Outside contenders at the IndyCar Bommarito Automotive 500

Following the dramatic conclusion of the Indianapolis 500, IndyCar relentlessly ploughs on with frightening momentum into a double header weekend at the World-Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, Illinois.

Now two-time Indy 500 champion Takuma Sato brings massive confidence to the Bommarito Automotive Group 500, a race he won last year after holding off a late-charging Ed Carpenter in the closing stages to win by a narrow lead of 0.0339 seconds. It was the closest finish in IndyCar history.

He will get the opportunity not once, but twice to win at Gateway again. It is a sight we have almost become accustomed to, with doubleheaders at Iowa, Road America and of course over in Formula 1 with double-headers at Austria and Silverstone.

Looking at the championship standings it is a grim picture for anyone who is not Scott Dixon. The New Zealander holds a commanding lead of 84 points over his next closest rival, Josef Newgarden. It paints a clearer picture of how dominant the five-time world champion has been this season when noticing third placed Patricio O’Ward is a further 33 points behind Newgarden. Can anyone stop the brilliance of Scott Dixon?

Frankly, outside Newgarden, O’Ward and Sato, you may think the chances are slim.

But alas, there are many other drivers looking to prove themselves at the famous ‘egg-shaped’ circuit. Here are my surprise candidates to achieve a good result this weekend:

James Black / IndyCar Media

Santino Ferrucci

However infamous this young driver may be, you can’t argue with the results he has been putting in this season.

A pair of sixth place finishes in the REV Group Grand Prix at Road America road course doubleheader was certainly a standout. More recently, a fantastic fourth at the Indianapolis 500 following a late charge which saw him finish three tenths behind leader Takuma Sato and within touching distance of podium finisher Graham Rahal.

In three out of the last five races he has finished in the top six. You could therefore argue that the young gun is finding his feet comfortably in IndyCar, vehemently charged to change his reputation in global motorsport.

While the likes of VeeKay, Palou, Askew and O’Ward may be stealing most of the headlines, Santino will be looking to upset the status-quo. You only have to look back a year when he finished fourth at Gateway after leading almost one hundred laps of the famous egg-shaped circuit.

Joe Skibinski / IndyCar Media

Conor Daly

Weeks have elapsed since a hilarious prank war between Conor Daly and Alexander Rossi, where the Andretti driver awoke to find his golf cart dismantled and relieved of its wheels. Since then, you could say Daly would have gladly swapped that same golf cart in place of his actual IndyCar over the last few races.

He has not finished in the top ten since the first race at Iowa and will be looking to bounce back in spectacular fashion.

Luckily for Conor, it seems he has a knack at Gateway. In his two race starts at the Bommarito 500 he has never finished outside the top six, a statistic that may give him confidence going into the weekend.

Bouncing between Carlin and Ed Carpenter Racing this year certainly will not have helped to form any sort of consistency needed for a title challenge. However, out of all his teammates he is currently tied with the most points alongside hotshot rookie Rinus VeeKay. If you were looking for a dramatic teammate battle, this one would be the one to watch.

Chris Owens / IndyCar Media

Colton Herta

The young American has had something of a roller-coaster of a season. While he is win-less this year, a seventh, fourth and a pair of fifths in the opening four rounds of the campaign proves he has consistency as well as raw speed. He comes radiating confidence after finishing a tremendous eight at the Brickyard.

What has been most impressive this year has been his qualifying form. Since the GMR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway his qualifying results have been as follows: Indianapolis (3rd), Road America Race 1 (7th), Road America Race 2 (2nd), Iowa Speedway Race 1 (4th), Iowa Speedway Race 2 (5th). He only barely missed out on the ‘Fast Nine’ shootout at the Indy500. In such a competitive field, such consistent qualifying pace is a solid indicator that Colton has the speed to match anyone in the series. I expect a similar solid qualifying run to occur, and with that, a potential for a good result.

If you need any more evidence, the Californian has made two Indy Lights starts at Worldwide Technology Raceway leading 69 of 75 laps in 2018 before settling for second. Herta finished one spot lower in his first race at the 1.25-mile oval.

