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Firestone Indy Lights: Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

Firestone Indy Lights: Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

Jan Heylen
J.K. Vernay
Stefan Wilson
March 28, 2010


THE MODERATOR: We'll get started with our post-race press conference here. We are joined by the podium finishers from today's season-opening Firestone Indy Lights race. J.K. Vernay, who won in his first Firestone Indy Lights start, joins us today. He drives for a local team based here in Newport Richey Ritchie. J.K. is the eighth driver in series history to win in his debut start. The last driver to do that was Junior Strous, and that was last year here in St. Pete.
We're also joined by Tampa resident Jan Heylen, who finished second. This is also Jan's debut Firestone Indy Lights race.
And finally Stefan Wilson joins us, who finished third, his first race with Bryan Herta Autosport. This is a career-best finish for Stefan in Firestone Indy Lights. Previous best finish was fourth at Toronto in 2009.
For Stefan and Jan, start with you guys. I know the conditions were a little crazy out there today. Can you talk about today's race?
STEFAN WILSON: I just want to thank Forsythe Solutions for this event. I also want to thank all my crew guys for working hard late last night. You know, I started the weekend off and was pretty happy with the car in practice 1, was P3 in session, and I thought it was going to be a good weekend. But it was a bit of a roller coaster in qualifying, made a small mistake and it cost me really bad. I had to -- I went into warning in eighth.
I had to start at the back of the field in the race, but that quickly changed when the rain started to come down. There was a lot of people going off, and it was pretty slick out there. The white lines on the runway were treacherous, and lot of people made a lot of mistakes in front of me. So I quickly found myself sitting in the P5 position, and from there on when we went back to green after the break, we started moving up slowly but surely, and the car was really good.
It was just really hard to pass out there because all the passing opportunities were very tight, and the white lines dictate the line into the corner. So I wasn't able to make enough move on Jan at the end there. The car was really great, and I just want to thank everyone that stepped in this weekend to help me out.
THE MODERATOR: Jan, your thoughts on today's race and the conditions out there? Quite exciting.
JAN HEYLEN: Yeah, same for me. First off, I hope there's going to be something after this for me, after this race. This was a warmup so far, so hopefully we'll get some people motivated. But really want to thank the team, Team E, and the partners, PHR Services and Oakley, for helping me here this weekend.
The conditions were -- yeah, it was difficult. Especially going into Turn 1, those white lines were really slick. I think we made a bad call on the setup of the car, and it was too bad I couldn't give my friend here a run for the race.
But really enjoyed it. Had a difficult start. We were on the outside, and I kind of knew what was going to happen. I think I dropped back to eighth and then I was just patient and worked myself back up to the front.
But yeah, had a really good race, really enjoyed it. It was really nice being back in a car. I hadn't been racing for almost three years. So good to be back, and I really hope I can do a few more this year. Very much enjoyed it. Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: And as I mentioned, J.K. is the eighth driver to win in his Firestone Indy Lights debut. Talk about this being your first race and you find yourself atop the podium.
J.K. VERNAY: Yeah, for sure I'm really happy for today, for the really good weekend. Since this was the first practice, I didn't know the track, so I had to learn a lot. That's what I did with my team.
I did a really good setup on the car, and I learned practice after practice, and I was pushing more and more, and in qualifying we were there, so it was good. I was a bit off -- didn't have the pole position, but it's like that.
And today the car was just fantastic. The first lap I was really safe. I didn't want to pressure the race in the first five minutes; it's nearly one hour. I just wanted to take my time. I was really careful on the first corner. After that on the wet my car was just fantastic. I just had to push a few laps and after to control the car for the race, and yeah, I win. It's really fantastic for the first weekend in Indy Lights in my first showing in America.

Q. Stefan, your shorter brother -- is your brother shorter than you are?
STEFAN WILSON: No, we weighed in at the speedway, and he's actually exactly the same height as me, 6'31/2". We always say 6'31/2" is the same as 6'4" because that's a big number to be in a racing car.

Q. How much advice has he been able to give you? Having run most of these tracks that you're going to be on and he's won, how much advice and how good is it to have somebody like your brother to help you along and give you some pointers?
STEFAN WILSON: It's great. You know, it's great having his advice there because last year it was more so because somebody -- like J.K. said, coming over here to America, you've got to learn all these new tracks. So last year it paid a lot more going to tracks. He'd walk the track for me before the races.
But this weekend, I've been here before, so I haven't really spoke to him that much over the weekend. He's been really busy on his own race this weekend, so I haven't been able to have that much conversation with him. But he gave me a bit of stick after my mistake in qualifying yesterday, so hopefully I've made up for that today.

Q. Jan, you performed extremely well, but you said you haven't driven in a couple years. Why? It's obvious you've got talent. Why weren't you driving?
JAN HEYLEN: Unfortunately the talent alone doesn't do it anymore these days. I've just been out there trying hard. I really want to get back obviously into IndyCar, IRL. We're working really hard with PHR, who is one of the partners here this weekend, and like I said, I've got a whole group of good people behind me.
We worked on it really hard last year, and we were hoping to get to the start of the year this year, but unfortunately we didn't make it. Again, I'm trying really hard, and that's obviously where I want to be. The last race I did, I finished second in Champ Car. Like I said, that was my last real race I did, and that's almost three years ago.
So again, I think for what we did this weekend, it was tough. We had a really good test at Barber. They called me up a few days before and just flew down there to do it, and it was very good.
Yeah, unfortunately we had to change the team a little bit because we're doing a limited -- hopefully a limited program. Like I say, I really hope that there's something to come after this. But like I said, the team was slightly different this weekend than it was for the test, so it was hard to get all the people working together and to get everybody on the same page, but I think we did a really good job, thinking to where we came from and me not being in the car for so long and a team that's not been on track for more than a year now.
So really good job to the guys, and I'm sure that if we come back, we can do a little bit better.

Q. Jean Karl, can you talk about your decision to come over to the States and the name change, as well?
J.K. VERNAY: Well, I took a decision only one month ago. I did some testing at DCM with Audi, and I was unable to participate in the championship. So after, the solution in Europe is GP 2 or Formula 1. GP 2 has got a lot of money, and after -- CJ Motorsports and Sam Schmidt called me to do one test, this was really good. We did a really good test, and afterwards I decided to come here with CJ Motorsports and Sam. Yeah, I'm really happy to be here, completely different series than Europe. It's really a new world for me. But for the moment I really like it.

Q. Why the name change?
J.K. VERNAY: Because normally the Americans, it's more difficult for them to say Jean Karl, so J.K. is easier for everybody, I think.

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