After sweeping both Pro Mazda rounds at the Honda Indy Toronto, Dutch teenager Rinus VeeKay has trimmed the once-comfortable gap to points leader Parker Thompson.
For VeeKay it has been a challenging season with a fair bit of resiliency required. While the doubleheader sweep in Toronto moves VeeKay’s season win total to four, it was his first time in victory lane since the opening weekend at St. Petersburg – when he also won the doubleheader.
In between winning weekends in Florida and Canada, VeeKay still notched six top-five finishes in seven races. A punishing 14th-place finish at Indianapolis in May left the 17-year-old in a rather deep hole as he looked up at Thompson in the points standings.
Waiting in the wings, VeeKay continued the string of solid top-five runs before pouncing on an opportunity in Toronto.
While chaos ensued during race one in the streets of Toronto, VeeKay turned in a dominant performance and waltzed to victory. The Netherlands native jumped to commanding leads on the start and restart while Thompson eventually had a run-in with David Malukas.
With VeeKay earning max points, Thompson would have to settle for an 8th place finish, his worst result of the year. VeeKay was just fortunate to have made it through the carnage, nonetheless with a win in his pocket.
“Parker was right on me and David was in my mirrors on the start but then I saw cars flying and I knew there would be a caution,” said VeeKay. “I was hoping that it would just be a yellow, not red, so I could stay in front of the field on the restart. I feel badly for them, but to have Parker and David not finish is a boost for me in the championship.”
Though race two of the weekend would unfold markedly cleaner, deja vu struck the finishing order as VeeKay once again won while Thompson faced trouble and finished 8th for the second race in a row.
Following a poor qualifications effort that placed him 14th on the grid, an incident with Sting Ray Robb on lap 17 made a difficult race for Thompson that much harder. In the end he would finish two laps off of the pace set by VeeKay, and the commanding points lead Thompson once had was now a scant seven points.
Thompson’s troubles were clear opportunities for VeeKay, who devoured both chances to trim the gap.
“I like street courses. It gives you a kick, being in between all the walls,” VeeKay beamed. “The team is good on street courses and I enjoy preparing the car for a race like this. I was able to drive away early in the race, but after the second caution period, Oliver was right behind me and I knew he was quickest on track. So I went from a big lead to looking in my mirrors when the green came back out.
“The last two laps were hard but I brought it home and we swept the weekend, so I couldn’t be happier! It’s a really good confidence kick going into the last few weekends of the season, to be able to close the championship gap this much.”
By winning both races and Thompson finishing 8th in each contest, VeeKay netted a whopping 39 points on the gap entering the weekend.
Now the focus shifts to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for another crucial doubleheader weekend. While VeeKay netted a solid podium finish last season in his lone USF2000 race at the track, Thompson was stellar with a win and a runner-up finish for Exclusive Autosport.
Each driver to this point has had one “throw-away” weekend where the points are nearly dead even. One more mistake such as that will most likely signal the end of this championship hunt if either Thompson or VeeKay face significant issues during either race this weekend.
If the two can hold serve, it will set up an exciting wild card race at Gateway Motorsports Park in August before the season-ending doubleheader at Portland in September.
Pro Mazda will race on Saturday, July 28 at 4:10 p.m. Eastern and Sunday, July 29 at 11:05 a.m. Eastern. Both races can be seen live at RaceControl.IndyCar.com with Rob Howden and the IndyCar Radio Network on the call.
Image courtesy of Mazda Road to Indy.