Bobby Rahal, co-owner of RLL, revealed the team has retained the former Red Bull reserve driver as part of a plan to eventually expand to a fourth entry.
“We exercised our option with Juri,” Rahal said. “We see Juri as a long-term play as well.
“We’d like to run a fourth car. We’re not making as much progress on that as we would like. That’s certainly a hope. Maybe it’s only a selected number of races, maybe one, maybe it’s none. We’re not quite sure.
“There’s one thing we did know, is we wanted to keep Juri in our family. He did a great job for us in Portland and fab job in Laguna. It’s a shame chaos caught him at the start. All in all, very impressed with Juri. We certainly wanted to keep him within our organization.”
The 23-year-old Estonian contested the last two rounds of the 2023 IndyCar season with RLL. He started and finished 18th in his debut at Portland International Raceway but made the biggest impression at Laguna Seca. It was there climbed to fourth overall in a Thursday test ahead of the weekend and backed it up by leading opening practice the following day and qualifying a respectable 13th.
During the race, Vips was the victim of an opening-lap incident that required extensive repairs. He returned 24 laps down and finished 24th.
“Juri is a good young man,” Rahal said. “I have to say he did everything we asked him to do. I think he showed that he certainly is capable of running up front in an IndyCar race.
“As I say, he’s a good young man. I’ve gotten to know Juri since he’s been with us. That’s why we wanted to make sure we kept him because we do want to run a fourth car, if at all possible. He certainly showed he belongs.”
Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images
Juri Vips, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda
Rahal also made it a point to put Vips in front of the eyes of the IMSA paddock in the season finale at Road Atlanta two weekends ago.
“On top of that, if we can help him get something when we’re not using him, when we’re not busy with him, why not?” Rahal said. “I know I introduced him to a few of the (LM)P2 guys in Road Atlanta, just doing what we can to help him.
“Clearly, we want to keep him because he’s a very, very good race car driver. He’ll still perform work for us. When you look at the new category with the hybrid, both Juri, Christian (Lundgaard) and Pietro have a lot of time in simulators and what have you learning, understanding this new world.
“I think that’s going to really help us get up to speed as a team that much more quickly just because we have that kind of previous experience.
“Between all of them, of course Graham [Rahal] also doing what he can, I think we got four chargers that can help take this team forward.”
Rahal is quick to acknowledge, though, that while there is a desire to expand the program to four cars, it won’t come at the risk of taking away from the rest of the operation.
“Certainly, we’re not going to rush right into a fourth car for the reasons you mentioned,” Rahal said. “You’ve got to be prepared to do that, to do it correctly, to do it so that fourth car actually contributes going forward.
“I think we certainly saw some improvements last year. Obviously, our poor performance in Indianapolis still is by far outweighing every other thing we did last year. We’ve been committed to changing that for this coming here. I think we’re making progress on it already.
“The first thing, we’ve got three, and we’ve got three strong drivers in those cars. The first goal is to have them consistently run up front. We do that before we do anything else.”