Can Rinus VeeKay become Ed Carpenter’s next Josef Newgarden?
INDIANAPOLIS – Ed Carpenter saw what an early season win for a rookie can do. The mistakes don’t suddenly go away for the rest of this campaign, but performance and focus in the most important moments – like the Indianapolis 500 – can improve. And in addition, this special pressure, specific only to pilots who have not yet reached the top step of the podium? It’s dissipated, replaced by another emotion entirely.
The will to start over.
Carpenter saw it in a young Josef Newgarden six years ago, when the veteran American driver was 24 and had been touted as IndyCar’s ‘next big thing’ for several years, but the job was not yet paying. The finalists in Baltimore in 2013 and then in 2014 in Iowa, both with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, were excellent, but with all of Newgarden’s DNFs and finishes outside of the top-15 it looked like possible exceptions to the rule. .
And then came 2015: a respectable, but not entirely impressive 12th in the season opener in St. Pete, followed by a 9th in New Orleans and a 7th in Long Beach. With three top-10s at the end of 2014, this is the kind of pace that puts a team co-owner on the lookout for even more. Then the breakthrough.
And Rinus VeeKay, the driver who could finally bring Carpenter’s Ed Carpenter Racing team back to the top of the championship standings, has all of this ahead of the curve after winning Saturday’s GMR Grand Prix at age 20 to make the Dutchman the 6th most young winner. in the history of IndyCar.
Learn more about Rinus VeeKay:
Winning in your sophomore year in IndyCar isn’t the most outrageous achievement, and it’s not like VeeKay is the youngest to do it either – Colton Herta, who just turned 21 and won four times and clinched his first in his second race – has both locked out, as far as this new wave of young talent goes.
And we’ve seen it before semi-recently, a young driver like Carlos Munoz who won his first – and so far only – IndyCar race in 2015 with Andretti Autosport in his second season just three weekends away. race after Newgarden. Instead of that compound talent, he collapsed.
Two podiums in his third season were the best Munoz could muster, and with a relatively crazy season with AJ Foyt Racing in 2017 without being in the top 5, he was almost out of IndyCar. He’s only run three times since, and none in nearly three years.
So what gives Carpenter the confidence that VeeKay will fall into the “Newgarden” camp and breathe life into ECR garages, rather than a “Munoz”?
“He runs full races,” Carpenter told IndyStar on Saturday from the victory podium at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “Maybe even if it’s just a 4th place day, you know he’s going to fight all the time, and that’s how you have to be. You can’t leave anything on the table in this series now.
“Even on a bad day, I never question the kind of effort we give him because that’s the only way he can.”
Carpenter stopped before proclaiming that VeeKay was the next Newgarden or saying that they were very close to clones on the trail because they are not. While both are obviously good, Carpenter was inclined to say his current 20-year-old pilot is more naturally good at this point. At 20, the now two-time series champion won the Freedom 100 at Indy Lights, while VeeKay won on the same basis but at the greats level.
“And some of that rawness from Rinus, I think it just comes a little easier,” Carpenter said. “But at the same time he still has a lot of work to do to get to where Josef was mentally. Josef was very technically sound with his setup, and this will be Rinus’ next evolution – just to be able to lead your engineers and make their jobs easier.
“Guys like Josef and Scott (Dixon), that’s where they put themselves above the rest. They minimize bad days because they always help their teams make the right decisions. But Rinus is 20 years old. He’ll be better, and he’s off to a hell of a good start.
Find out more about the GMR Grand Prix:
On that mental side of things, what VeeKay will now have to balance and weather is knowing that no matter how hard he tries to replicate on Saturday, that effort that Carpenter talked about won’t always lead to a near victory. 5 seconds. At 20, not 24, he has a lot of mistakes to make. That’s how you often learn the best of motorsport, unfortunately – not always by doing it right the first time, but by screwing up big and small and learning not to do it anymore.
It’s not like this version of VeeKay is significantly different from the one that showed up at IMS for the Oval Open Test last month and crashed his car into the wall at Turn 1 in less than five laps in two. working days. With that, he and the No. 31 Chevy team were out of service, while 31 other cars made significant laps toward the Indy 500 preparation. To start, VeeKay suffered a broken finger.
This excessive hurry, as well as the lack of concentration during a pit stop during the Indy 500 last August which relegated him to 20th place after starting 4th, these mistakes did not come together. blow disappeared.
“You have to learn the lessons the hard way,” Carpenter said. “When Josef got the last win with us he was just starting to pick it up, but when you get the first (win) on the sidelines I think once you get a taste of that it becomes a little easier.
In fact, Newgarden’s only victory in 2016 with ECR, after winning his first two with CFH Racing in 2015 at Barber and Toronto, was the last time Carpenter was on Victory Lane – as an owner or driver. Those lean years of 2017-2020, when nine different drivers stepped into an ECR car, only consisted of six podiums while Carpenter mixed up young drivers like Spencer Pigot, Jordan King and Ed Jones, trying to find his next guy “ 2015 Newgarden ” – or even just someone who hinted that it might soon be possible to make it happen.
When Carpenter first tested an 18-year-old VeeKay in August 2019 – and even when the driver-owner started trying to fix it 18 months before that, when VeeKay was only 17 – he thought everything was possible.
“I just knew that day was coming,” he says. “I hope this will be the first in a long series for us.”
Email IndyStar Motorsport reporter Nathan Brown at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @By_NathanBrown.