Rinus van Kalmthout Veekay on Indy500 challenges

How do you take on the challenges of Indy 500? VeeKay explains

23 May 2023 at 16:26

Rinus van Kalmthout, or 'VeeKay', will start Sunday's Indy 500 as one of the favourites. For four years in a row, the Dutchman has been a dominant factor in qualifying for one of the most famous races in the world. It is fair to say that VeeKay and his team Ed Carpenter Racing know the imposing oval in Indianapolis like the back of their hand.

Racing on an oval is not for everyone. There are plenty of drivers who would love to compete in the IndyCar championship on street circuits, but then give up their seat as soon as a race on an oval is scheduled. VeeKay wants no part of that. "It's also madness and I might be a bit crazy," he said in conversation with GPblog. "You are so much on the limit and you have to be very comfortable with it. I can still keep thinking very well. I'm in my element here [on an oval], like I was made for it."

Teamwork between driver and engineer

With his second-place finish in qualifying for the Indy 500, both team and driver are once again proving to be just fine in Indianapolis, in a season that was struggling to get going. "It [driving at Indy] suits me very well, but it's also a speciality of my team. They are very good here, the car is good. I think the [interplay] between driver and engineer is very important here. There was nothing more in it for me [in terms of performance in qualifying]."

It may seem simple; give the throttle and keep the wheel slightly to the left. Yet going around fast on an oval involves a lot. "You are concerned with getting as little friction in the tyres as possible, so they go as hard as possible," VeeKay explained. "Of course, we also put as little downforce on the car as possible, to get as much speed out of it as possible. So the car lays like you're tightrope walking. I am so focused that I actually forgot what it was like during qualifying. I don't even know if I blinked those 16 kilometres."

Fastest in traffic

Sunday's race is completely different from qualifying, in which drivers are on the track by themselves. Soon there will (probably) be 33 cars on the track at the same time. During the Indy 500, no doubt nobody wants to drive at the front in the early stages. "That's why I'm second and can save fuel," laughed VeeKay. "If you want to know who has the strongest car, you have to look at who can drive the closest behind a predecessor. Then you can see which car is the strongest in traffic."

The Dutchman went on to explain why it is smarter not to drive long in the lead. "The slipstream [of the car in front of you] stops a lot of wind and friction. You go faster then. If you're behind someone, you can drive half throttle actually and use less petrol. That makes the window for your pit stop bigger and you have more slack for when you need to go into the pits."

Veekay earlier indicated who in his eyes are the favourites for Sunday's race. "The most important thing is to be patient and make sure I get through the first 150 laps. The last 50 laps is when the button really turns. Then it becomes really hard racing and you are allowed to take risks. It's important to stay in front, to be able to fight at the end. I'm sure we have a good pace. The car feels really good in traffic, I think better than in qualifying trim."

This interview was conducted by Tim Kraaij