RLL steering Vips toward IndyCar return

In another addition to the never-ending developments in the NTT IndyCar Series' silly season, Juri Vips is expected to make a return in the coming months with the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team.

Bobby Rahal wasn't able to offer Vips a race seat this year in one of the three RLL Hondas, but the veteran NTT IndyCar Series entrant hasn't given up on the Estonian. In fact, he wants to give him another chance to show his skills and be considered for a drive in 2025.

The 23-year-old contested two races for RLL to close the 2023 season in the No. 30 Honda formerly driven by Jack Harvey and made his presence felt at Portland where he qualified 18th — directly behind RLL's Christian Lundgaard in 17th — and 13th at Laguna Seca before being shunted on the opening lap.

Despite his losing out to Pietro Fittipaldi with the No. 30 this season, RLL has kept Vips on the payroll and brought him to the races to learn from the sidelines. At some point over the last eight races, Rahal intends to drop him back into a car — a fourth RLL entry — and see how he performs in a hybrid IndyCar.

"He’s a great young man and doing a lot of work for us on the simulator work. I know he'd rather be in a real car, and I feel very strongly about giving him a chance, so I expect to see that," Rahal told RACER.

"Some of this depends on Honda in when they can support us with another engine, but I would think it would be a hybrid car, so later in the summer after Mid-Ohio. We don't want to do too many races and lose his rookie status."

With teams cutting or signing a number of drivers during the 2024 season, the pool of free agent talent to consider for new opportunities continues to evolve. Asked if he'd make Vips available to another team if they wanted to test or sign him, the 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner and three-time CART IndyCar Series champion is feeling somewhat protective of his employee.

"The reason we’ve done what we’ve done is I want to see him in our team on a full-time basis," he said. "So that’s our goal for next year, for sure. We’re not there yet, but we want to keep him in our team. And I think that’s of interest to him, too."

RLL is letting Vips log more miles in Formula 2, where he was a strong contender from 2020-22 and won three races, and then it's a matter of locking in the IndyCar race he'll do between July and September and figuring out where — if the budget is raised — he might fit in the team next year.

"Having said that, he’s doing a tire test for Formula 2 here in the next couple days," Rahal added. "And so, you know, I’m not against him doing some things for other people so he gets more seat time. But no, our goal is for him to join us full-time and run for us."

"Right now, it’s all about finding the financial backing to do whatever we want to do, whether it’s two cars, three cars, four cars, or whatever."