Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Bobby Rahal: “The mistake was a single mistake” for Juri Vips

In the early months of 2022, things were looking up for Juri Vips. The Estonian was entering his second season as a full-time competitor in Formula 2, with two wins already under his belt in the series, along with a sixth-place finish in the championship the year prior. Red Bull Racing signed him to a reserve/test driver position following four years of service in the team’s junior academy. While not a guarantee, Vips was closer to a Formula 1 seat than any prior time in his career.

However, all of that success didn’t stick around for long. In June of the same year, Vips used a racial slur during a Twitch stream, resulting in a complete severance of the relationship between the then-22-year-old and Red Bull. Team Principal Christian Horner stated that “everybody at some point deserves a second chance” in relation to Vips, who proceeded to finish out the F2 season with Hitech Grand Prix without Red Bull’s support.

After a dormant 2023, Vips’ second chance was realized on Monday as Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing signed the 23-year-old to finish out the final two races of the IndyCar Series season in the #30 Honda following the team’s release of Jack Harvey.

Team co-owner Bobby Rahal immediately defended the decision and Vips himself at the beginning of a virtual press conference on Monday.

“Well, I think Juri is just a very nice, young guy.” said Rahal. “We were introduced to him a couple of years ago. I mean, it’s no secret that he made a mistake and paid a huge price, but people in Europe who I knew were very, very complimentary about him as a driver and as a person.”

“This mistake was a single mistake. Unfortunately, as we all know, Juri paid a huge price for that and lost his position in the Red Bull system, which he was the preeminent junior driver at the time.”

Vips tested with RLL last October and earlier this year in March, and has run simulator tests throughout 2023 with the team, according to NBC.

“I’ve already learned quite a lot. I’ve gone to a couple of races and been around the factory a bit.” Vips stated in Monday’s press conference. “So I feel like pretty integrated in the team as much as I could be, and definitely Christian [Lundgaard] and Graham [Rahal] have helped me with that, that transition phase.”

“I’m sure I’ll learn a lot during the race weekend, but definitely having driven the car, having spent a bit of time here in the U.S. has helped me with that transition because it is a completely different racing series to F2, completely different demands.”

Vips makes his IndyCar debut this weekend at the Bitnile.com Grand Prix of Portland at Portland International Raceway.