Catching Up With Rinus VeeKay
 November 29, 2018| 
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Rinus VeeKay

For Dutch teenager Rinus VeeKay, the halfway mark of the 2018 season began to look like a movie he’d seen before. Having lost the 2017 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda in a nail-biter with eventual champion Oliver Askew, VeeKay was once again embroiled in a back-and-forth battle, this time for the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires title.

But VeeKay found the ending he was looking for this season, going on a second-half tear that saw him take five wins in the final seven races to capture the title – and the $700,000 scholarship that earns him a spot on the 2019 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires grid. Now, the 18-year-old turns his focus forward, on a future that has his end game squarely in sight: a ride in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

VeeKay, driving for 2017 champions Juncos Racing, took a pair of victories at the season opener in St. Petersburg, Fla., but saw Canadian Parker Thompson vault into the title lead in the second race weekend.

“That first weekend, we were quick right away,” said VeeKay. “St. Pete is one of my favorite tracks in America, and I took the wins and my teammates Robert Megennis and Carlos Cunha each took a podium. We were just quick. The rest of the first half of the season was not so good. But we worked on our connection, me, my engineer and the team. My engineer Matt Sanderson and I really became close friends, and I think that helps when you’re setting up a car that is perfectly suited to your driving style.”

Close is also a word that describes the VeeKay family – Rinus, his father Marijn, mother Evelien and sister Michelle. Along with personal trainer Raun Grobben, they form the nucleus of VeeKay’s support system at home in Holland, and in the U.S.

“It really helps to have my mom and dad and Raun at all the race weekends to support me. I can talk to them about anything that bothers me – anything going on whether it’s on or off the track, what I’m struggling with. They have a lot of life experience so they really help me.

“I remember especially the Road America weekend. That was where I earned my first win in car racing last year, in USF2000, but this year I struggled all weekend. And Parker had such a huge lead in the championship. My family really supported me that weekend, encouraged me to keep fighting until the end, and that helped me push toward the championship. It’s a mental thing as much as anything. But they are my friends as well as my parents, and we get to experience so much all over the world together that very few 18-year-olds get to experience.”

The young Dutchman will get another life experience this winter, joining UK-based HitechGP to contest the F3 Asian Championship, with three triple-header rounds at Formula One venues in Thailand and Malaysia in January and February. VeeKay competed in the MRF Formula 2000 Challenge in the United Arab Emirates and India in 2017/18, and appreciated the chance to head into a new season with plenty of racing already under his belt.

“You can’t test enough to get the kind of experience that you get in a race. I think doing the series last year made a big difference. At St. Pete, I could really tell – I won both races, and I might have had different results in the race weekend and in the championship if I hadn’t had that experience. I felt sharp, able to handle the situation and that every move I made was right.”

Hoping to continue to make all the right moves, VeeKay has embarked on a fitness regimen with Grobben designed to prepare him to drive the 450 HP Dallara IL-15 next year. After two successive Chris Griffis Memorial Tests at Indianapolis (in 2017 and this past September) in the Indy Lights car, he knows now what it will take to continue his successes in 2019.

“I have been training toward the fitness level of IndyCar this season, so I am more comfortable with where I am right now. I saw where Patricio (O’Ward, 2018 Indy Lights champ) said that the Indy car was so much more physical than the Indy Lights car, so I am keeping that in mind. The races are longer in Indy Lights, so that will be a completely different experience. You have to be much stronger.”

VeeKay looks back on his amazing trajectory in America, a journey that began with a 2016 announcement at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that the then 15-year-old karting sensation would make his U.S. debut in the new Tatuus USF-17 the following season. In less than two years, he has gone from the start of his car racing career to the final rung on the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires, just one step away from his racing goal.

“It was the best decision of my life to come to America and race on the Mazda Road to Indy. I can’t believe where I am now, compared with two years ago. I was so young, with no car racing experience, like most drivers that age. I saw the big show in Indianapolis and was amazed. Really, I had no expectations for that first season. I hoped for some podium finishes and maybe some wins, but I thought challenging for the title was out of my sight. I’ve grown so much as a driver and as a person from those days, especially mentally. Coming into the Indy Lights season, I can say I am not a kid anymore. Everyone around me is an adult so I have to behave that way. It helps that I’m working at this level - and I think my English is getting better.

“I think about what it would be like to drive an IndyCar. It would be such a cool experience but I don’t want to think about it too much. I just want to focus on what’s in front of me – it’s going to be amazing enough to drive on the oval at Indianapolis in the Freedom 100. The racing is so close and it’s such a spectacle. I’m really looking forward to it!”

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