Chris Griffis Memorial Test Begins At Indy

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Rinus VeeKay was the fastest driver in the Indy Lights class during the opening day of the Chris Griffis Memorial Road to Indy Test.
Rinus VeeKay was the fastest driver in the Indy Lights class during the opening day of the Chris Griffis Memorial Road to Indy Test.

INDIANAPOLIS – Rinus VeeKay, Braden Eves and Christian Rasmussen set the pace Saturday as the ninth annual Chris Griffis Memorial Road to Indy Test kicked off at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Grand Prix road course.

The trio were fastest in their respective series as all three levels of the highly acclaimed Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires open-wheel development ladder – Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship – took advantage of ideal weather conditions on the 2.439-mile track situated just a few miles from downtown Indianapolis, Ind.

Each series was on deck for three 45-minute sessions, with the day beginning under a clear sky in cool temperatures before gradually warming up to a comfortable 70 degrees by mid-afternoon. The two-day test will conclude Sunday.

VeeKay came up just short of winning this year’s Indy Lights championship, losing out to Oliver Askew by a 21-point margin despite winning three of the final four races. But the 19-year-old Dutchman backed up an impressive midweek NTT IndyCar Series test with Ed Carpenter Racing by returning to his more familiar roots today and setting the fastest time in each of the three practice sessions for Belardi Auto Racing, with which VeeKay made his Indy Lights debut two years ago at the corresponding Chris Griffis Memorial Test.

VeeKay’s fastest time of the day, 1:15.4795, an average speed of 116.328 mph, was set on a fresh set of Cooper tires in cooler conditions at the end of the day.

“We found the setup in the last session and won the day, though that wasn’t the main goal,” said VeeKay. “I was here to help (the team) evaluate their setup so that was a bonus. I tested here with Belardi two years ago, so it was great to be back with them. I hope I am going to IndyCar next season but this is two days of driving, two days of getting better and trying to improve that much more.”

A quartet of Andretti Autosport drivers proved closely matched for most of the day with Robert Megennis usually at the head of the pack. Megennis, who qualified on pole position for one of the two IMS races in May, closed to within four tenths of VeeKay in the final, fastest session, followed by rookies Rasmus Lindh and Danial Frost, both of whom made the step up from Indy Pro 2000 for the first time, and Egor Orudzhev, who returned to open-wheel cars for the first time since 2016 after racing closed-cockpit cars in the FIA World Endurance Championship for the past three years.

“It was a solid day,” said Megennis. “It’s good just to get laps, especially around Indy. I try to improve every lap, every session that I do so we’ll keep going with that, try some different things on the car to see what’s fast and try to set ourselves up well for next year.”

“It’s always a good experience, to get in a new car,” added Lindh. “We found a good pace in the end and were just as quick as Megennis, who won a race this year. It was my first day in the car and the team was great. I want to just continue doing well. Now that we’ve learned the basics with the car, we can start work on smaller things. It’s a bigger car so you need to have more patience when it rotates, and it’s a lot more horsepower. It’s a big step, but it’s going well.”

Three different drivers topped the timing charts during the trio of sessions for Indy Pro 2000, which drew its largest field of the year as the category, revitalized with a new equipment package in 2018 and a name change prior to this season, looks toward continued growth in 2020.

Colin Kaminsky was quickest out of the box this morning, edging out fellow USF2000 graduate Hunter McElrea as Pabst Racing made an impression right away in the faster Tatuus PM-18 cars after winning back-to-back-to-back Team Championships in USF2000.

Series veteran Parker Thompson used his experience to excellent effect by topping the early afternoon session on his debut with DEForce Racing before sitting out the final period, during which recently crowned USF2000 champion Eves set the best time of the day for Exclusive Autosport.

Eves’ time of 1:19.6386 represented an average speed of 110.253 mph and was within three tenths of Askew’s qualifying track record set in 2018.

Thompson’s time of 1:19.8591 remained good enough for second fastest ahead of New Zealander McElrea, whose second-fastest time in the final session, 1:19.8632, was good enough for third on the day, fractionally faster than teammate Kaminsky.

British driver Raoul Hyman, a veteran of a variety of open-wheel series around the globe, impressed on his North American debut with the fifth fastest time of the day for Exclusive Autosport, with Phillippe Denes also circulating within a half-second of the benchmark time for reigning champion team Juncos Racing.

Rasmussen, 19, was quickest among a 17-car USF2000 contingent for Jay Howard Driver Development, continuing the form which saw him win three races during a strong rookie campaign in 2019.

In fact, Rasmussen scored more points than any other driver during the final half of the season. Quickest in all three sessions, Rasmussen set his fastest time of 1:25.1117, an average speed of 103.163 mph, in the early afternoon.

Eduardo Barrichello also continued his good work following a recent switch to DEForce Racing, which included a front row qualifying position for the final race of the season at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. The 18-year-old son of former Ferrari F-1 race winner Rubens Barrichello ended the day second fastest with a time of 1:25.3159.

Also impressive was 15-year-old Dutch rookie Rick Bouthoorn, who posted the third fastest time for Pabst Racing, a tenth of a second adrift of Barrichello.