Rinus ‘VeeKay’ van Kalmthout finished in thirteenth place during the third game of the NTT INDYCAR Series season 2022. The 21-year-old driver from Hoofddorp had a challenging weekend on the legendary Long Beach street circuit, where overtaking was not easy as usual.
After two strong performances in the first two races of the season, VeeKay headed for the West Coast of the United States in good spirits. A sixth place at the overture in St. Petersburg and a tenth position at the lightning fast Texas oval put the young Dutchman in joint seventh place in the IndyCar standings.
However, during the qualifying session on Saturday afternoon (local time), VeeKay and his team, Ed Carpenter Racing, were unable to keep up with the pace of the front runners on the Long Beach street circuit. VeeKay reached a fifteenth place on the grid, which gave him no satisfaction. Due to the qualifying result, Ed Carpenter Racing’s mechanics tried to make VeeKay’s #21 Alzamed Neuro Chevrolet easier to control during the warm-up on Sunday morning.
Starting from fifteenth place, VeeKay could easily keep up with the pace of his opponents in the middle. The problem, however, was that many around VeeKay attacked the 85-lap race in Long Beach with the same strategic angle. This made it almost impossible to overtake direct competitors on the track. A small problem at the first restart also gave the Dutch driver cold feet. VeeKay was very combative at the wave of the green flag, causing him to smash the nose of his one-off purple car into the rear of Helio Castroneves.
For VeeKay and ECR, the California game was straight forward for a long time. The 21-year-old single IndyCar race winner delivered a tight race as usual, with the Castroneves incident being the exception that confirmed an otherwise clear race. However, as mentioned, the crafty job made it almost impossible to make up for places. As a result, VeeKay stayed around fifteenth place for a long time. The difficulty of getting a clear round was increased when GC leader Scott McLaughlin crashed into the back of VeeKay’s car, when the Dutchman had to brake hard at the fountain for a stranded Simon Pagenaud. The tap from McLaughlin left VeeKay with a broken diffuser for the last 25 laps of the race.
A late neutralization caused some commotion. Ed Carpenter Racing decided to call in VeeKay a few laps before the end for an unscheduled third pit stop. This put the driver of the #21 Alzamed Neuro Chevrolet in the back, albeit on new tires. After the restart, VeeKay was able to overtake like it was a sweet treat. The Dutchman passed one opponent after another, due to the fact that he had much fresher rubber and could therefore negotiate a considerable speed difference. Because of the very similar strategies, this proved almost impossible earlier in the game.
For VeeKay, the late catch-up finished in thirteenth place, just ten seconds behind winner Josef Newgarden. The ECR driver has a point total of 67 with Sunday’s score, defending his seventh position in the intermediate standings.
“This was a difficult race,” VeeKay admits afterwards. “It was tough, we didn’t have a lot of pace and I tried to limit damage. In terms of the result, I succeeded quite well, as we didn’t finish in Long Beach last year, but we did this year. I have kept my seventh place in the intermediate classification, which makes me feel positive. Tactically it was not easy today, we never had a free track after a pit stop. Fortunately, we have now solved the problem that caused us to have to save so radically on fuel in the first two races.”
“My feet were well cooled,” VeeKay recalls with a wink at the tap on Castroneves’ rear wheel. “I think I solved the cooling problem of today’s IndyCars with my own hands! No kidding: it was a bit of a shock, but luckily I wasn’t bothered by the broken nose. During the race I tried my best to stay out of trouble – at one point there was someone standing backwards at the fountain, I wanted to avoid that sort of thing and I succeeded. We knew in advance that Long Beach was going to be a tough race, so collecting points was at the top of the priority list.”
“From a 100% road course, Long Beach, we go to a 100% road course, Barber. We recently tested there, and last year I was sixth there, after catching up. Barber suits me and the ECR team well. I can’t wait to go to Alabama to compete for the places of honor there,” VeeKay concludes combatively.
The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama is the fourth race on the NTT INDYCAR Series calendar of the year 2022. Racing will take place at Barber Motorsports Park on Sunday, May 1.