Vernay ready for ‘high-speed chess’ match

By Arni Sribhen

James Hinchcliffe and Charlie Kimball know they have to beat J.K. Vernay if either wants to win the Firestone Indy Lights title.

So it’s understandable that they would try to scare the French rookie a little bit before his first race at Chicagoland Speedway. During the post-race press conference at Sonoma, the veteran drivers did their best to make the Sam Schmidt Motorsports driver uneasy about the 1.5-mile oval:

Hinchcliffe: “I mean there is nothing harder than Chicago! Chicago is the tax I pay for being a race car driver. It’s not even fun really.”

Kimball: “Oh, you’ve not been there?”

James Hinchcliffe: “It’s like playing Russian Roulette with five bullets. I mean, I don’t even know why you’d show up.”

While Vernay heard the “horror” stories about racing at Chicagoland Speedway, the ear-to-ear grin the Firestone Indy Lights point leader showed as he listened to his rivals shows he will not only be at Chicagoland Speedway this weekend, he also has no signs of nervousness about a return to ovals.

“I love the ovals, honestly,” Vernay said. “At Chicago, you never know what will happen because anyone can win in the last two laps, but I know I’ll have a great car this weekend.

“I’ve only done two ovals, but I finished on the podium at Iowa and at Indy, I had the pace to win the race if I didn’t have problems. I’ve tested Kentucky and we were quick and in Miami I’m sure the car will be really good. My team is really good on the ovals. I have a good engineer, a really good team around me. I will try to do a good performance.”

Vernay has put in solid performance all year.

He leads Hinchcliffe by 71 points and Kimball by 85 points heading into this weekend’s Chicagoland 100. Vernay, driver of the No. 7 Lucas Oil/CJ/Sam Schmidt Motorsports car, built his lead on his more experience rivals with five wins on road courses but he’s been looking forward to the final three races of the season: Chicago, Kentucky and Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“If I have to finish second because I cannot win or because we don’t have the pace to win, it will still be a great day,” Vernay said. “We want to win the race, but if the other guys are better than us, then you have to congratulate them and move on to the next race. I’m still focused on the championship because it’s never finished until the last race, the checkered flag of the last race,”

But experience in the draft may be the key to success at Chicagoland and that’s something Hinchcliffe hopes that can make the difference.

“The race craft is a little bit different (on 1.5-mile ovals), so it’s going to be interesting when we get to Chicago,” the Team Moore Racing driver said. “Chicago, in all fairness, is probably the worst one to start on for the rookies. It’s a wild track. It’s 185-mile-an-hour game of chess. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s a completely different kind of racing. It’s heart in your throat the whole time.”

Teams will have a 45-minute practice session on Aug. 27 (3:30 p.m. ET), with another session practice (11 a.m. ET) on the morning of Aug 28. Sunoco Pole Qualifying (2 p.m.) and the Chicagoland 100 (5:15 p.m.) follow.


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