Sometimes lessons are learned the hard way.
Rinus VeeKay learned that in spades in the first event of the 2020 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season, held June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Maybe because the young Dutchman was rushing into a pandemic-delayed season or maybe he just didn’t have enough experience to make a good first impression, but two crashes in that event – one early in the practice, the other early in the race -- drew choice words from his employer.
What Ed Carpenter Racing owner/driver Ed Carpenter said privately was apparently even more direct than the words he used on the television broadcast, but the result was VeeKay got the message. From that moment on, his season was clean.
Contact from Colton Herta (Iowa Speedway) and rookie Scott McLaughlin (St. Petersburg) wasn’t VeeKay’s fault, and he completed 99.6 percent of the other race laps (1,445 of 1,450) to earn the NTT INDYCAR SERIES Rookie of the Year Award.
Carpenter’s insistence of controlled aggression had been applied.
“I found out that finishing a race is quite important,” VeeKay said.
VeeKay’s consistency in 2020 helped him finish 14th in the standings, and he was only two points from finishing two positions higher. Without the contact from others, he might have finished in the top 10.
When VeeKay balanced patience and aggression, his talent delivered impressive results. In qualifying, he earned the No. 4 starting position for the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge – he was the only Chevrolet driver in the Fast Nine Shootout -- and he won his first NTT P1 Award for pole in the Harvest Grand Prix’s first race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. In races, VeeKay finished sixth and fourth in the doubleheader at World Wide Technology Raceway and frequently established himself in the lead pack.
The driver tutored by fellow countryman and two-time “500” winner Arie Luyendyk seems primed for more gains in 2021, and there are many who tout him as the series’ next first-time race winner.
Ever the sponge and still not 21 years old, 2019 Indy Lights runner-up VeeKay is ready to absorb and deliver.
“I think we had a very steep learning curve last year, and my job (in 2021) is to make sure that steep learning curve keeps staying as steep as it is now throughout the season,” he said.
His goal is straightforward.
“I want to do better than I did last year in any way,” he said. “I think we can be a frontrunner regularly, like we can be one of the favorites every race. I’m thinking about top five (finishes). Once you’re (there) … you can go for that race win where everything goes your way.”
Carpenter not only likes VeeKay’s confidence, he applauds his improved perspective. The Indianapolis-based team has shown to be capable of winning races – it has seven career wins -- and Carpenter believes the driver of the No. 21 SONAX Chevrolet is ready to take the next step.
“His ability to respond, to realize his mistakes, to (take) ownership of his mistakes and move forward, I think you saw him get stronger and stronger as the (2020) season went on,” Carpenter said. “He’s still 20. He’s got a lot to learn, (and) he knows that.
“But he works extremely hard on the track, off the track, and I have no doubt we’re going to continue to see his ability to show his talents on a more consistent basis. Hopefully, we’ll be winning races together soon.”
VeeKay and the rest of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers will open the 2021 season on Sunday, April 18 in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by AmFirst at Barber Motorsports Park. NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network will have the coverage at 3 p.m. (ET). The 17-race season includes the 105th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on Sunday, May 30.