong connection to INDYCAR Hall of Famer Arie Luyendyk, “The Flying Dutchman,” who is now a series race steward and a trusted VeeKay advisor.

“My dad used to work on his dad’s race car in the mid-90s,” Luyendyk said. “My dad worked on his Formula Ford. In 1998, Arie Jr. did a bunch of races over there in Formula Ford. So his dad would race against Arie Jr. in Formula Ford. His dad’s mechanic used to be my mechanic in the ‘70s, so we go back a long way.

“I didn’t know much about Rinus until he came here. When he raced F2000, he won two races at Elkhart Lake, but the way he won those races, I knew he was a special talent. And he’s proven that. I knew after Elkhart Lake that he had the right stuff.”

Luyendyk compares VeeKay favorably to the series’ other young talents.

“He’s as good as any young guy out there,” Luyendyk said. “I’m talking Colton Herta and Pato O’Ward, those young guys, he’s as good as those guys.”

That’s why ECR gave VeeKay an August test at Portland International Raceway. And the youngster handled himself well.

“He’s very determined,” Luyendyk said. “He’s so fit. He did 140-plus laps here in Ed Carpenter’s car. He did really well, lap-time wise, and fitness level, everything was really good.”

During Portland race weekend, VeeKay thoroughly enjoyed an opportunity to dine with Luyendyk. Where the young driver once considered Brazilian legend Aryton Senna as an idol, he adds Luyendyk to that short list.

“I love Arie,” VeeKay said. “I had the most fun night, I laughed so hard at dinner. We’re like friends now. We talk about everything outside of racing.

“I’d like to be Arie. That’s the goal, to match his results and his legacy. But also Aryton Senna, to see how the whole country of Brazil was behind him. That’s the goal for me to achieve with the Netherlands.”

Luyendyk is happy to help him in his career.

“His dad has a lot of knowledge about racing and he’s a pretty good business guy,” Luyendyk said. “Unfortunately for Rinus, a couple of things happened this year in Indy Lights where he lost out on a lot of points, otherwise he could have been fighting for the championship.

“We discuss pretty much everything they do with him, career-wise. I’m an advisor. Sometimes they will come to me and ask if they should do this, and I’ll tell them who they can trust. I know a lot of people in the paddock. People come up to him. Everybody wants to be his manager.”

VeeKay admits the ECR test made a positive impression.

“Quite a few teams came to me and showed interest,” he said. “It’s great to get the attention.”

He’s still so young, he looks like he has a baby face that hasn’t seen a razor.

“I shave every morning,” he said with a smile, “just for the feeling, just to feel old.”

Herta proved in his rookie season that age is just a number as he became the youngest driver at 18 to win an INDYCAR race at COTA. He finished the season with a second victory at Laguna Seca.

The significance that Herta finished second in Indy Lights the previous year, just like VeeKay this season, isn’t lost on VeeKay. He’s confident he can achieve success and make a name for himself in INDYCAR as Herta has done.

“I’m actually thinking that,” he said. “I think it’s possible, too.”

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