When it comes to tracks that are important to the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires, the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway are pinnacle locations for the developmental series.
From the first rung on the Road to Indy ladder in the USF2000 Championship to the next step in the Indy Pro 2000 Championship to Indy Lights, the goal for these drivers is to ultimately advance to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.
Three of the most recent Road to Indy graduates who have moved into the NTT INDYCAR SERIES are 20-year-old Rinus VeeKay of The Netherlands, 23-year-old Oliver Askew of Jupiter, Florida, and 27-year-old Dalton Kellett of Toronto.
This weekend’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio doubleheader is a chance for NTT INDYCAR SERIES rookies Askew and VeeKay to renew their competitive rivalry. In last year’s Indy Lights doubleheader, Askew swept both races and VeeKay finished third in both.
VeeKay, who recorded his third-straight top-10 finish on Saturday at Mid-Ohio, leads the NTT INDYCAR SERIES Rookie of the Year standings. Ed Carpenter Racing driver VeeKay has a 27-point lead over Alex Palou and a 39-point lead over Askew with four races remaining in the 2020 season.
“It’s nice to be leading the rookie championship, but there's way more than that,” VeeKay said. “I'm trying to make sure I do the best job I can do. You never know what's going to happen, but I'm going to give it my all.”
Askew beat VeeKay by 21 points last season to claim the Indy Lights title, and the two drivers combined to win 14 of the 18 races. This year, the pecking order has changed. They’re no longer the dominant drivers in their series, now up against the best drivers in INDYCAR.
“Everything is so close right now, even between all the veterans, you have one good weekend and you jump so many places in the championship,” Askew said. “I had no idea what the points deficit was between the rookies. I just need to make sure that we do our homework and show up and be fast right away because on these condensed weekends if you're not on it in practice one, it snowballs into the rest of the sessions.”
The Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is familiar turf to both drivers. They hope that experience in other forms of racing can help them adapt to the faster, more potent Indy cars in this Sunday’s doubleheader nightcap. The race is 1 p.m. on NBC.
“It's a track where I've never finished off the podium in my whole Road to Indy,” VeeKay said. “It's quite a track. I love it there. Finally, after a long time of ovals, we go to a road course again. I really enjoy the ovals, but I'm looking forward to turning right this weekend.
“I've had a very important test with Ed Carpenter Racing at Mid-Ohio, so good memories.”
VeeKay said Ed Carpenter Racing has produced some of its best road course races at Mid-Ohio, increasing his confidence that he can score his first INDYCAR podium finish.
“It's just a great, old-school track,” VeeKay said. “Coming from Europe or seeing guys coming from Europe going into Mid-Ohio, it's quite a step from having run-offs, having grass. Crazy track, but it's a lot of fun, very technical, and I think if you can be fast at Mid-Ohio, you can be fast everywhere.”
This weekend will be another doubleheader for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, but that’s fine with these two young drivers. Many of the Road to Indy weekends consist of doubleheader contests, but they’re much shorter races than the featured INDYCAR events.
“It's going to be a hot one,” Askew said. “With the doubleheaders, it's important to recover as quick as possible Saturday night to feel as fresh as possible Sunday morning heading into qualifying, too.
“It'll definitely be a big challenge for all of us and maybe especially for the rookies.”