With a full NTT IndyCar Series race weekend plus a test day under his belt, Juri Vips heads into this weekend’s season finale with a lot more confidence than he had ahead of his series debut this time last week in Portland.
“I hope it’s going to be good,” Vips told RACER. “We had a very good test day. All I want is to do a good job and follow the track conditions through the weekend, because we know we have a good car. We just have to follow the track well for the weekend, and if we have a clean race we can definitely have a good result.”
Vips was quick to get comfortable with the newly-resurfaced WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca during Thursday’s test, putting Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s No. 30 Honda fourth on the timing sheets with a lap 0.36s off the benchmark set by Team Penske’s Will Power.
“It feels a lot more natural [this week] after not having raced all year and then jumping into the car in Portland,” he said. “Now I know what an IndyCar is like to drive, and what an IndyCar race weekend feels like.
“Everything felt new last week. It’s a completely different atmosphere in the paddock to Europe, and there was so much for me to learn. I had never used an overtake system, you’ve got the adjustable bars, the pits are much narrower, the pit boxes are really small, going into neutral for the pit stops with the refueling and then you go to first just before you launch… there’s a lot of new things. It was a bit chaotic last weekend to learn all this at once, but I think we did a decent job of just getting through the weekend and running a lot of laps.
“I kind of messed up the result for the team — I went a bit long on the first stop and made it hard for the guys and we had a slow stop, otherwise we would have been around our teammates. So that made it a bit harder, but it was one of those rookie errors.”
Drivers transitioning to IndyCar from other forms of open-wheelers are routinely surprised by the physical demands of an IndyCar. Vips, who cut his teeth on the European ladder, joins a long list in that regard, but said that after Portland he has a clear idea of what’s waiting for him this weekend.
“Most of the weekend in Portland it wasn’t a problem at all, but one thing that really caught me out was going into the race with the higher fuel and lower ambient temperatures — the steering was a lot heavier than the rest of the weekend,” he said. “It was a tough 110 laps! I wasn’t, like, ‘I need a week off’ after the race, but it was challenging. The thing is, the steering weight is quite similar to F2, but you hustle these cars a lot more, you’re fighting them a lot more, and F2 races are not even half as long as in IndyCar. So that was a big difference.”
Following Vips’ strong run in Thursday’s test, Power suggested that Laguna Seca’s new smooth, high-grip surface might have felt more like the track surfaces that the Estonian was familiar with in Europe. Vips isn’t so sure.
“I’ve heard a lot of people say that, but I wouldn’t say it’s like that at all,” he said. “We have nowhere near these kinds of undulations and drops and crests. In some places, Turns 3 and 4, yes, maybe a little bit. Then you go into 5 and 6, and the Corkscrew… you don’t get stuff like that in Europe. Eau Rouge [at Spa)]is one of those places where you have this big undulation, but it’s still a flat-out corner. So it’s very different.”