Dutch Rules: Rinus VeeKay joins Arie Luyendyk among fastest in Indy 500 history
INDIANAPOLIS – Rinus VeeKay and Arie Luyendyk feel tremendous Dutch pride in their shared homeland of The Netherlands.
When VeeKay, the 21-year-old NTT IndyCar Series driver from Ed Carpenter Racing, was told that his four-lap average of 233.655 mph in Saturday’s first round of qualifications was the third-fastest qualification average in Indianapolis 500 history, he was quick to point out the record is held by Luyendyk, a fellow Dutchman.
“It’s cool to have two Dutch guys in the top three in history, so it’s cool that I can be part of that,” VeeKay said.
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The great Arie Luyendyk of The Netherlands holds the four-lap record of 236.986 mph set in 1996. Scott Brayton of Coldwater, Michigan, has the second-fastest qualifying average of 233.718 mph (also set in 1996 before the pole-sitter was killed in a practice crash).
VeeKay’s speed knocked Columbus, Indiana’s Tony Stewart out of third place. Stewart’s four-lap average of 233.100 mph also was set in 1996.
VeeKay ran the fastest qualification laps for the Indy 500 since 1996 – that’s over four years before he was even born.
“Those are historic numbers, and I think we bumped a lot of guys out of those charts today,” VeeKay said Saturday. “I think everyone was on their ‘A’ game, and it’s all about who improves most this year, so I think we did a great job and hopefully I can move up to P2 in those history standings.”
The irony of VeeKay’s near-record speed is it gave him the provisional pole for just one day. He advanced into the “Fast 12” group of drivers that had to go back out on Sunday and do it all over again to narrow the field to the “Fast Six.”
Those six drivers then had to return to the track and make one last four-lap average to determine the pole winner, setting the first two rows for the 106th Indy 500 on May 29 (11 a.m. ET, NBC).
Luyendyk was the “Driver of the 1990s” at the Indianapolis 500, winning in 1990 and again in 1997 (the only other driver during that decade with two Indy 500 wins was Al Unser, Jr. in ’92 and ’94). Luyendyk got the nod because his one-lap and four-lap qualification attempts have stood the test of time since that fateful year of “The Split” in 1996.
Luyendyk has served as VeeKay’s racing mentor and advisor. He is also one of two IndyCar stewards (along with former driver Max Papis) who work alongside race director Kyle Novak.
When VeeKay’s first lap exceeded 234 mph, Luyendyk was in race control and admitted he was stunned.
“I looked up and I thought, ‘Holy (crap), where did that come from?’ ” Luyendyk told NBCSports.com in an exclusive interview. “I talked to him about his car, and he thought he could do really well. He knew what he had in hand and that happened today, as well.
“I was very impressed and really happy to see him do well, but of course, Ed Carpenter has given him a good car for Indianapolis. He took to Indy immediately when he was a rookie, and he likes to run here. Liking it is a big thing.
“He is working really well with his engineer, and they do a good job together.
“The funny thing is, I haven’t even spoken to him the whole week. We talked about stuff, but not about racing. There comes a point where you stop giving them advice because they learn a lot of it on their own.
“I’m still there as a supporter and a friend, but I’m super happy as well.”
“It’s cool to see the orange car with the Dutch flag on the front wings,” Luyendyk said. “All around, I’m still patriotic to The Netherlands as I am to the United States. I’m still patriotic and it gives me pride to see another Dutchman achieve success in racing.”
Luyendyk’s records have stood for 26 years, partly because IndyCar intentionally slowed down the cars during the Indy Racing League years that began with a new formula in 1997 and have been fairly regulated ever since.
But engineering expertise and new engine formulas have seen the speeds creep up into the 230 mph range.
“The cars have been slower all of those years and I probably don’t give myself enough credit, but you have to be realistic they have less horsepower,” Luyendyk said. “They aren’t going to break it Sunday, either, because they aren’t going to find 3 miles an hour overnight.”
Luyendyk is rooting for the day when another driver breaks his long-standing speed records at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“I’ve always said I’m looking forward to the days when they get close to it and break my record during qualifying. It would be great if they broke it in practice on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday and then officially broke it on Saturday or Sunday during qualifications. That would be good for the sport.
“That would be cool, and I’d be OK with that.”
VeeKay was a racing prodigy when he arrived in IndyCar as a 19-year-old rookie in 2020.
He made the “Fast Nine” for the 2020 Indianapolis 500 and holds the record as the fastest teenager in Indianapolis 500 history when he qualified fourth fastest during his rookie season with a four-lap average of 230.704 mph.
Last year, he started on the outside of the front row after running a four-lap average of 231.511 mph.
“He showed speed right away, but not always finesse,” Luyendyk said. “He goes for it. He’s not afraid to attack. Sometimes, it has bit him in the butt. We know he has the speed on any type of race track. He’s definitely a star and a star in IndyCar.
“I can see him staying for a long time and we are going to enjoy his talents. It’s good to see. I’m really happy for him and his family because they put a lot into it and sacrificed a lot. He certainly has the talent.”
Like Luyendyk, VeeKay likes the fast corners at Indianapolis. Both drivers developed a knack and a rhythm for getting around the demanding 2.5-mile oval. It’s a feeling that both share.
“It’s a matter of feel,” Luyendyk said. “When you look at what happened last year in qualifying, he saved the car, was able to keep going and put it on the front row. Those reactions and the quick reaction he had; you can’t teach anybody that. You either have it or you don’t.
“He has that feel for what to do at that place.”
That feel was on full display during qualifying weekend for the 106th Indy 500.