Rinus VeeKay: “We are ready for the 500”

Rinus VeeKay image courtesy of IndyCar

The first time I took notice of this young Dutchman, he was leading the F3 Asian Winter Series competing with the likes of Williams test driver Dan Ticktum and F3 heavy-hitters David Schumacher and Ye Yifea. I didn’t know much about him at the time, but I was mightily impressed with his performances ultimately dominating the championship twenty nine points ahead of his nearest rival.

Now, he is starting fourth in the Indianapolis 500, the highest placed rookie.

It has been a whirlwind twelve months for Rinus VeeKay to say the least, a name he adopted after coming to compete in the US, his real name: Rinus Van Kalmthout. Since his incredible performance in the Indy Lights series he has been catapulted into motorsport stardom with the Ed Carpenter Racing team for the NTT IndyCar series for the 2020 season.

For the Netherlands, it is a seismic moment. The first Dutch driver in top tier American Open wheel racing since Robert Doornbos in 2009. Doornbos and only four other Dutchman have ever raced in IndyCar including two time Indy 500 winner Arie Luyundyk Sr, his son Arie Luyundyk Jr, Cornelius Euser and Jan Lammers.

Having waited so long for another star in the IndyCar series, they were treated to a miraculous sight last Sunday, seeing Rinus blasting through turn one of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway clocking in at just over 240mph. One of the fastest unofficial speeds ever recorded at the Indy 500.

The previous day he knocked many big names out of the ‘Fast Nine’ shootout, including the likes of Will Power, Josef Newgarden, Helio Castroneves and Fernando Alonso to name but a few. This is no mean feat. However, rather than let the pressure get to him, he put in a fantastic four-lap average (230.704mph) during the ‘Fast Nine’ to start on the fourth row alongside Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchliffe.

I was fortunate to sit down with Rinus on Wednesday 19th August, four days before he is due to take the starting grid in ‘The Greatest Spectacle in the World’. The aim: to get an insight into the nineteen-year-old Dutchman, to reflect on his fantastic performance so far.

Adam (Q):

Hi Rinus! How are you feeling? Are you OK?

Rinus VeeKay (R):

Yeah, I’m feeling great. It’s been a crazy few days, but I’m very happy with the result and it’s been a crazy weekend, but it’s also been the best weekend.

 Q:

So Rinus, first of all, congratulations on such a magnificent performance at your first Indy 500. Through to the ‘Fast Nine’, starting fourth, the highest placed rookie. That is the highest starting position for a Dutchman in 21 years since the 1999 Indy 500, which was your mentor, Arie Luyendyk, who started on pole that day.

That must be something you are immensely proud of. How do you reflect on such a fantastic debut performance?

R:

Yeah, I’m really proud of it. Of course, I did not really expect it. Of course, I knew we had a good car, but the Hondas were looking strong and I was really happy to make the ‘Fast Nine’. But then, yeah, having such a good qualifying run; that almost front row was possible was amazing.

Q:

Absolutely and you’re the only Chevrolet powered car through to the ‘Fast Nine’, which is incredible as well. Many have commented on the lack of speed by Chevy and that you guys were running a low downforce set up in order to negate the power of the Hondas. However, you hit 240 miles an hour going through into turn one.

My question has two parts here. One, what was it like running at such an incredible speed? Have you experienced anything like that ever in your career?

And secondly, would you be running a similar low downforce set up during the race? And what can you expect to get out of the race with that?

R:

Well, it was amazing touching 240 miles per hour, that’s kind of a dream come true. It’s amazing speed, of course, I had a bit of a tailwind. It was cool, turning in to turn one staying flat to 240 miles an hour. Never experienced that before, but this definitely is my land speed record.

For the race, you need more downforce to run in traffic in the race, and the tyres will not last if we keep it on that low downforce. So yeah, we will go for more downforce on a kind of race trim that everyone will be on. And yeah, we have a really strong race car. I know that. And we are ready for the 500.

Q:

Fantastic. You seem to have had quite a lot of success at the Motor Speedway. You came third here at the Freedom 100 in Indy Lights and you seem to done well at the road course in both Indy lights and IndyCar. What is there about the Motor Speedway you find so special?

R:

It’s super special, it’s like the racing mecca. The feeling driving here, if you just drive through the gates, it’s just like heaven.

