- IndyCar rookie takes to new discipline like a duck to water
- Dubai-based Brit instantly proves he belongs at highest level
- Dale Coyne Racing star runs comfortably inside top three
Ed Jones proved to be immediately at home on his Verizon IndyCar Series bow around the Streets of St. Petersburg last weekend, as the talented Dubai, UAE-based ace graduated to the pinnacle of US open-wheel competition in fine style by running firmly up at the sharp end en route to his maiden top ten finish.
Jones has stepped up to the fiercely-disputed IndyCar Series with Dale Coyne Racing in 2017 after sprinting to the Indy Lights laurels last season. Following a productive winter testing programme, he arrived in Florida – scene of an eye-catching double victory on his US racing debut two years earlier – ready to showcase his skill in an extremely high-calibre, 21-strong pack comprising some of the very best single-seater exponents on the planet.
As the only full-time rookie in the field, the 22-year-old Brit adopted a mature approach throughout practice, taking care not to try to run before he could walk around the bumpy and narrow, notoriously unforgiving street circuit that caught out a number of his rivals – all the while edging consistently closer to the outright pace.
Jones proceeded to line up 18th on the starting grid in his 720bhp Dallara-Honda, just four spots and barely a tenth-of-a-second behind defending title-holder Simon Pagenaud – but when the lights went out in the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg the next day, the former European F3 Open Champion found himself tagged and pushed into the car in front in an opening lap mêlée, prompting an unscheduled pit visit to check for damage.
Happily, the #19 entry was still fully intact and once the action resumed, Jones began working his way up the order. Confidently holding his own in illustrious company of the ilk of three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Hélio Castroneves, former IndyCar Champion Ryan Hunter-Reay and his ultra-experienced, multiple title-winning DCR team-mate Sébastien Bourdais, he proved to be completely unawed by his adversaries’ formidable reputations.
His first planned refuelling stop on lap 25 fortuitously coincided with a full-course caution period for debris on the track, elevating the Williams-Harfield Sports Group protégé to fourth. Shortly after the re-start, he superbly snatched third place from Marco Andretti into Turn One and maintained that position right through to his next pit-stop more than 20 laps later.
Jones continued to run impressively inside the top five until he pitted for the final time with 26 laps to go. Rejoining the fray down in 11th, he fought back into the top ten before the chequered flag to cap an excellent performance in what was a long, mentally gruelling and physically punishing encounter – in so doing, consummately demonstrating that he unequivocally belongs at the highest level.
“Pre-season testing went pretty well and I felt very comfortable in the car arriving in St. Petersburg, even though I hadn’t had that much seat time,” he reflected. “I’ve been working well with the team and get along with everyone there. Until the first race, it’s always hard to know where you stand against the opposition because there are so many variables, so we had no solid expectations for the weekend but what was clear was that Dale Coyne Racing had taken a massive step forward from where they were last year.
“I’ve always loved street circuits and St. Petersburg is a great track. It’s where I made my debut in American racing and it was a perfect debut, so I have good memories there. The infield section is very technical and quite tight and then it opens up a bit towards the main straight.
“Practice went well; it was challenging, but I learnt a lot. Everything is a bit better compared to what I’ve been used to in an Indy Lights car. You’re faster, you’re braking a lot later and there’s more corner speed. On a street circuit, it’s tough to manage that at first because the margin for error is so small. As much as you want to push as hard as you can and find the limit, you also don’t want to lose any track time by putting it in the wall. That’s a difficult situation, but I think we handled it well.
“I was really excited for my first IndyCar qualifying session, though it was a little frustrating that the red flag came out early on. That meant I didn’t get to have an initial go on the Firestone Reds, so I didn’t really have time to adapt and had to go straight out again on a new set and push from there. For me, it was a bit of an unknown how the jump was going to be and by the time I realised how much deeper I could go, the tyres had already started falling off their best.
“That said, the car was really good and I felt like I was finally there. I just felt at home, which was the most important thing – and it was the same in the race. It was fantastic to run inside the top five for so long and to finish tenth first time out was a really promising result. That underlines what a tremendous effort the whole team has put in over the winter months to develop this car and make it stronger, which is all credit to Dale, the DCR boys and Honda. With Seb winning, we now have great momentum moving forward and I already can’t wait for the next race at Long Beach!”
