- Star IndyCar rookie charges through the field for another top ten finish
- Dale Coyne Racing ace demonstrates street fighting skills in Detroit
- Dubai-born Brit now preparing for oval return under Texas floodlights
Ed Jones experienced both the highs and lows of Verizon IndyCar Series competition last weekend (3/4 June), as the talented young Dubai, UAE-born ace charged through the field to tally his fourth top ten finish from eight starts in the opening half of the ‘Dual in Detroit’, only to then register the first DNF of his rookie campaign the following day.
The lone double-header on the 2017 IndyCar schedule, the Detroit Grand Prix is held around the 2.35-mile, 14-turn Raceway at Belle Isle Park – a bumpy temporary street course widely regarded as one of the most physical and demanding venues on the calendar.
To add to the challenge, 16 of his 21 high-calibre rivals had previously led laps at the track – six of them, indeed, had reached the top step of the podium there – while Jones had never previously set eyes upon the Michigan-based circuit.
That disadvantage initially showed as the reigning Indy Lights Champion struggled throughout practice, languishing towards the wrong end of the order behind the wheel of his 720bhp Dallara-Honda single-seater at the pinnacle of US open-wheel competition.
The same theme continued in qualifying on Saturday as he could manage no better than 21st on the grid, but in front of an estimated 100,000 audience in the race, Jones dug deep and exploited an excellent strategy from Dale Coyne Racing to make up an eye-catching 12 positions, with only one car failing to reach the chequered flag.
The key to his progression was pitting just twice when the majority of the field opted to make three stops, and by dint of artfully staving off some late-race pressure, the 22-year-old Brit crossed the finish line ninth, well ahead of new team-mate Esteban Gutiérrez – a man with three seasons in Formula 1 on his impressive CV.
From 17th on the grid in race two the next day – following a significantly truncated qualifying session – Jones again went on the attack, climbing as high as eighth before his second pit-stop as he indulged in battles with defending IndyCar title-holder Simon Pagenaud and multiple Indianapolis 500 winner Hélio Castroneves.
Unfortunately, contact with JR Hildebrand at the midway stage prompted an unscheduled extra pit visit for a new front wing, dropping the former European F3 Open Champion to the very back of the pack, a lap down. Things then went from bad to worse with just over ten laps to go when he overshot Turn Seven and stalled his engine in the run-off-area. With the Holmatro Safety Team unable to get the #19 entry going again, Jones’ difficult day came to a premature conclusion.
With little time to rest, the Williams-Harfield Sports Group protégé will return to the track this coming weekend (9/10 June) under the spotlights of Texas Motor Speedway, fully intent on moving up from his current 11th spot in the drivers’ classification, a single point shy of the top ten.
“Having performed well at the first couple of street courses this year, we travelled to Detroit aiming to continue that trend and score some important points,” he mused. “That said, I was fully anticipating a tough weekend physically, especially considering I hadn’t had a lot of time to train over the last few weeks.
“Friday was a really tough day. Belle Isle was the first circuit this year where I didn’t have any prior experience, and learning it was more difficult than those I’ve been on in the past. You really have to attack it with confidence and if I’m being honest, after a few weeks of oval driving, I didn’t do a good enough job to prepare to get back to a street course and didn’t drive particularly well, which was reflected in Saturday’s qualifying result.
“I made big steps each time I took to the track, though, and as I gained more experience and felt more comfortable, I was able to attack more. We picked the right strategy in Saturday’s race and the car was really strong, allowing me to do some overtaking and maintain consistent lap times throughout the stints, so that was a confidence-inspiring result.
“Sunday, unfortunately, was less so. We tried a different strategy but it didn’t quite work out, and then obviously the contact sent us to the back, which is what really ruined our race. It was frustrating to pick up our first non-finish of the season, but those will happen in my rookie campaign at some point and we’re already working hard to get ready for Texas.”
- Dubai-born Brit stuns seasoned observers on stellar Indy 500 bow
- Dale Coyne Racing rookie takes fight to more experienced rivals
- 22-year-old celebrates best result to-date at pinnacle of US racing
Ed Jones vied for victory during the course of a scene-stealing performance on his Indianapolis 500 debut last Sunday (28 May), as the talented Dubai, UAE-born ace took the fight to some of the sport’s greatest drivers en route to his maiden Verizon IndyCar Series top three finish.
