- Chip Ganassi Racing ace maintains mid-season momentum in ‘Lone Star State’
- Dubai-born Brit survives fast-paced, physical contest for solid points haul
- IndyCar sophomore showcases raw speed at sponsor NTT DATA’s home event
Ed Jones fought hard to tally the fifth top ten finish of his sophomore Verizon IndyCar Series campaign at Texas Motor Speedway last weekend (8/9 June), continuing a positive recent run for the talented Dubai, UAE-born ace at the fiercely-disputed pinnacle of US open-wheel competition.
Jones travelled to the 1.5-mile, high-banked superspeedway buoyed by a brilliant rostrum result on the streets of Detroit a week earlier. The Chip Ganassi Racing star lapped tenth-quickest amongst the 22 high-calibre protagonists in the first free practice session, before conquering sweltering midday conditions – with the track temperature surpassing 130 degrees Fahrenheit – to average 218.120mph in qualifying.
That was sufficient to put the No.10 NTT DATA car 13th on the grid for the following evening’s 248-lap DXC Technology 600 – the third of six oval races on the 2018 IndyCar calendar and the midway point of the season – barely a tenth-of-a-second-a-lap adrift of four-time title-winning team-mate Scott Dixon.
Jones improved to ninth in night-time final practice – posting the fourth-fastest non-tow speed, which calculates outright pace – but when the race blasted into life under the Texas spotlights, he initially found himself struggling for balance behind the wheel of his 720bhp Dallara-Honda single-seater.
That prompted an earlier-than-scheduled first pit-stop to make several tweaks to the wing, which dropped the 2016 Indy Lights Champion and 2017 IndyCar ‘Rookie of the Year’ to the very foot of the top 20. He pitted again on lap 71 for an air pressure adjustment, but progressively battled his way back through the field and even briefly hit the front just past half-distance – one of only seven drivers to lead a lap – before making his third pit visit.
By lap 138, Jones was the quickest driver on the track and he was running inside the top ten when the yellow flags flew once more on lap 173 for a two-car accident. The 23-year-old Brit rose as high as seventh in the closing stages, but a drive-through penalty for inadvertently jumping the re-start – one of three competitors to fall foul of the officials in that respect – restricted him to ninth at the chequered flag.
That nevertheless secured Jones another solid points haul to consolidate his grasp on 12th spot in the overall standings ahead of the next outing on 23/24 June – the KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, where last year, he finished a highly competitive seventh.
“I always love going to Texas Motor Speedway,” enthused the former European F3 Open Champion, who is being coached by multiple IndyCar title-holder and Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti. “It was a big event for our sponsor NTT DATA, and we wanted to put on a great show to give them something to cheer about. Huge thanks to everyone for coming along – they’re an amazing group of people and I’m proud to represent them.
“The weekend was a bit different this year, with the change in the amount of downforce we have available. The conditions were a little difficult on the first day too, but I was happy with the NTT DATA car and whilst we just missed the balance slightly in qualifying, we were nonetheless in a good place to go racing.
“Unfortunately, in the opening stint, we were still struggling with the balance and that cost us a lot of ground. At the first two pit-stops, we were able to improve the car and we ran really strongly in the middle phase, only for a drive-through penalty and badly-timed yellow to set us back again. It was a tough race, but considering the issues we had, I think we should be pleased to come away with ninth. Congratulations to my team-mate Scott for the win.
“I’m very happy with the recent results we’ve achieved, but we know there remains more to be done to elevate us to the next level and with that in mind, I’m already looking forward to Road America. Bring it on!”
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Ed Jones had promised to come back ‘stronger’ after a hefty impact with the wall prematurely curtailed his Indianapolis 500 bid seven days earlier, and the talented Dubai, UAE-born ace duly delivered in Detroit last weekend (2/3 June), as he sped to his second podium of the season and the third top three finish of his fledgling and increasingly impressive Verizon IndyCar Series career.
