Rocket Rinus VeeKay’s Finest Hour at the GMR Grand Prix

The field of 25 cars roaring to life at the Indy road course, led by pole sitter Romain Grosjean. (Photo: James Black/INDYCAR)

11 months ago, Rinus VeeKay was in hot water with Ed Carpenter after a disastrous IndyCar debut at Texas. Last month, VeeKay had a savage Turn 1 crash during Indy 500 testing that resulted in a broken finger.

Fast forward to mid-May 2021, Rinus VeeKay became the third first-time winner this season. Following a daring performance mid-race that saw him threading the needle at one point, he had a rocket ship. All of that came into fruition on Lap 45 when he passed Romain Grosjean for the lead.

The young Dutchman never looked back, beating the ex-F1 driver by 4.9510 seconds. It marked Ed Carpenter Racing’s first win since Josef Newgarden at Iowa in 2016. More importantly, VeeKay became the first Dutch racer to win an Indy car race since Robert Doornbos in 2007.

Savoring the moment was totally an understatement for Rinus VeeKay. (Photo: Joe Skibinski/INDYCAR)

Gradually one of the quickest drivers this weekend, Rinus VeeKay always felt confident about his winning odds. This was despite starting seventh on the grid as Friday’s headlines was about Grosjean.

“We had an awesome start to the weekend. The best start I’ve ever had. Starting seventh wasn’t amazing, but I knew we had the car,” said VeeKay. “We were so fast. I’m so happy for the team. So thankful because I couldn’t have done it without them.”

Certainly, the 20-year-old headlines on what was a parity laced weekend as the top dogs of IndyCar weren’t contenders. With Saturday’s triumph, Rinus VeeKay will enter the 105th Indianapolis 500 sixth in points.

Podium Reflections:

VeeKay

Perhaps the biggest highlight of his maiden victory was his daring three-wide pass in Turn 6. The two drivers who lost out were Chip Ganassi Racing duo of Alex Palou and Jimmie Johnson. As boss was that maneuver, there was some concerns.

When the race came down to the wire, fuel and potential rain suddenly became a concern at ECR. The rain didn’t really faze Rinus VeeKay, but fuel sparked some anxious moments. Once those two subjects weren’t an issue, family mattered most as his parents were able to celebrate a phenomenal moment.

“I’m standing in victory lane,” VeeKay exclaimed. “Great to have my family here. You know, it’s hard to get them (overseas) because of the pandemic. It’s a dream come true. Not just for me, but for the team, family and back at home. I’m extremely grateful. They’ve sacrificed everything to get me up here.”

One proud father was Marijn van Kalmthout (full last name of Rinus), who hugged his son in victory lane. (Photo: Chris Jones/INDYCAR)

Grosjean

After leading a race-high 44 laps, Grosjean still had a smile on his face. While it wasn’t the top step of the podium, the Indianapolis crowd embraced his performance.

So much so, that he even shared what makes American Open Wheel Racing unique after spending years in F1.

“Leading races,” Grosjean said. “That’s what I came for and what we’ve done today. I’ve discovered such an incredible place. The atmosphere between the drivers is strong. For now, it has been a fully positive experience.”

Jubilation from Grosjean, who got his first open wheel racing podium since the 2015 Belgian Grand Prix. (Photo: Chris Jones/INDYCAR)

Palou

Quietly finishing third was the Barber race winner. Palou had a strong points day and will enter Indy trailing “The” Scott Dixon by 13 points. After five rounds, the intensity of fighting for wins was apparent. Just the way Chip Ganassi wants from his drivers – winners!

“We had a tough weekend to be honest. Started with one less free practice than everybody. It’s good and got the podium. Learned a lot from the race,” said Palou. “Running the Firestone Fast Six hurt us a bit because we had one set of sticker reds, but it’s okay. I’m happy with that. Got excited at the end with Newgarden. Our team has done an amazing job and I’m super happy.”

Seeing how the race unfolded, Palou felt that going for the used reds would’ve been ideal. Instead, the No. 10 team opted to go for blacks in each pit stop.