It’s amazing and I really enjoy driving here. Of course, you need a bit of luck to be successful, but I love the speedway and of course, also the IMS road course has been amazing this year with my highest IndyCar finish so far.

Q:

Some of our readers may be hearing about you for the first time, but they will be eager to learn a little bit about your amazing journey into IndyCar. So, you know, I’ve got a list here of some of your accolades.

  • Second in US F2000 National Championship (2017),
  • Second in the BOSS GP series (2017),
  • Third in  the MRF Challenge Formula (2017),
  • First in the Pro Mazda Championship (2018),
  • First in the F3 Asian Winter Series (2019),
  • Second  in the Indy Lights Series (2019).

Some may be wanting to know why you chose to go round the US motorsport route rather than the European circuit and follow people such as Max Verstappen going to Formula One.

What was it that drew you to America? And I have heard that there are some perceptions that it’s more down to talent in the US. Is that a fair assumption?

R:

Yes, that’s quite fair to say. The Road to Indy is known for their scholarship program and I won the 2018 Pro Mazda Championship and because of that I had the funding to go to Indy Lights. Then it just all happened from there on. So actually that win in 2018, made possible, by The Road to Indy, just made it possible for me to drive in my car eventually.

it’s been tough to go this way. It’s not always been easy but it’s been a great few years and to make it to IndyCar in this rapid way is great.

 Q:

One question I had from one of our contributors was about your time in the BOSS GP Open series. He wanted to ask. It’s one of the more lesser known categories, one could say, but it hosts so many historical sports cars. It sounds like such an amazing series to be a part of. Did you learn anything in particular in your time in that series? And what benefits did you find in doing it?

R:

Yeah, my goal to do that was, I was 16 years old, when I did that. I did a few races there I didn’t do the full season. But to get experience at that young age with, well, I had 680 horsepower. Wow. That’s something very educational. And it’s something important to master when you’re younger. And I think that’s really helped me getting used to high power, high breaks, high downforce when I was only 16 years old.

Q:

Fantastic. Do the likes of people like Max Verstappen, Robin Frinjs in Formula E, Nick de Vries who is F2 Champion, and of course yourself. Does that give you hope that motorsport in the Netherlands is on the rise? It seems like Dutch motorsport is in a really good place right now.

R:

Yeah, it really is. We have some great drivers. Robin Frinjs who is a great driver in DTM and Formula E. Nyck De Vries who is a great driver in Formula E. Max Verstappen of course and then on the other side of the ocean, it’s me in IndyCar. It’s great to have so many drivers in the top categories of open wheel racing, and it’s just great to be part of it.

Q:


It’s like you said, you don’t get many Dutchmen in IndyCar. What is it like trying to get the attention of motorsport fans from the Netherlands to watch you in IndyCar? Do you think that you have a lot of attention right now from the Netherlands?

R:

Yeah, the attention is really getting better and better. Of course, it’s been a little tough because everyone was super ‘Formula One minded’. Now they’ve seen my qualifying performance and of course now with the internet, Twitter, everything, it rolls like a snowball. Everyone starts to get really excited. I think most of the country is going to watch the 500 next weekend, so it’s going to be really cool. I think especially the attention towards IndyCar is really on the rise now.

Q:

It certainly has been with my family we’ve been sat around the whole sofa watching it for the past few weeks. So you’ve provided some fantastic entertainment, especially during lockdown.

In the lower categories, you had a competitive rivalry with the likes of fellow rookie Oliver Askew. You two alongside Alex Palou and Dalton and Pato will be going for the Rookie of the Year title on Sunday. Do those sorts of things motivate you as a driver? And will competing well against the likes of Oliver be an extra bit of motivation for you come the race on Sunday?

R:

I’ve had a long rivalry with Oliver. He’s a great driver and he’s always been a benchmark whenever you go to the track. We have a lot of quick drivers in IndyCar now so Oliver is a quick rookie but also Alex, Patricio, Dalton Kellet, they are super quick here. We’ve got some really strong rookies this year and it feels good to be kind of the best rookie and so that gives me a huge amount of confidence.

