PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing knew its latest driver would be controversial, so much so that the social media manager turned off the ability to comment on posts announcing the hiring.
Juri Vips, a 23-year-old from Estonia, will make his IndyCar debut this Sunday at Portland International Raceway and finish the season in the No. 30 Honda for RLL. He will also race next week's finale in Monterey, California.
Vips has been out of racing since June 2022 for using a racial slur while playing an online racing game with live viewers. He was a Formula One test driver and in the Red Bull system at the time, but was fired after an investigation.
The transgression didn't scare off Bobby Rahal, who tested Vips at Sebring last year, at Barber earlier this season, and has used him for simulator work for RLL.
“It’s no secret that he made a mistake and paid a huge price," Rahal said after announcing Vips' hiring. “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.”
Rahal said the time his organization has spent with Vips convinced the team the young driver deserved another chance. Vips completed diversity training programs, and Rahal said he worked with an organization that assisted NASCAR star Kyle Larson in his comeback from his own use of the same racial slur referring to Black people.
“I think Juri for many years, he has known he made a big mistake, and he has paid for it, but now he’s trying to come back. So we’re pleased to give him that second chance,” Rahal said. “He has shown us enough for us to take that chance, you know, to give him a shot, and he has certainly worked hard to correct the mistake that he made. So we’re excited about him joining the team for these last two races, and hopefully he’ll do well.”
Jack Harvey was released by RLL with three races remaining in the season and Conor Daly drove the No. 30 last Sunday at Gateway. Vips then got the call for the remaining two races, and the finale at Laguna Seca comes with a full day of testing ahead of the race weekend.
Vips said he's taken two sensitivity courses to prove he's matured and to understand different cultures. He said he asked his European team at the time to set up the first course "for me to understand what’s offensive and what’s not, because I made this huge mistake without knowing it’s such a big mistake. I thought it was just a swear word that I was saying.
“I wanted to know more about it, first of all, just so nothing like this can happen again because I don’t know what else I don’t know, you know?”
It was a wakeup call for Vips once he realized how many people had supported his career and how he had let them all down.
“So many people that helped me through my career, and I just threw it all away because I wasn’t — before this I wasn’t interested in learning about anything — all I cared about was racing,” Vips said. “That’s I guess why I thought the word that I said was a swear word and not way worse than it actually is.”
The second sensitivity course was taken in the United States with Rahal's urging because “things might be a little bit different in the U.S." He used the same “RISE Program” that Larson used in 2020 and found it more beneficial than the U.K. course.
“I feel like I have grown as a person, but yeah, I am really grateful for the second chance, and I completely understand all the outrage,” Vips said. “Now that I understand what the word means, it’s completely justifiable, and I am very sorry for everybody that I’ve hurt.”
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