“We had to do something to fight with VeeKay and Grosjean, but it didn’t work,” said Palou. “I’m sure it’s going to work next time. We finished in P3, so it worked out.”

Opening Lap Frenzy Bites Daly Again

For the second race in a row, Conor Daly finished last. Unlike the second Texas race, his car stayed on all four wheels. However, the result was anything but beautiful.

Entering the opening corner, a lot of intense drama unfolded. Daly was involved in a multi-car tangle that saw Pato O’Ward go off and Graham Rahal sustaining damage.

Saturday’s agonizing 25th place finish marked Daly’s fourth career last-place IndyCar finish. (Photo: Joe Skibinski/INDYCAR)

Daly had the worst luck out of the exchange with his No. 20 Chevrolet stuck in the grass. This incident brought out the lone full course caution of the afternoon. While Daly got out of the grass, his day was damaged beyond repair. Gearbox and front suspension issues was the main diagnosis of his problems.

On a day ECR saw one driver win, the other had another blemish to an already painful season. Daly’s crew were able to get him running more laps, but ultimately ended up as the lone retiree.

Strategy Done Right

Due to the opening lap chaos, Rahal sustained right side pod damage. It led his No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing crew bringing him to pit road on Laps 2-3.

A frustrated Rahal questioned the decision making, shouting over the radio the following:

“Why the hell did we just do that?”

Rahal wasn’t the only one who pitted during the caution period. Scott Dixon also made the trip to pit road. The latter wouldn’t be a factor in the race, finishing ninth Saturday.

Concerns aside, Rahal soldiered on with another top-five finish at Indy. (Photo: Matt Fraver/INDYCAR)

What certainly felt like a lost day became a super outing. This strategy ultimately led to a strong fifth-place finish, continuing their positive momentum. Something that’s key for Rahal if he wants to be a dark horse title contender.

“My concern was hitting the fuel number, but also the lap time that it takes. That was the biggest concern. How slow would I be? But the pace was good,” said Rahal. “They did a good job with strategy. Once I put my head down, you just got to focus on hitting that number and go as long as you can.

“I got nervous when I saw Dixon pit because I was looking at my dash and he’s not going to make it. He’s supposed to be the best. I was like, ‘Man! This is going to be a challenging day.’”

The challenge went from strategy to fending off a hard charging Simon Pagenaud.

“To hold off Pagenaud was pretty awesome. He was coming hard and we’re still having to get that same number the entire race. I was shocked, but super proud of the guys. Keep these top-five’s rolling. Big one is next, and we know we have a fast car.”

Next Up, Speed

That in mind, it’s all about the Indy 500 the next two weeks. Opening Day kicks off Tuesday at 10 a.m. ET. Then on Saturday and Sunday, we’ll know who’ll be the fastest 33 and lead the field May 30. For now, it’s celebration time for VeeKay while others look to turn their Month of May around.

Top 10: VeeKay, Grosjean, Palou, Newgarden, Rahal, Pagenaud, Rossi, McLaughlin, Dixon and Ericsson

luisdtorres94@hotmail.com'
Luis Torres

Throughout my young motorsports media career, my number-one goal is to be a personnel that can be flexible with my writing and photography in the world of NASCAR, INDYCAR and ARCA (occasionally F1 and IMSA stuff as well). Whether it's the Daytona 500 or an ARCA Menards Series West race at Evergreen Speedway, content delivery is vital because this is my main passion and what keeps me going.

I've dealt with several challenges in my life, such as autism and making most out of trips despite relying on transportation. Even my quest of finding acceptance in my profession which has been my biggest challenge since graduating from college in 2016. Despite those hurdles with Motorsports Tribune and now The Podium Finish, I promise that you'll see excellence with my content.

Outside of media, I'm super vocal about my musical tastes that goes from Metallica to The Aces. Not only that, expect my social media filled with GIFs about my Seattle Seahawks because they make things a roller coaster experience.

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