Q:

How would you rate your IndyCar season so far? You’ve had a few unfortunate accidents here and there but on the whole your performances have been really positive and certainly the qualifying here at Indy 500 surely should give you confidence for the rest of the full IndyCar season. So how would you reflect on the season so far and your hopes for the future? 

R:

Yeah it’s been a weird season. Of course with COVID to start off with and then my first race at Texas was very immature, very rookie, but I really learned from that. It was one of my biggest lessons in my career. And then from then on, as a driver I made huge steps.

Of course after that we had Indy IMS Road Course where I had my first top five finish. That was great with a great strategy. And then at Road America we struggled a little, I also had some engine issues in the race so that was unfortunate. And in Iowa we were on our way possibly to a victory in race 1 until, well you know what happened with Colton. That was very unfortunate. In race 2 we had some pit lane issues so it’s not been the luckiest year. But, well let’s hope we can make a turnaround from here.

 Q:

For all your prospective fans out there as I am sure after this weekend you will have many. What can we expect from you come this Sunday?

R:

I’m gonna just give it my all. I know we have a great race car. Of course a lot of the race is about strategy, so that will be important, a lot of thinking. But I think we can make the people at home, make then sit at the top of their seats and enjoy the race. I really want to make sure that this year, when there are no fans, they still really enjoy it.

Q:

And that’s another good point that there will be no fans this year at the 500. Does that feel a little bit strange do you think that’s going to be weird come Sunday?

R:

It feels a little strange yeah. You are so used to having so many fans here at Indy. The fans make the event what it is and you miss that. You can feel that the atmosphere is not like that. Of course, it’s still the 500, you still have the speed and the sensation but yeah the fans are a gift when they are here.

Q:

I mean I’m sure that even though they are not going to be there there’s going to be thousands more at home tuning in watching at home live so don’t worry there’s going to be lots of people supporting you back at home.

I think that’s pretty much all we have time for that’s the fifteen minutes. So thank you so much Rinus it’s been a real pleasure talking to you. Thank you for giving up some of your time to speak to us. We wish you so much luck for the race on Sunday and we really hope you have a good turnout and a good result come this Sunday?.

R:

Thank you very much. I’ll make sure everyone will enjoy the race, and me too and hopefully drink the bottle of milk at the end!

 

 

Formula E reveals its new generation of car

After much hyped and anticipation, the newly named ABB FIA Formula E Championship unveiled its next generation of car on the 30th January 2018. Posed to make its debut in the 2018/2019 season at the end of the year, the car will be used for three seasons, and marks the first time a car has been specially designed by the FIA for one of its own series.

In keeping with the ethos of Formula E, the new model is decidedly more futuristic and advanced looking than its predecessor. The sharp angles and neat lines all constitute a more modern era of motorsport. And given Formula E’s focus on leading the way in new automotive technology and trying to push motorsport into new, uncharted territory, the Gen2 car seems a perfect fit.

Not only does the season 5 car feature an updated look, it also comes with a host of technological updates. Though the majority of the technical specs are yet to be released, the FIA can confirm that this new model comes ‘almost double the energy storage capacity and double the range’ meaning the battery will now be able to complete full race distances. This means getting rid of the contentious car swap that currently happens at the midpoint of Formula E races.

The Gen2 car and the work of the team of engineers and designers has attracted much praise. FIA President Jean Todt expressed how the car heralds the start of “exciting times for Formula E” and that he considers the FIA’s unprecedented project of designing and developing a car to be a “huge success”. Alejandro Agag, founder and CEO of Formula E, also believes that the car represents Formula E’s goal of “breaking the mould and challenging the status quo – bringing a revolution to motorsport”.

This new model will hit the track at the end of the year, just in time for Nissan and BMW formally joining Formula E, with Mercedes-Benz and Porsche planning their entry for the following season.

The full technical specifications and physical model of the Gen2 car will be revealed on the 6th of March at the Geneva Motor Show.

F2 Jerez Preview: Time for Leclerc to take home the title?

While Formula 1 heads to the Far East this weekend, its main feeder series, the FIA Formula 2 Championship, breaks away to run its first and only standalone event of the season at the Circuito de Jerez for its penultimate event of the season. After a chaotic and confusing round in Monza, this weekend’s round at Jerez presents championship leader Charles Leclerc with his first real opportunity to wrap up the Formula 2 title. Such a feat which would make him the first rookie champion of a feeder series at this level since 2009 when Nico Hülkenberg won the GP2 series.

