JK Vernay shows his mettle
Jean-Karl Vernay made a big impression on his first outing on an oval in the curtain-raiser to the Indianapolis 500 Miles. He was the best rookie in qualifying, and he gave the American spectators a thrilling demonstration of his talent in the race. Unfortunately, a brake problem cost him six laps and dropped him out of contention for victory. Despite this setback, he still leads the Indy Lights Championship thanks to the gap he opened up in the first three rounds.
After his victories on a city circuit in the streets of Saint Petersburg followed by another on the Barber Motorsport Park road track, the knives were out for the Frenchman on the legendary Indianapolis oval. He had his first taste of this unique layout during the Open Tests a few days before free practice for the Firestone Freedom 100, the official curtain-raiser for the Indy 500.
In each round Vernay ups the pace in free practice before putting himself in the position of a potential winner by the end of qualifying. Indianapolis was no exception to the rule. The qualifying format was based on the addition of two laps of the Brickyard, which he covered at an average speed of 186.455 mph 300,07 km/h! This performance gave him sixth place on the grid and the title of best rookie. "I didn't make any mistakes, and with a bit more experience of the qualifying format I could have been higher up the grid. My sixth place still gives me a shot at victory."
The start of the race was on Friday at 12h30. Just after the green flag was waved something broke on the rear brakes. "I drove into the pit lane where the mechanics quickly pinpointed and solved the problem, but I lost six laps." In the meantime, the collision between Jeff Simmons and Pippa Mann neutralized the race behind the pace car. Vernay rejoined at the tail of the field and began to pick off his rivals one by one. "I passed them all on the outside except for Wade Cunningham, one of my team-mates who was leading the race. I was asked on the radio to stay behind him, and then to let Charlie Kimball through so as not to interfere with the battle for victory otherwise I'd have been penalized. The main thing is that I showed I could have won or in the worst case finished on the podium, and in any case that I know how to drive on an oval."
The time sheets confirmed this as he set the third-fastest lap at an average speed of 303,992 km/h! The other positive thing was the unique Indy ambience and the fact that he also took part in a real festival of motor sport. "Apart from the Le Mans 24 Hours, I can't see any other equivalent in Europe in terms of sheer spectacle," he smiled. The Sam Schmidt Motorsport team driver is still in first place in the Indy Lights Championship, and Vernay will be out to stretch his lead on another oval, the Iowa Speedway, on 19th June.