- British IndyCar rookie learning fast as maiden season speeds swiftly into view
- WH Sports Group protégé impresses in first oval test with Dale Coyne Racing
- 22-year-old promises steely approach as he tackles top US single-seater series
Ed Jones has served signal of his intent in the build-up to his maiden Verizon IndyCar Series campaign in 2017, by outpacing some of the championship’s biggest-hitters during the first official pre-season test at Phoenix Raceway.
The reigning Indy Lights Champion will graduate to the fiercely-disputed pinnacle of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder this year with Dale Coyne Racing (DCR). As part of his preparation, he travelled to the historic 1.022-mile Arizona oval for three days of running behind the wheel of his Honda-powered single-seater, whose twin-turbocharged engine produces some 270bhp more than he had to play with in 2016.
As the series’ only full-time rookie, the first of those days saw Jones enjoy almost exclusive use of the track, before he was joined by 20 high-calibre rivals for four sessions of daytime and evening action. The latter in particular was significant, given that the Phoenix Grand Prix on 29 April – the fourth of 17 outings on the 2017 IndyCar schedule – will take place under the floodlights.
Working closely with his race-winning engineer Michael Cannon, the talented Dubai, UAE-based ace completed just shy of 300 laps in total, sagely steering clear of trouble as a number of his adversaries came into contact with the unforgiving circuit walls.
More notably, Jones wrapped up the opening session in ninth position on the timesheets, a hair’s breadth behind DCR team-mate Sébastien Bourdais – one of the most successful drivers in US open-wheel history – and ahead of the likes of defending title-holder Simon Pagenaud, fellow IndyCar heavyweights Ryan Hunter-Reay and Scott Dixon and multiple Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves.
The former European F3 Open Champion continued to lap competitively throughout the test, and with the curtain-raising Grand Prix of St. Petersburg now less than a month away on 12 March, he is quietly confident of making his mark when the season gets underway in earnest.
“It was a very positive and productive test, and I think we offered a glimpse of our potential,” reflected Jones, who recently celebrated his 22nd birthday. “The Rookie Day was really useful, as it gave me the opportunity to get to grips with the IndyCar on an oval for the first time and get up-to-speed before everybody else joined the track.
“We covered a lot of laps, and that hard work paid off with the ninth-fastest time the next afternoon. I was actually up in P2 for much of the session and whilst it’s impossible to read anything into it at this stage because you don’t know what programmes or strategies different teams are running, it was very cool – and, I must admit, a little surreal – to see my name on the timing screens ahead of people like Pagenaud, Hunter-Reay, Dixon and Castroneves.
“After that, we switched our set-up to high-downforce race trim with a full fuel load for long-distance simulations, which meant we were never going to be turning the quickest laps in the field. The focus for me was on getting used to the traffic and following other cars in the dirty air, as well as pit-stop practice, which is not something I’ve had to deal with before.
“I’m feeling really comfortable in the team and increasingly at home inside the car; I’m getting on very well with all the DCR guys and Seb has always been happy to share the benefit of his experience. He is one of the most versatile drivers in the world; aside from his four Champ Car titles, he has competed successfully in a variety of disciplines from Formula 1 to Le Mans, so he has a wealth of knowledge and expertise that I can draw upon and he has been very open with me. All of that has served to smooth my transition from Indy Lights to IndyCar, and I feel in a good place right now.
“Ultimately, I’ll only have had a handful of days in the car before the first race weekend and whilst you always want more, that’s the way it is and we have prepared as well as we can in the time we have had. I clearly still have some catching up to do, but the key will be to make sure we maximise our final test at Sebring at the end of this month and step it up another level.
“IndyCar is so ultra-competitive and unpredictable that it’s pointless trying to second-guess the pecking-order until we get to St. Petersburg, and I’m deliberately not outlining any expectations to begin with. I’m under absolutely no illusions about how much of a challenge and learning curve I’m going to face in my first season, and the initial races will be all about finding my feet. At the same time, I’ve fought at the front in every championship I’ve ever entered, so that has to be the longer-term goal – and I’ll be pushing as hard as I can to achieve it as quickly as possible.”