Leclerc’s outing in Monza saw him fail to score any points, after being taken out from the leading pack on the last lap of the feature race and failing to work his way back into the points on Sunday. Luckily for the Monegasque driver, his nearest rivals, Oliver Rowland and Artem Markelov, also failed to score big. This leaves him firmly at the top of the drivers’ standings with a healthy lead of fifty-nine points. Realistically, it would take a series of disasters to snatch the title away from the Ferrari junior driver, who looks poised to make the jump to Formula 1 next year, most likely with Sauber.

Photo: Sam Bloxham/FIA Formula 2.

Whilst Rowland and Markelov have been busy fighting with Leclerc, Markelov’s Russian Time teammate Luca Ghiotto has been slowly racking up the points. After a fourth place and a win in his home race in Monza, he is now only two points behind his teammate and only nine behind the second placed Rowland. The Italian is in with a real chance of snatching away the runners up title in these last couple of rounds. Even a fourth place finish in the standings would mark his best result in single seater racing of this level.

After Antonio Fuoco’s win and third placed podium in Monza, the battle in the teams’ standings has closed up, with DAMS, Prema and Russian Time all in with a chance of taking home the big prize. Prema will be hoping that Monza turns out to be something of a turning point for Fuoco, who had previously failed to quite live up to expectations. But with a double podium performance under his belt, many will be hoping that Fuoco can now help Prema defend their team championship. And possibly even aid his teammate Leclerc in bringing home the driver’s title, provided that he can get in between the DAMS and Russian Time drivers.

The ever-changing line-up of the Formula 2 grid mixes things up again this weekend. Spanish driver Alex Palou, currently competing in Formula V8 3.5, joins Campos in place of Robert Visoiu for the rest of the season, who has left the team for personal reasons. Meanwhile, Rene Binder will become Rapax’s fifth driver of the season, replacing ex-F1 driver Robert Merhi for the round in Jerez this weekend. Rapax are yet to confirm whether Binder will remain in the team for the final round in Abu Dhabi at the end of November.

Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2

Binder will race alongside Louis Deletraz, who had his best weekend of the year in Monza, scoring points in both races, after switching seats with Nyck de Vries just before the round in Italy. The Swiss driver has been vocal about how he feels that Rapax is a better fit for him than Racing Engineering and the flashes of form we saw from him in Italy seems to confirm this, especially compared to his early season struggles. Though following up on that improved performance will be important in order to finish his year on a high and set himself up for what will hopefully be a second season in Formula 2 next year.

This weekend in Jerez also marks the second home race of the season for both Campos Racing and Racing Engineering. While Racing Engineering have found themselves able to compete at the front of the field in previous seasons, this year has marked something of a step backwards for the Spanish team. They will be hopeful that after a lengthy break between rounds, giving them time to properly adjust to their new line-up of de Vries and Gustav Malja, will help them recover to their full potential.

ART had a mixed weekend last time out, but there were clearly signs of lightning fast speed from the team who are currently dominating the GP3 championship. Whilst British-Thai driver Alexander Albon has struggled to retain his early season form since his injury prior to the Baku round, Honda junior Nobuharu Matsushita put on a positive performance for the French team in Monza. Matsushita even succeeded in becoming the first driver, with the obvious exception of Charles Leclerc, to claim an on track pole position this season. The Japanese driver is being touted as a contender for a possible drive at Toro Rosso next season, but it would take a stunning string of results to secure the necessary super license points. However, with such a potential reward waiting for him if he does manage to do this, he has nothing to lose this weekend.

Photo: Zak Mauger/FIA Formula 2.

All eyes will be on Charles Leclerc in Jerez to see if he can bring home the title, and his competitors Markelov and Rowland will know that this is one of their last chances to stop him. Although Leclerc has not scored a race win since the feature race in Silverstone, despite misfortune he is yet to show that he has any intention of slowing down or slipping up. But it would be premature to consider the Formula 2 title a done deal. As the last round in Monza proved, anything can happen in motorsport, and it usually does.