Ed Jones ran as high as second at a dramatic ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway on Saturday before a hazard-filled race at the aptly-named Tricky Triangle conspired to drop him to a 17th-placed finish overall.
The 22-year-old Brit had qualified 11th for the race – the 14th of 17 outings in the fiercely-disputed 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series – at the 2.5-mile Pennsylvania oval.
Jones conceded some early ground but swiftly set about fighting back. He was up to eighth – duelling with IndyCar heavyweights Ryan Hunter-Reay and Helio Castroneves – by the time he made his second pit visit just past one-quarter distance.
As is frequently the case at in the US single-seater competition, the pecking order oscillated wildly as various issues and dramas brought out the yellow flags, sending drivers scurrying for the pits and playing havoc with strategy calls – and on this occasion, Jones did not enjoy the rub of the green.
The former European F3 Open Champion reached second place at one stage – picking off the likes of oval specialist Ed Carpenter and pole-sitter Takuma Sato along the way – but a mistake entering his pit box at his final stop relegated him to the tail of the field.
“Pocono Raceway certainly lived up to its nickname,” said the Dubai-born Dale Coyne Racing (DCR) protégé.
“It’s fast and quite a difficult track, but DCR had been really strong on circuits like that earlier in the season, so I was confident we would have a good idea of what we needed when we got there and I was really looking forward to it.
“Our plan was always to go conservative in qualifying, because looking at the bigger picture, there can be a lot of consequences for not a lot of gain – and it had been proved in the past that grid position is not necessarily one of the major factors at Pocono.
“Eleventh represented a solid place to start from and I was optimistic of being able to move forward, but unfortunately, it was a difficult race. The approach we took meant it was really hard to progress without errors from the cars in front, which made things challenging.
“That said, it was fun in parts; some guys were quite aggressive and there were a few crazy moves, so I was adjusting to that and we had a good run, but we were pretty unlucky with the timing of the yellows.
“We were still looking alright towards the end, but then I made a mistake at my last pit-stop and that cost us. It’s just frustrating, because I feel we should have come away with a decent result.”
Reigning Indy Lights Champion Jones was making his debut at the track, whereas 18 of his 21 rivals had competed before.
Jones was Immediately on the back foot following a spin and light contact with the wall in free practice.
As strong winds resulted in a number of incidents in qualifying, Jones outpaced championship leader Josef Newgarden and several other big names on his way to 11th.
Jones went on to take the chequered flag a disappointed 17th, and will be fired-up to bounce back quickly at round 15 at Gateway Motorsports Park this weekend.
Tara Eichenberger may just be a few months shy of her 15th birthday, but she has all the makings of a professional race driver set to take the world of Formula 4 by storm.
The Dubai-based Swiss teen started karting when she was nine-years old, but since then she has shown her mettle in various competitions in UAE and Europe. She was even the only female in the top 50 of the world ranking for Junior Kart racing drivers in 2016.
She took some time out from her busy schedule to sit down with Sport360° for a cup of coffee and talk animatedly about her life, challenges and aspirations.
I turn 15 on October 16 and my family moved to Dubai when I was seven years old. I started karting when I was nine. I go to the American school and just finished grade ten. I speak fluent German and English, and now I am learning Italian because a lot of people in motorsports speak Italian, so I am learning to ease communication.
Well, actually it is a very interesting story. When we first moved to Dubai, we used to play golf at the Montgomerie club. So while my parents were busy playing golf, my sister and I would always sneak off and start driving the golf karts. My sister was six and I was nine, so we were really small. One of us would press the pedals, while the other steered – that was really fun.
We always drove around things while no one was looking and fortunately we never got in to any trouble or got injured. Afterwards, my dad took me to the indoor kart dome. As my sister was really young, I started driving the rented karts. There was an outdoor circuit as well, but you had to be 13 to drive there or you would have to have your own kart – which I didn’t.
So my dad told me that if I was able to beat a certain time, which was very competitive, then he would get me my own kart. I just kept working hard and eventually beat that time, so my dad got me my first kart. That’s how it all began.
The biggest challenge I have faced so far is the lack of funds. Due to financial constraints, my parents were unable to provide me the best of materials, team or mechanic, but they do try their best and also try to be as cost effective as possible.
In Formula 4, or motorsports in general, you need a very skilled team who will maintain your car every day. They will literally take it apart and put it back together. So you require a lot of money and this is why we are in the process of looking for sponsors to help me get the resources I need to enter Formula 4.
I always had to fight for what I wanted and even when I was racing, I realised that I was racing under more challenging circumstances than my competitors. Funny thing is that when I did have the same materials as my competitors, I was actually as good and fast as them and sometimes, even better. So, I was never lacking in talent.
