His name might not have been among the first ones mentioned for pole position as qualifying got underway on Thursday for Round 1 of the Harvest Grand Prix, but that’s not uncommon for Rinus VeeKay.
The Dutch NTT IndyCar Series rookie has made a habit of delivering beyond reasonable expectations during his American open-wheel adventure. The finest example came in 2019 while paired with the Juncos Racing Indy Lights team where the teenager took the fight to Andretti Autosport’s dominant four-car program led by Oliver Askew.
In the Road to Indy’s equivalent of the haves and the have nots, VeeKay and Juncos took on the defending series champions and made Askew work like mad to earn his eventual title. From 18 races, the young pride of Holland captured seven poles, six fastest laps, and six wins. With Andretti, Askew took seven poles, five fastest laps, and seven wins, which delivered the championship, and for reasons unknown, VeeKay’s excellence-on-a-budget was often overlooked.
Facing stiff opposition in qualifying Group 2 from Andretti Autosport’s Colton Herta and Ryan Hunter-Reay, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Felix Rosenqvist and Marcus Ericsson — and fellow rookie Alex Palou from Dale Coyne Racing, who led the opening practice session — VeeKay led the session and applied his first NTT P1 Award sticker to the rear wing of the No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevy.
Sure, if Group 1 had been able to complete its qualifying session and register runs on the faster Firestone alternate tires, VeeKay might not be starting first on Friday, but from Herta to Hunter-Reay to Rahal to Rosenqvist, there’s no reason to diminish the 20-year-old’s achievement. And if you were fortunate to watch VeeKay in the junior open-wheel categories, leading the field to green will be a familiar sight.
“It feels great to finally show this,” he said. “Of course, it’s been a weird season. I’ve had some really good races, but also I’ve been a little bit unlucky in some places. It’s nice to finally show on a road course that I’m just right there with the big guys in qualifying.
“I think giving the confidence boost like this to the team, yeah, it’s very important. I think everyone will be even more motivated and we’ll be even better for the rest of the season.”
Unlike starting from pole in one of the Road to Indy training series, VeeKay will have defending IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden sharing the front row and an imposing array of race winners and title holders who can’t wait to ruin his day. The 85-lap race presents another opportunity for the ECR driver to produce a result that defies his lack of age and experience.
“Well, starting from pole for the first time, it’s different,” he acknowledged. “It’s new for me. I have to defend 24 guys behind me. I’m going to do my ultimate best. But, yeah, there’s going to be a lot of new stuff. I think every other lap is going to be a challenge. I’m ready to take on the challenge.”