The NTT IndyCar Series’ most recent Rookie of the Year is having a blast during his introduction to endurance racing. Ed Carpenter Racing’s Rinus VeeKay, part of the No. 81 DragonSpeed LMP2 squad for this weekend’s Rolex 24 At Daytona, is a newcomer to sports car racing and to IMSA’s big season opener, and the young Dutchman is loving the experience.
“Well, my main focus is IndyCar, but it’s nice to get to drive in such an iconic race like this,” he told RACER. “The 24 Hours, Daytona and everything is new for me, so getting to do this race is very exciting all at once.”
The 20-year-old is going through the same learning process as every open-wheeler who rolls out of pit lane with a roof overhead for the first time.
“It’s a lot different than my Chevy Indy car — you have to get used to being inside of a cockpit, being all closed up — but once you’re going, it all feels the same, to be honest,” he said. “That side of things has gone pretty well, and after doing the Roar test, I’ve had a few days to think about my driving and we can get going again in practice for the race and put some of the things I’ve learned to use.”
Known for his attacking driving style in IndyCar, VeeKay has been learning another open-wheel-to-sports-cars transition skill of racing while ensuring the car is left intact after 24 hours. He’s also received sage advice on how to maintain his mental energy across January 30-31.
“The biggest tips I’ve gotten from my co-drivers like Ben Hanley and Garett Grist is don’t try to follow the race when you’re not driving,” he said. “Just relax and yeah, make sure you’re all sharp and fit again for the next stint, because if you try to stay with the race the whole time, it won’t be good. And it will, of course, be a lot different from my IndyCar races that are three hours long at the maximum. You just have to make sure you finish, because it’s such a long race.”
As a proud son of Holland, VeeKay received incredible support last season from his fans at home. He’s also received direct support from the JUMBO supermarket chain owned by Frits van Eerd who, by chance is a class rival in LMP2. VeeKay will indeed compete against van Eerd and Racing Team Nederland as DragonSpeed attempts to win its third consecutive Rolex 24 in the LMP2 category.
“It’s a little weird because Frits is my private sponsor,” he said with a laugh. “It’s quite weird driving against him, but it also makes it fun. We’re all friends walking through the paddock and talking together, but when we get to the time to race, that part will stop for 24 hours.”
VeeKay’s No. 81 ORECA 07-Gibson V8 LMP2 machine will start fifth on Saturday. And like a few IndyCar drivers racing in the Rolex 24, reaching the checkered flag won’t be followed by a big party in Daytona Beach.
“What am I looking forward to the most in my first IMSA race? This is maybe an odd answer, but just driving,” he said. “I’ve been outside of the car for a few months and I just cannot wait to well, drive as much as I can in 24 hours. I am a driver that loves overtaking. Well, we’re in the LMP2, so there’s a lot of passing to be done with the P3s and the touring cars, so I’m excited to just give it all I have and be wheeling the car. And when it’s over, I go right to Sebring because there’s an IndyCar test on Monday. It’s a lot of driving, but I can’t wait to be in the cars.”