Juri Vips says he’s taken “two sensitivity courses” since use of racial slur last year

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Juri Vips is back racing in a single-seater category. The 23-year-old was confirmed today to drive the number 30 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing car for the final two races of this year’s IndyCar season at Portland and Laguna Seca in September.

Photo credit: Red Bull Content Pool

His last competitive start was the Formula 2 feature race in Abu Dhabi last November when he finished P8.

Vips has already tested twice for RLL and is been given the opportunity at the last two rounds to try and prove he is worth taking Jack Harvey’s former car into 2024.

Speaking in a media call following the announcement on Tuesday, Vips was asked about how he’s changed as a person since he used a racist slur on a Twitch stream with Liam Lawson in June of last year.

While he was dropped from the Red Bull junior programme, Hitech GP retained the now 23-year-old for the remainder of the 2022 Formula 2 season.

Vips revealed he has taken courses in both London and the United States during his time away from racing. He initially believed it was a ‘swear word’, but the Estonian driver has apologised once again for his actions since learning the full meaning of it.

“Yeah. So I basically — after everything happened last year, I asked my team at the time, Hitech, to do some kind of 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.

“Yeah, 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?

“Then, yeah, I had a lot of time to reflect on who I disappointed. I had so many fans, so many people cheering for me, 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.

“That’s I guess why I thought the word that I said was a swear word and not way worse than it actually is. Yeah, since that I’ve learned a lot.

“I took two sensitivity courses. One in the UK, and we decided with Rahal here it’s good to do a refresher course as well. Things might be a little bit different in the US, it’s a different company, and that’s definitely helped as well just to get a different perspective on things. I definitely learned more in the RISE Program that I just completed here.

“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. Now that I understand what the word means, it’s completely justifiable, and I am very sorry for everybody that I’ve hurt.”

Bobby Rahal also spoke about Vips’ past. The former Champ Car and Indy 500 champion says he talked to a friend in European racing circles about Vips after the Estonian lost his position at Red Bull.

“As I said, Juri came up on our radar screen by a friend of mine in Europe. Of course, this was after the mistake that he made, after it was public, after he was released from his Red Bull contract.”

Rahal added that Hitech believed the slur used did not represent the kind of person Vips is generally.

“So he was kind of — although the team that he drove for knew him well, and they certainly believed that, yes, it was a mistake, but that was not emblematic of him as a person, and they still ran him the remainder of that year. That was the Hitech team.”

The owner of RLL spoke to more people about Vips to get a read of him as a human being and driver. He also added how Vips has taken the necessary steps to rectify his ‘mistake’.

Vips did the same course as NASCAR driver Kyle Larson in the United States. Larson was suspended by the series in 2020 following the use of the same slur used by Vips.

“Anyway, I spoke to some friends that had worked with Juri, and they were just very unbelievably impressed and supportive of him, with his skills. Knowing that, I know that, as I said earlier, also Juri had already gone through diversity training in London with Dr. Lateesha Osbourne.

“I think he knew there was a lot more to do beyond that even, but we felt that certainly all the response we were getting from people who had been with him was very positive.

“Obviously sad that he made a mistake of this nature, and he paid a huge price for it, I might add, but was impressed because he set about correcting that and learning from that and continues to this day.

“[He] has really I think atoned for it through some of the programs, diversity training programs, that he’s been involved with both in England and here in the United States. In fact, the same organization that Kyle Larson went to, and we felt that they were very good in their field, and Juri has been going through that program. I think he has completed it now.

“So as I said, the opinions I got about him as a driver were extremely high, and he did do that test for us, and we were quite pleased with it at Sebring.”

Lastly on the controversy surrounding this announcement, Rahal was quite clear that people deserve a second chance in life.

“So I guess I personally feel and I think Mike Lanigan, our team, feels that everybody makes mistakes, and you have to do what you can to repair and learn from those mistakes, but everybody deserves a second chance. I certainly feel strongly about that, so that’s why he is here.”