Jones lined up 11th amongst the 33 high-calibre protagonists for his first crack at one of motorsport’s most legendary and fiercely-disputed races in its 101st year – an event so steeped in history, tradition and folklore that it has earned the sobriquet ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing’.
Unexpectedly thrust into the role of de facto team leader at Dale Coyne Racing in the wake of team-mate Sébastien Bourdais’ pelvis and hip injuries, the reigning Indy Lights Champion wound up a confidence-boosting second-quickest at the conclusion of the eight practice sessions. Completing no fewer than 334 laps of the 2.5-mile oval behind the wheel of his 720bhp Dallara-Honda single-seater, he reached a dizzying top speed of 233.008mph in the process.
An electric atmosphere enveloped the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway on race day, but following a promising start to gain some early ground, Jones picked up rear wing damage from the dramatic accident just ahead of him that removed pole-sitter Scott Dixon and Jay Howard from contention on lap 53.
Forced into making an unscheduled extra pit-stop for repairs when the action resumed after a red flag, the delay dropped the 22-year-old Brit to the tail of the field down in 28th place, but he dug deep and a fast and determined effort saw the #19 car climb consistently up the order and settle solidly back into the leading pack.
A well-timed pit-stop just before a full-course caution period in the closing stages of the 200-lap contest promoted Jones right to the sharp end, and he belied his comparative lack of experience and rookie status by duelling wheel-to-wheel with seasoned adversaries Hélio Castroneves and Takuma Sato. Indeed, the former – a three-time winner at the Brickyard – was effusive in his praise for his young rival once the chequered flag had fallen as he hailed a ‘very good’ and ‘very smart’ drive.
The erstwhile European F3 Open Champion was not done yet, however, as he got the better of countryman Max Chilton in the battle for third with five laps left to run. Remaining there to the end, he secured his finest IndyCar finish to-date and DCR’s best result at Indy – a welcome tonic for the team in Bourdais’ absence and a thoroughly well-deserved reward for Jones following a rough recent run.
His standout performance also vaulted the Williams-Harfield Sports Group protégé back up to ninth in the drivers’ classification – just five points shy of the top five – ahead of the next outing on the 2017 IndyCar calendar, the Detroit Grand Prix double-header at Belle Isle Park this coming weekend (3/4 June).
“It was a great race for us,” Jones enthused. “It was also the longest race I’ve ever been in, with so many ups-and-downs. We had a solid start, but when Dixon had his crash, I ran over some debris and it damaged the floor and rear wing. We had to change the wing, which sent me to the back of the field and then we had to claw our way up again. It’s so easy to put a foot wrong, and there were a few times when I genuinely thought I was heading for the wall but thanks to the Dale Coyne Racing team for putting a great car underneath me all month.
“We were really strong in traffic and kept pushing on and making up positions. We got some luck back with the last yellow as we pitted right before it, but then I put a big hole in my front wing, which created a lot of drag. That meant I was really good in the corners catching other cars, but as soon as we got to the straight sections I couldn’t tow up to them – we just lacked that top speed for the last 40 laps and it was very hard for me to defend or attack.
“Over the final 20 laps or so, the racing got much more intense, with people taking a lot more risks. It was pretty crazy out there, but I really enjoyed it. It was just frustrating that we couldn’t get the win because we were really close to it and without the damage, we had the car to do so. When you have an opportunity like that, you want to grab it but congratulations to Taku and Hélio. We did everything we could, and to come away with third place as a rookie is an amazing result.”
“We’re excited by the job Ed’s been doing this year,” added team owner Coyne. “He really performed well at Indianapolis. He gave us our best qualifying in 11th and our best finish in third, and I think having all the yellows and the red flag was good for him because it’s the longest race he’s ever been in and that allows you time for your heart rate to come down and to think about what’s going on. The season is only a third over and whilst it kind of feels like it’s culminated here, there is plenty more still to come.”