By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
This year’s NTT IndyCar Series rookies brings a lot of hype and unknowns as it pertains how they’ll fare, especially that Saturday’s Genesys 300 at Texas Motor Speedway will be a major undertaking task due to the fact its an oval.
Both Spaniard Alex Palou and Dutchman Rinus VeeKay have never raced the 1.5-mile circuit and at one point, there was concerns they would not even make it to the United States due to COVID-19’s travel restrictions.
Following the postponement of the original season opener at St. Petersburg in March, both traveled back to their home country. Fortunately, they were able to get special permission to travel into the United States and compete at Texas.
Palou (pronounced as “pa-loh,” like ow) said that he went back to Spain because he had no one to lean on or do in the states during the two-month off period, much less own a sofa or bed.
“I just decided to go back to Spain with the family,” said Palou. “I knew I had good medical insurance there, so that was one of the most important things that led me to take that decision.
“I knew it was going to be challenging to get back here; I didn’t know it was going to be so hard. It’s been really hard. We’ve been working every day for the last couple of months since I just went back to Spain, but we made it. I have to say INDYCAR did an amazing job. I was not able to go by myself or by the help I had in Spain, so if it was not because of the INDYCAR team, I would not be here today.
VeeKay’s journey was also complicated that he finally arrived in the U.S. just this Wednesday. Had he not been able to arrive in the states, he had intentions of arriving to Mexico, but it all worked out for last year’s Indy Lights runner-up points finisher.
It was tough to get back to the U.S. When I heard the race was going to be on June 6, I knew the borders were going to remain closed,” said VeeKay. “Well, we worked together really hard with the team, my management, the NTT IndyCar Series. Yeah, we found some solution to go to Mexico, stay there for a little bit, yeah, stay there for my quarantine. We got the green light to go to the United States. I’m now in Texas so I’m very happy.”
Texas will mark Palou’s first-ever race on an oval and he’s been practicing a lot on the simulator, which he finds it to be helpful despite not being the same as running the real-life circuit.
However, he has been talking with his team and other people to gain some knowledge on oval racing, including pit stops and tire management which will only go up to 35 laps per set in the 200-lap race.
Not only that, the Dale Coyne Racing w/ Team Goh driver will be spotted by former driver Roger Yasukawa, who made three Texas starts with a ninth in 2003 being his best finish.
“I’ve been working with the team and with all the oval drivers that I know that I could ask and I could talk with them, my spotter, Roger, that was a driver before and was spotting for (Takuma) Sato last year,” said Palou. “So I’ve been talking with as many people as I could to get as much information as I could because I think it helps if they can tell me just what’s up once you go with old tires or once you enter the pit lane the car is going to turn left.
“Like I had never done a pit stop on an oval. So those kind of stuff that seems really easy and simple, I think those are the most difficult ones because that’s the things that they come with experience.”
In addition of going through things he’s never been accustomed to, Palou does indeed feel ready and thanked the sanctioning body for giving him, VeeKay, Oliver Askew, Pato O’Ward and veteran Jack Harvey an extra 30 minutes of practice time as it’ll be just a one-day show without crowds attending.
“I feel I’m the most ready I can be with the situation that we have now. Good thing is that we also have 30 minutes extra for the rookies, which that’s a really good thing. Thanks to INDYCAR for that,” said Palou. “So I can just take those 30 minutes to build myself, get comfortable with the car again, and then the only thing I will not be able to test until the race is to pass cars and to be behind cars.
“I’ve been comfortable running alone at Texas, but everybody tells me it’s a whole lot different story when you have 20 cars or one car in front. We’ll see. It’s going to be challenging, but for sure it’s
going to be a good experience for us.”
VeeKay is happy to be part of Ed Carpenter Racing, saying he’s not worried about the car going into Texas. More so that he already logged laps in Ft. Worth following INDYCAR’s Spring Training at Circuit of the Americas in Austin nearly four months ago.
“It was amazing actually with the INDYCAR. Everything feels so perfect,” said VeeKay. “Yeah, just the speed, the G-force, everything is very insane. It was a great test. We made good progress with the car also. I was very, very pleased with that.
“Yeah, I think coming to this weekend with limited time in running and everything, I think it’s very, very helpful to have Ed as my teammate. Yeah, I think I’ll be asking him a lot of questions in the weekend.”
While the youngest competitor on the 24-car grid has very small expectations at Texas, VeeKay expanded why he’s been happy with his tenure so far at ECR.
“Of course, my experience with Ed and Ed Carpenter Racing is very, very small because this will be my first INDYCAR start also with them,” said VeeKay. “Well, I think the team, what I’ve already experienced, they are very, very professional. Always, whenever we show up to a track for the test, the baseline setup is always right there.
“I think we will not have much trouble with getting up to speed. I think having Ed as a teammate and team boss is very unique. I think it will also, yeah, be good for the team atmosphere this weekend.”
Catch them and the other 22 daring drivers attempt to conquer Texas Saturday as live primetime race coverage of the Genesys 300 begins at 8:00 pm EST on NBC.