My dad believed that I should race more experienced drivers, so last year I was 13 and I was competing against 15-year olds. I started when I was nine, so even then I was racing against 12-year olds. I have always competed with drivers who are more experienced than me and that helped me learn more and understand racing tactics better.
Another thing is that I am a girl and I am in a male dominated sport. So one thing I have realised is that boys do not like it when you beat their butts.
So whenever there’s a race, they would push you till you’re completely out and they will be more aggressive to you than with other boys for some strange reason.
However, as soon as you would start fighting back and do the same thing to them they will start respecting you and then you will just be another person racing.
But before you get that it’s really difficult and when you try to push them off they complain saying ‘You can’t do that’. But I am always like, ‘You do it to me so I will do it to you’.
Definitely. I have learned a lot over the years. I know Formula 4 is a lot different and there will be a lot of changes I will need to adapt to. But I do believe that whatever knowledge I have gathered I will be able to apply it to Formula 4.
How do you train and is there a special endurance training you have to go through to prepare for races?
For training, my upper body is very important, so I do special exercises that focus on my shoulders and neck muscles. I incorporate it with gym exercises and reaction tests.
Our aim is to have the fastest reactions and also do exercises that improve our focus. In a race, you need to be vigilant and react really fast to something. One of our exercises to help enhance our reaction times and concentration: we would kneel on a yoga ball and sit up straight.
You have to maintain your balance while your instructor will ask you to count till 100 or they will throw something at you and you will have to catch it or you will practice steering.
Before I race I always have this inner urge to prove to myself. My competition is with myself and not with anyone else because when you race, it is just you and your car, and no one else.
Ed Jones raced hard to secure his fifth top ten finish of an impressive rookie campaign in the fiercely-disputed Verizon IndyCar Series last weekend (23-25 June), with seventh place at Road America vaulting the talented Dubai, UAE-born ace back up the overall championship standings.
Although he had not previously competed around the picturesque four-mile, 14-turn Elkhart Lake road course in IndyCar – unlike 18 of his 21 high-calibre rivals – Jones did race there last year en route to lifting the laurels in Indy Lights, with pole position underscoring his pace and potential.
The 22-year-old Brit had also tested there the previous week, and he duly came out-of-the-blocks in fine form in practice, placing seventh in the combined classification as he inched progressively nearer to the outright benchmark.
Despite struggling with tyre-warming issues in qualifying, Jones nonetheless advanced to the ‘Fast 12’ for the second time this season behind the wheel of his 720bhp Dale Coyne Racing Honda single-seater, equalling his best starting position to-date in 11th.
In windy conditions the following day, the former European F3 Open Champion began the 55-lap KOHLER Grand Prix well as he settled solidly into the top ten. He would maintain that positive momentum throughout – spending much of the race running in close company with 2012 IndyCar Champion Ryan Hunter-Reay – and after taking the final safety car re-start in ninth, he gained two more places before the chequered flag to cross the finish line seventh.
The result returned Jones to the top ten in the points table at the pinnacle of US open-wheel competition. Buoyed by his strong performance in Wisconsin, he will travel next to Iowa Speedway for a test ahead of the 11th outing on the 2017 IndyCar schedule – the Iowa Corn 300 – on 9 July.
“Road America is one of my favourite tracks in the United States,” reflected the Williams-Harfield Sports Group protégé, who wore a specially customised helmet for the weekend in tribute to late Chicago Bears NFL star and Dale Coyne Racing co-founder Walter ‘Sweetness’ Payton.
“It was good to go back to a road course, and we felt well-prepared after the positive test day there. The team was also competitive at Road America last season, so we had a decent starting point and we were confident we had a good package underneath us and that the circuit should suit us.
“Practice went pretty well and we showed encouraging speed all day. The track changed quite a bit in the afternoon session, but we were still fast. The field was really close so we knew qualifying would be tough, but by the same token, there were several areas in which we could improve so I was optimistic of being able to push for the top five.
“Unfortunately, the cooler temperatures on Saturday affected a few things, and I struggled to bring the tyres in, which meant it took too long to get up to pace. It was still good to make it into the second round of qualifying, but it left us with some work to do ahead of the race.
“The car was loose but fast for qualifying, and it was really loose again on Sunday – I was hanging on throughout the race! Most people went for a similar strategy, but the DCR boys did a great job and some good pit-stops helped us to progress through the field. Everyone was aggressive and it was hard racing, but we came out with a seventh-place finish and moved up a little bit in the points, so we’ll definitely take that.”
Finished 7th today, big battle out there. Car was loose but great job by the team again! Testing at Iowa Tuesday pic.twitter.com/Zf06fdbdot— Ed Jones (@Edjonesracing) June 26, 2017