Jean-Karl Vernay is a French racing driver who most recently competed in the inaugural season of the WTCR - FIA World Touring Car Cup with Team WRT. Vernay entered the WTCR after he won the championship title in the 2017 TCR International Series.
Earlier in a career, JK Vernay was successful single-seater and sports car racer, collecting few championship titles but also a class victory at 24 hours of Le Mans. He was a champion in the 2005 Formula Renault Campus France, 2010 Indy Lights series and 2012 Porsche Carrera Cup France. At 24h Le Mans, he was the GTE Am class winner in 2013, driving Porsche 911 GT3 RSR for IMSA Performance Matmut.
Championship title in debut season
Jean-Karl Vernay was born on October 31, 1987, in Villeurbanne in eastern France. As a teenager, he was successful in various national and international karting competitions, progressing to bigger single-seaters in 2005. In his first season, he became the champion in the French Formula Renault Campus series, scoring six wins and twelve podiums in 14 races.
In 2006, Vernay progressed to the French Formula Renault 2.0 championship, finishing as the best rookie and the runner-up in the overall standings.
In the 2006-2007 A1 Grand Prix season, Vernay was representing Team France along with Nicolas Lapierre and Loic Duval. In March and April 2007, he participated in two rounds, in Mexico and China. The team finished in the fourth place.
Three seasons in the Formula 3 Euro Series
In 2007, Jean-Karl was selected to be part of the Red Bull Junior Team. He was racing in the Formula 3 Euro Series with the Signature-Plus team. His best result was the second place at Magny-Cours and he finished 10th in the final standings. The highlight of the season was a podium in the non-championship Masters of Formula 3 at Zolder, where he finished in the third place.
Vernay continued to compete in the F3 Euro Series in 2008, still with Signature-Plus. Scoring three podiums, he ended up eighth in the championship.
Two championship wins and podium at Macau Grand Prix
The third season in the F3 Euro Series followed in 2009. Vernay finally scored his first win, in the sprint race of the season-opening round at Hockenheimring. He won again in the season-closing race at Hockenheimring, finishing fifth in the points.
At the end of the season, he gained a good result at Formula 3 Macau Grand Prix. In the qualifying race, he an outright lap record on the way to a victory. In the main race, he started from pole but lost a win to Edoardo Mortara, finishing in the second place.
Indy Lights champion in the first attempt
In 2010, Vernay moved to the United States to race in the Firestone Indy Lights series for Sam Schmidt Motorsports. He was the biggest surprise of the series, winning in his debut race at the wet streets of St. Petersburg. He repeated a triumph in the second round at Barber Motorsports Park, announcing that he would be a candidate for the title.
Until the end of the season, he added two more wins (Toronto, Sonoma) and four podiums, securing the championship title before the last round.
Switching to sports car racing in 2011
The Indy Lights season wasn't just a peak but also the end of Vernay's single-seater career. In 2011, he participated in just one round of the Formula Renault 3.5 Series, switching his interest to sports car racing.
He was driving Oreca 03 LMP2 prototype for Signatech Nissan in three races of the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup, scoring the class victory at 6 hours of Zhuhai. His co-drivers were Franck Mailleux and Lucas Ordonez. Vernay was also driving Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 for Vita4One team in selected races of the Blancpain Endurance Series, including 24h Spa.
2012 Porsche Carrera Cup France champion
Besides driving Porsche, he participated at 12 hours of Sebring, which was a part of the FIA World Endurance Championship, driving a Ferrari 458 Italia GTC for Luxury Racing. His teammates were Fred Makowiecki and Jaime Melo. They didn't finish the race.
Class victory in 24h Le Mans debut
In June 2012, Vernay participated in Le Mans test with Sebastien Loeb Racing's Oreca 03 but didn't start in the race. His Le Mans debut followed a year later, in June 2013, with Porsche 911 GT3 RSR of IMSA Performance Matmut. Vernay, Raymond Narac and Christophe Bourret were 25th overall and the first in GTE Am class.
Vernay participated full season in the FIA World Endurance Championship, finishing in the third place among GTE Am drivers. His other commitments were in the European Le Mans Series and Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup but without notable results.
2014 - racing in Japan and Asia
In 2014, Vernay moved his racing activities to Japan and Asia. He was driving Honda NSX Concept-GT for Weider Modulo Dome Racing in three rounds of the Japanese Super GT Series, partnering Naoki Yamamoto. Their best result was 5th place at Okayama.
He was also driving Absolute Racing's Bentley Continental GT3 in three races of GT Asia championship. In November 2014, Vernay participated at Macau GT Cup with Bentley, finishing in the 10th place.
Joining Team WRT in 2015
In 2015, Vernay returned to Europe and his main competition was the Blancpain Endurance Series, in which he was driving three different Audi R8 LMS car for the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT.
His full-time partner was Robin Frijns, the other co-drivers were Laurens Vanthoor, Nico Muller and Stephane Richelmi. Scoring two podiums, at Monza and Silverstone, Vernay finished sixth in the points.
2017 TCR International champion with Leopard Racing/Team WRT
In 2016, Vernay stayed with Team WRT but switched to their TCR International Series division, sponsored by beverage company Leopard. Driving the #2 Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR, Vernay scored three wins to finish third in the points, behind teammate Stefano Comini and Seat driver James Nash.
In the 2017 TCR season, following Comini's departure, Vernay became Leopard Racing's main driver, continuing to drive the #2 Volkswagen Golf. He stayed among front-runners, winning two races during the season and entering the season's finale in Dubai as the championship leader. He wins the title ahead of Hungarian teenager Attila Tassi.
2018 - new challenge in the new WTCR competition
In 2018, TCR International Series and FIA World Touring Car Championship merged into the WTCR - FIA World Touring Car Cup. Vernay stayed with Team WRT, getting an Audi RS3 LMS as his new ride. His new teammate was three-time BTCC champion Gordon Shedden.
Vernay was one of the WTCER front-runners, winning four races and finishing fifth in the overall standings. Vernay also raced in the TCR Europe Series, scoring three wins in an Audi and finishing second in the championship.