Ed Jones produced a scintillating turn-of-speed in last weekend’s IndyCar Grand Prix, but his chances of adding a third top ten finish to his tally in what has been an impressive Verizon IndyCar Series rookie campaign to-date were undone by misfortune in Indiana.
The IndyCar Grand Prix traditionally kick-starts IndyCar’s celebrated ‘Month of May’, and the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course had been a happy hunting-ground for Jones in the past.
The talented Dubai, UAE-born ace claimed no fewer than three pole positions there in Indy Lights and reached the top step of the rostrum en route to the drivers’ crown in the fiercely-disputed Mazda Road to Indy feeder series last year. He returned with his sights solidly set on maintaining his progression at the pinnacle of US open-wheel competition.
After struggling throughout practice – completing fewer laps than any of his rivals and uncharacteristically bringing up the rear of the timesheets amongst the 22 high-calibre contenders – Jones and Dale Coyne Racing dug deep to engineer a remarkable turnaround in qualifying.
Narrowly missing out on advancing to the second part of the session, the 22-year-old Brit lined up 13th on the grid for the 85-lap IndyCar Grand Prix. His challenge, however, was almost immediately compromised when – following a bright start that saw him gain some early ground – he found himself forced to take to the grass to avoid a spinning Tony Kanaan, rejoining the fray all the way down in 20th position.
Having grittily battled back up to 13th, a refuelling issue during Jones’ first pit visit caused a further delay and prompted an unscheduled extra stop, demoting him to a lonely 19th place. He would remain there to the chequered flag, as a rare caution-free race afforded him scant opportunity to play catch-up. The former European F3 Open Champion posted the fastest lap at one stage behind the wheel of his 720bhp Dallara-Honda single-seater, ending up third-quickest overall in evidence of what might have been.
With no time to rest, Jones and DCR are already hard at work preparing for the 101st edition of the legendary Indianapolis 500 – the culmination of the ‘Month of May’ – with two days of qualifying scheduled for 20/21 May followed by ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing’ itself a week later on 28 May.
“The Indianapolis road course has been a good track for me in the past” reflected the Williams-Harfield Sports Group protégé.
“It’s quite a European-style circuit, which I think is one of the reasons why I feel so comfortable there. We went into the weekend believing it would probably be one of our best chances to get a good result so far this year, but in practice we had a few problems that made it really difficult to learn and progress.
He added: “We made some big changes heading into qualifying and moved nearer to my team-mate’s set-up. That allowed us to take a big jump and I ended up really close to the ‘Fast 12’, missing out by less than half-a-tenth-of-a-second. It was obviously frustrating not to go through to the next round, but still massive to qualify where we did given where we had been in practice – much better than we had feared.
“Unfortunately, it was then a difficult race. At the start we moved up a little bit, but going into Turn Seven, Kanaan spun in front of me and I had to avoid him – I thought he was going to take me out properly! I had to go onto the grass, and that dropped me to the rear of the field.
“After that, we were coming through and our pace was pretty good, but then at the first pit-stop we didn’t get all the fuel into the car, costing us a lot of time and messing up the whole race as it sent us to the back again. That was a real shame, as we set the third-best lap so we were clearly quick, and I think we would have probably finished inside the top ten if we’d had a clean run.”
Fernando Alonso shrugged off searing temperatures to post the fastest rookie time during practice for the Indy 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Monday.
The Formula One star, who jetted into the United States less than 24 hours after finishing 12th in the Spanish Grand Prix, completed 36 laps on the famous oval at a best average speed of 221.63mph.
The former Formula One world champion admitted he had feared the blazing hot sunshine and temperatures around 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius) might be a problem before climbing into his McLaren-Honda-Andretti.
“I was a little bit concerned about the temperature, as it was much hotter today than at the test we did here on May 3rd,” Alonso said.
“But the car felt as good as it did at the test, and I was able to make some setup changes without losing the confidence in the car.”
Under Indy 500 rules, practice sessions and qualifying are governed by top average speed. The opening session is for rookies and returning drivers who have not raced in the event for a significant time.
Alonso’s top average speed was just faster than compatriot Oriol Servia, who had an average speed of 220.75mph and Ed Jones, who was third quickest with a time of 210.29mph.
Al Zubair, 19, will hit the track for the first time in the eight-race series which shadows part of the Formula One circuit on May 12, during the Spanish Grand Prix weekend. He has rapidly ascended to this point after he claimed both the GCC Rookie and Silver championship titles in his debut season competing for the 2016/17 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East.
Such auspicious displays convinced Walter Lechner, founder of Lechner Racing in 1975 and patriarch of the current Supercup champions, to bring the rising star under his umbrella as part of Lechner Racing Middle East.
Speaking to Sport360° in his hometown of Muscat, Al Zubair could not wait to get started in Barcelona.
He said: “Mentally and physically, I’m better than I’ve ever been. I’ve been running a lot, going to the gym a lot.
“We’ve tested in Barcelona and I’ve had the Porsche Middle East experience. I’m very, very excited to start racing.”
He added: “This is going to be a huge challenge for me and a big learning curve. It feels amazing to be on the right path to my dreams and I can’t wait for the first round to start.”
Al Zubair finished fifth in the overall Middle East standings, helped along by a maiden victory in the support race for the Bahrain F1 Grand Prix last month. He also ended up second and seventh at the Dubai Autodrome in January.
These results validated the decision to move away from single-seaters after a spell in British Formula Three. The Supercup will now see both his FZracing and native Oman gain wider exposure.
“This is definitely one of the most important days for my racing,” said Al Zubair, who is also completing his A-Level education in London.
“Basically, this is to set the targets for where my goals are when coming back to the Porsche Middle East next year – it sets the record straight.”
A huge step-up in class awaits in a competition from which a top-15 finish in the standings has been targeted. But Lechner believed Al Zubair has the raw talent to prevail.
He said: “Al Faisal is a perfect example of what the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East stands for.
“I’m excited to see how Al Faisal will perform but there is no doubt that this is going to be a very challenging experience for him.”