As the bumpiest and most physically gruelling circuit on the IndyCar calendar, the Raceway at Belle Isle Park was arguably the toughest place to return from an accident that had briefly left Jones hospitalised. What’s more, the Dual in Detroit is the only double-header on the 2018 schedule, with a race each day, and the new-spec car introduced this year requires even more manhandling to coax a competitive lap time out of it around the punishing 2.35-mile, 14-turn lap – without the luxury of power steering.
Saying that, the 2017 IndyCar ‘Rookie of the Year’ had claimed a top ten finish at the temporary Michigan street course last season, and after working his way methodically through Saturday’s two free practice sessions behind the wheel of his 720bhp Dallara-Honda single-seater, he put Chip Ganassi Racing’s No.10 NTT Data entry 11th on the grid for the first race amongst the 23 high-calibre contenders – ahead of ultra-experienced big-hitters Simon Pagenaud, Josef Newgarden and Sébastien Bourdais, title-winners all three.
Immediately going on the attack when the green flag dropped, Jones soon advanced into the top ten and latched onto the back of a multi-car scrap over fifth as he lapped faster than the leader in the early stages. Making his softer-compound, less durable red sidewall tyres last all the way to lap 25, he had risen as high as third by the time he peeled into the pits to switch to the ‘primary’ black-sidewall rubber, betraying no ill-effects from his Indianapolis misfortune.
After rejoining in ninth, during his second stint, the series sophomore chased down the battle over fourth before pitting again with 24 laps remaining. A brace of late safety car interventions subsequently concertinaed the pack together, and Jones grittily defended his position from former champion and recent Indy 500 winner Will Power and reigning title-holder Josef Newgarden to secure a strong sixth place at the chequered flag.
“This track is always difficult,” he reflected, “but it was a great day for the NTT Data car. The guys gave me a really good car in qualifying and although I didn’t get the most out of it there, we were able to make it through the ranks in the race. Big congratulations to my team-mate Scott Dixon for his 42nd IndyCar win. It was a fantastic job by the whole Ganassi team.”
The next day dawned wet, but the 2016 Indy Lights Champion demonstrated his versatility and all-weather prowess by scything through the spray in qualifying to seal a career-high fourth on the grid. The track dried out in time for the race, and Jones made an excellent start to pinch third from Power, only for a shuffle later around the opening lap to relegate him to sixth.
Recovering to fourth as the first pit-stop phase began, he caught and passed Dixon – the most successful driver in the current field – on lap 13 before pulling away and zeroing in on Power in second as he again set the pace amongst the front-runners. Following his own pit visit, the 23-year-old Brit was back up to third by mid-distance as the various strategies played out, conceding just a single position to eventual winner and 2012 series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay after the final round of stops.
He regained the place, however, when leader Alexander Rossi ran off-track with six laps to go, thereafter maintaining the pressure on Power – closing to barely a second adrift of his quarry – while simultaneously fending off the ever-present Dixon behind.
Defeating his four-time title-winning team-mate in a straight fight, third position equalled Jones’ career-best at the fiercely-disputed pinnacle of US open-wheel competition and vaulted him from 18th up to 12th in the chase for the coveted crown ahead of a return to oval competition this weekend, under the floodlights of Texas Motor Speedway (Saturday, 9 June).
“Another brilliant day for the NTT Data team,” enthused the former European F3 Open Champion, who is being coached this year by multiple IndyCar title-holder and Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti. “The guys really did a great job with the car over the weekend. We started off a bit slow, but the important thing is that we improved with every session and earned our way to the podium.
“We had a really good qualifying in tricky conditions on Sunday; I wasn’t sure how the car was going to feel in the wet initially, and it was pretty sketchy for the first few laps but once I got a handle on it, I had a lot of fun out there. That said, the No.10 NTT Data car was awesome in the dry and we wanted a dry race after Scott’s amazing win on Saturday.
“Things played out well for us, and while we didn't quite have enough to get by Will [Power], the podium was another step in the right direction and I’m already looking forward to getting back after it at Texas in a few short days. Let’s see if we can’t go a couple of spots better again...”