Ed (Steve) note: TSO has been fortunate to have Diane Swintal join our Indianapolis 500 qualifying (and race day) coverage. Diane is currently a Public Relations Coordinator with Andersen Promotions and Sunday Group Management. The Southern Californian has been in open-wheel and sports car paddocks her entire life. Her ‘side hustle’ is writing about America’s Cup at CupInfo.com and managing the backend of her husband’s motorsports fine art business. We’re all fortunate to call her a friend. You won’t find a kinder person in the paddock.
By Diane Swintal
In 2016, a young Dutch karting phenom made his first trip to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, announcing to the motorsports world that he would move to the United States to advance his racing career.
At the time, Rinus Veekay noted that “being at the 100th Running of the Indy 500 – and seeing what my future will hopefully be – is amazing.”
In 2022, that young karter-turned-NTT INDYCAR SERIES standout comes into PPG Armed Forces Qualifying pole day as one of the favorites to secure the P1 Award as the pole sitter for the 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500.
In his first qualifying run on a chaotic Saturday (as it turns out, fortuitously drawn as the second car out to qualify), Veekay set a four-lap average of 233.655 mph in his No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Bitcoin Racing Team with BitNile Dallara Chevrolet. It was the third-fastest four-lap average in Indy 500 history and the best since 1996, when his countryman (and mentor) Arie Luyendyk posted a 236.986.
Twelve drivers will take the green flag on Sunday to fight for a spot in the Firestone Fast Six and, ultimately, the most valued pole position of the season. But Veekay is no stranger to pressure – and success – at IMS. In three seasons on the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires, Veekay scored five podiums in seven races at IMS, including a victory in the second of two Indy Lights races at the 2019 GMR Grand Prix. And, of course, Veekay captured his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES victory from pole last year in the GMR Grand Prix and became the youngest front-row qualifier in Indy 500 history, starting third at age 20.
Having finished second in USF2000 in 2017 and Indy Lights in 2019 – with a championship title win in Indy Pro 2000 in 2018 – Veekay became the first driver to win on all three levels of the Road to Indy and in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.
So what is it about IMS that suits Veekay? In 2021 after capturing that INDYCAR victory at Indy in only his nineteenth career start, he said, “It’s amazing. Of course, my first-ever test in USF2000 was here, the Chris Griffis test in 2016. So yeah, just amazing to have so much experience on this track and go through the ladder system and win races and know how to race here. It was an awesome race, and it just feels amazing, and I’m very grateful for what the Road to Indy has done for me.”
And as he told the Road to Indy later that year, “it meant a lot to finally win here. If you join the Road to Indy, the race you want to win is Indy. It took a little bit longer than I had hoped, but finally I have a win here in front of the big INDYCAR crowds.”
No bigger stage awaits Veekay than the fight for the pole position on Sunday. He will battle three of his fellow young INDYCAR hot shots – 2021 series champ Alex Palou, 2018 Indy Lights champ and three-time INDYCAR race winner Pato O’Ward, and explosive Swede Felix Rosenqvist, who held the top four positions on Saturday – and no fewer than eight of the most celebrated veterans the series has ever known (2013 Indy 500 champ Tony Kanaan, seven-time NASCAR champ and 2022 rookie Jimmie Johnson, three-time Indy 500 pole sitter Ed Carpenter, Formula One vets Marcus Ericsson and Romain Grosjean [who is a rookie at Indy], six-time INDYCAR champ and 2008 Indy 500 winner Scott Dixon, 2018 Indy 500 winner Will Power and two-time Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato).
But few observers doubt that Veekay will be up to the task on Sunday. In 2019, Veekay remembered back to that youngster making his first trip to the Brickyard, telling the Road to Indy what he would have wanted his 15-year-old self to know as he began the journey that would take him to the pinnacle of open-wheel racing:
“Keep pushing and never give up. It’s not always easy, but if you give it everything you have, and if you have the talent, you will get there in any way possible. I learned that when I just lost out on the championship in 2017, then went on to win in 2018. In the end, it all pays off.”
Will it pay off on Sunday afternoon? Time will tell.