Feature: The Dutch teenager preparing for IndyCar step

There is a new kid in the NTT IndyCar Series town. Rinus van Kalmthout, better known to American motorsports fans as Rinus VeeKay, has taken the Road To Indy ladder by storm and his baptism of fire with the ‘big boys’ of American open wheel racing now awaits.

IndyCar has turned to youth in recent years, with the likes of Patricio O’Ward and Colton Herta, and at just 19 years, six months and four days old when next year’s St. Petersburg season-opener rolls around VeeKay will be one of IndyCar’s youngest representatives.

VeeKay has signed with Ed Carpenter Racing after rising through the Road To Indy single-seater ladder, an unusual career path for a European racer.

It was late 2016 when a then 16-year-old Rinus, supported by father Marijn and mother Evelien, decided to make a hop across the Atlantic.

Born in Hoofddorp, The Netherlands, VeeKay was always close to one of Europe’s finest old-school racing tracks, with the dune-surrounded Circuit Zandvoort only a handful of miles down the road. But whereas many European, motorsport-loving children dream of a career in Formula 1, VeeKay had a different career path in mind, one he decided to pursue when it became clear there was a building interest coming from the United States, in an attempt to emulate two-time Indianapolis 500-winning compatriot Arie Luyendyk.

Tied to the Pabst Racing effort for his first US season, handling a USF2000 car, VeeKay managed to score a double podium finish in what was his first ever auto race weekend, climbing the first step of the Road To Indy ladder. VeeKay’s first two victories in the series were achieved only three months later, at the legendary Road America race track. Mid-2017 VeeKay was already an established name in the RTI programme.

After a season-long battle with fellow prodigy Oliver Askew, four years his senior, VeeKay had to settle for second in the 2017 USF2000 season. His three wins, one pole position, three fastest laps and 12 podium finishes out of 14 starts made Augie Pabst’s fellow Road To Indy team principals aware of the Dutch teenager, who was playfully handed the nickname ‘Rocket Rinus’ back in his native Holland.

Attending an Asian winter racing series to hone his race craft, VeeKay rightfully stepped up to the second tier of the Road To Indy programme as Ricardo Juncos offered a one-year deal for the 2018 Pro Mazda Series season.

Another year-long battle with the aforementioned Askew unfolded, and this time VeeKay emerged on top, thus claiming his first auto racing championship aged just 18. VeeKay dominated the Pro Mazda season with seven victories out of 15 starts, the highlight a five-race win streak in the sumer.

Thanks to those performances, VeeKay gained a following, as his boyhood hero and nowadays IndyCar race official Luyendyk often visited the Juncos Racing garage for a chat. VeeKay repeatedly cited Luyendyk as one of his most important life and professional coaches, while VeeKay’s parents and older sister always remained the teenager’s main sources of information and support.

For the 2019 season, VeeKay stepped up once again, remaining loyal to Juncos, this time to compete in the Indy Lights series, the top tier of the Road To Indy ladder – the next and final step is seen as a ride in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Part of those preparations included participating in the Asian Formula Three Winter Series, pitching VeeKay against several leading predominantly European-based racers. Among the list of entrants was then Red Bull-backed Dan Ticktum, Renault protégés Ye Yifei and Christian Lundgaard, along with Ralf Schumacher’s son David.

Nevertheless, out of nine races, VeeKay tasted victory four times, with an additional four podium finishes, to win a second auto racing championship within a five-month time frame.

The 2019 Indy Lights series season kicked off in spectacular fashion as rookie drivers and main rivals VeeKay and Askew clashed during the opening lap of the first weekend’s second race on the streets of St. Petersburg, FL. Whereas Askew had to park his stricken car, VeeKay went on to win the Indy Lights race.

A season-long battle between Askew and VeeKay saw the former end up on top, as the American edged out his Dutch opponent with a 21-point advantage at the end of the season. From 18 races, the pair clinched 13 wins, six of those captured by VeeKay. Missing out on the title meant missing out on scholarship money but there was still a prize for VeeKay in the form of tests with Ed Carpenter Racing.

The oval-racing team boss was suitably convinced in VeeKay’s ability, and the next talent off the Road To IndyCar ladder will join the highest level in 2020.