For the past three seasons, rising talents Oliver Askew and Rinus VeeKay have been rivals in the Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires.
The pair dominated INDYCAR’s three-tier, developmental ladder series during that period, combining to win three driver’s titles, nearly two-thirds of the races they entered and never finishing worse than third in the championship standings.
Askew won the 2017 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship – the first rung of the series – and followed with the 2019 crown in Indy Lights, the top rung of the system. VeeKay won the 2018 Indy Pro 2000 Championship while finishing runner-up to Askew in the other two series.
In 2020, they will resume their rivalry and be competing for another notable title - the NTT IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year.
VeeKay was announced Wednesday as the full-time driver for Ed Carpenter Racing in the No. 21 Chevrolet. He became the third Road to Indy graduate in the past three weeks during a busy off-season to earn a full-time seat in the NTT IndyCar Series.
VeeKay’s confirmation followed the late October announcement of Askew and Patricio O’Ward, the 2018 Indy Lights champion, being named as the full-time drivers of the Chevrolet-powered Arrow McLaren SP organization.
It is part of the series’ recent youth movement which, including Askew and VeeKay, will see 14 Road to Indy drivers graduate to the top level of the sport since 2015.
VeeKay, who hails from Hoofddorp, Netherlands, is the youngest of the trio at 19 years old. O’Ward, of Monterrey, Mexico, is 20 and Askew, of Jupiter, Fla., is 22.
“It’s a dream come true and something we have worked extremely hard for over the last couple of years,” VeeKay said. “To step up from USF2000 to the NTT IndyCar Series in three years is really special. … The number of available seats in the NTT IndyCar Series is very limited, so it’s a great honor that (Ed Carpenter Racing) has chosen me to join their team.”
Both VeeKay and Askew got their introduction to an NTT IndyCar Series car in August when they were chosen for a test at Portland International Raceway. VeeKay tested with Ed Carpenter Racing that day while Askew took part in the session with Chip Ganassi Racing. VeeKay eventually had a second test with ECR in October and obviously impressed the team. Askew also was a name continually being bantered about for consideration of any potential full-time NTT IndyCar Series seats in 2020.
“(The NTT IndyCar Series) is what I've been working for for my entire career since I started racing when I was seven years old in go-karts,” Askew said. “So it's a surreal feeling to finally be here. I can't wait to get to work.
“A couple years ago (the NTT) IndyCar (Series) looked so far away, let alone Indy Lights. So it's been a whirlwind couple of years. It's a testament to the people around me for sure I mean starting with Cape Motorsports and USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000 and then Andretti Autosport this year in Indy Lights. I've been surrounded by a lot of great people and have been given tremendous opportunities. And I've just based my success off of a lot of preparation beforehand, before the season, before the races, and I've dedicated my life to racing and I've sacrificed a lot to get to this point.”
O’Ward is the Indy car veteran of the group with eight career NTT IndyCar Series starts, including his stunning 2018 debut at Sonoma Raceway. He qualified in the Firestone Fast Six and finished eighth just a few weeks after winning the Indy Lights crown. Last season, O’Ward competed in seven races for Carlin before being signed by the Red Bull Junior Team with a future eye on Formula One. He was with the team was roughly six months before they severed ties and opened the opportunity for a return to the NTT IndyCar Series.
“I think it's very big, not just for me but for Oliver as well,” O’Ward said. “We're just starting our journey into the professional side of this sport and it's something we have been working towards our whole lives, so I'm very much looking forward to the opportunity.
“I think we're going to make a really good team. We're both hungry for all the success. I think at this point both the team and we are growing, we're starting a new chapter in our careers and I think the sky's the limit.”
Arrow McLaren SP co-owner Sam Schmidt is a believer of the path produced by the Road to Indy and the talent it attracts.
“What we're seeing recently with the Road to Indy is nothing short of amazing. If you win, you advance. If you win, you advance,” said Schmidt, whose teams won seven Indy Lights titles before focusing solely on the NTT IndyCar Series. “These kids aren't coming in with three and four and five years of experience. We're talking 13, 14 years of racing experience and so they're coming in a lot more advanced than the rookies of days of old.
“So we saw, it's no shocker, I mean what Colton Herta did this year (two wins and two poles as a rookie) was nothing short of amazing and these guys come from exactly the same background. So a lot of people have said that it's really risky, it's a gamble, but we really don't think it is.”
VeeKay, Askew and O’Ward will make their initial 2020 on-track appearances with their new teams at the INDYCAR open test Feb. 11-12 at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas. The trio will make their official debuts at the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg set for March 13-15 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. The race will be televised live on the NBCSN.