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Rinus VeeKay rebounding well from ‘the biggest setback in my career’

James Hinchcliffe and Townsend Bell unpack all of the IndyCar action from Indianapolis Motor Speedway and preview the series doubleheader at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.

Rinus VeeKay was unfamiliar with oval racing before his inauspicious IndyCar debut June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway, where he wrecked two cars in roughly seven hours.

But the rookie Dutchman was familiar with the consequences for “the biggest setback I’ve had in my career.

“It’s like being young: you do something wrong and your parents, they make sure you don’t do it ever again,” VeeKay, 19, said Tuesday in a news conference via Zoom. “Yeah, we had a month to work on it, make sure my preparation was as good as it could get.”

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The youngest driver in the NTT IndyCar Series rebounded from the last-place finish in his debut with an impressive fifth place (after starting 18th) last Saturday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

After a month of poring over onboard data, VeeKay made sure to avoid overstepping the boundaries as practice began at Indy – learning from his mistake of going below the white line 15 minutes into practice at Texas.

“I just started off with braking points that were safe for me,” the Ed Carpenter Racing driver said. “I started easy. Moments where I thought, ‘If I go further, it will snap or I will lose the car,’ I just built it up very slowly.

“At the end of the weekend, I got a top five in my second INDYCAR race. Very happy with it.”

Certainly happier than Texas, where VeeKay went into the high lane against the advice of teammate and car owner Carpenter, who delivered a nationally televised scolding in a politely firm and very public manner.

“Everything I kind of asked Rinus to do, he didn’t really do,” Carpenter said in the NBCSN postrace show. “I wanted him to just be patient, be careful. Last thing I told him before the race was, ‘Don’t go high.’ So we’ve got a little work to do there on the sponginess of him, but he can drive the car. He was coming forward with virtually no practice and never running an oval IndyCar race. He’s going to get there, it’s just going to be challenging here at times. But we still love him.”

VeeKay’s first season in IndyCar already had gotten off to a rough start before he climbed behind the wheel of the No. 21 Dallara-Chevrolet.

He was in Europe in May when IndyCar confirmed its 2020 schedule would begin at Texas. Because of travel restrictions from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, VeeKay was unable to enter the United States.

He flew to Mexico instead and spent two weeks quarantining in Cancun while desperately trying to secure an entry visa through the help of his ECR team and IndyCar (which enlisted the help of Indiana Sen. Todd Young).

The stressful ordeal meant “many weeks of no sleep” for VeeKay, who arrived in Texas only a few days ahead of the race.

“That wasn’t ideal,” he said. “I think that kind of affected my focus throughout the (Texas) weekend.”

Road America will be a much more welcoming environment -- it was the site of his first U.S. victory in the USF2000 Series in 2017 (part of a weekend sweep that kicked off a string of 16 victories and 36 podium finishes in 48 starts over three seasons in the Road to Indy ladder series).

Last year, he started on the pole position in both Indy Lights races at Road America, winning the second.

“Road America is my all-time favorite track,” he said. “I cannot wait to go there and drive one of the quickest cars in the world on that track.