Life comes at you fast in IndyCar.
Rewind back to this stage of 2017 and Dubai’s Ed Jones was looking to parlay championship victory in the junior Indy Lights series into a solid opening campaign from North America’s premier level of open wheel racing.
Achievements beyond even his wildest dreams followed.
The now 23-year-old placed an outstanding third in the iconic Indianapolis 500 and was named Rookie of the Year after earning 14th spot in the fiercely competitive IndyCar rankings.
These exploits granted him the opportunity of a lifetime for this season, swapping the breeding grounds of Dale Coyne Racing for the elite Chip Ganassi Racing.
Under this banner, competitors such as Jimmy Vasser, Alex Zanardi, Juan Pablo Montoya, Dario Franchitti and his new team-mate Scott Dixon have all gained legendary status. In total since 1996, it has achieved 11 championship titles.
Jones came into 2017 with little expectation. Ahead of this year’s opening race on Sunday at Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, he’s now expected to contest for glory – and even a debut race win.
Quite the ascent for the former Dubai English Speaking College and Dubai College pupil, who first got behind the wheel of a kart aged five in Jebel Ali.
Speaking to Sport360° before the green light in Florida, Jones reflects on a remarkable journey – one which no other budding racer from the Middle East has ever come close to achieving.
He says: “It is crazy, really. It was 2010 that I finished my racing in go karts at Dubai Autodrome, so it’s only eight years ago.
“It is not that long. I’ve just turned 23 in February. I cannot believe that I’m already here. I’m very fortunate with the way things have gone.
“I have been lucky with the right timing. Of course, I’ve done well and produced great results.
“A lot of things have gone my way and I’ve just got to make sure I make the most of it.
“I am really excited to see what I can do now in the coming years.
“I served a lot of time with the smallest teams, I did it all with my dad and had a guy from England who was a mechanic for me.
“It was always just learning about the driving. We never just went with the biggest or best team.
“You want to win races in go karts, but no one really cares about how you did there when you step in the cars. It’s just about learning your craft and being as fast as possible.
“That was the thing. Staying humble and trying to learn everything I could.”
.@Edjonesracing will make his first official debut in the @NTTDATAServices No. 10 this weekend @GPSTPETE! Be sure to give him & @CGRindycar a follow for all the 411. 😉#INDYCAR | #NTTDATARacing | #FirestoneGP pic.twitter.com/PIiDkB1b0g— Chip Ganassi Racing (@CGRTeams) March 7, 2018
Upon leaving the UAE, Jones won the 2013 European F3 Open Championship and competed alongside Red Bull’s Formula One daredevil Max Verstappen in the FIA European Formula Three Championship.
He has not looked back since making the permanent switch to Miami three years ago.
Rather than Dubai Autodrome, he can now be seen tackling tight street circuits such as the historic Long Beach or reaching speeds of 230mph/370kph in the Indianapolis 500.
A burgeoning reputation is now his. When Chip Ganassi decided to halve his team from four to two cars, it wasn’t just success at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway which swayed him towards Jones.
There’s more to him than that. The Englishman’s four top-10 finishes were gained courtesy of a high racing IQ, ability to avoid costly mistakes and a burning determination to reach the top.
Yet these achievements didn’t make the process of becoming a Chip Ganassi racer any less harrowing. Jones describes it as “the worst 24 hours of my life” after contact was initially made last October about a multi-year deal.
He says: “The process was within 24 hours of him calling me. It was probably the worst 24 hours for me and my parents.
“You just check your e-mail every five minutes for the return contract to come back.
“It felt like it took way too long. We were in Dubai, so with the time difference there was a lot of waiting.
“It was great to be with my parents at the time. They gave up a lot for me and made many sacrifices to help me achieve my dreams.
“It was my dad’s passion. He wishes he could have done it when he was younger.
“I am very grateful and I want to prove to him it was the right thing to do, by winning some races and championships.”
After a short period over the winter building fitness levels in Dubai, pre-season testing has gone well in the new 720-horsepower Dallara-Honda car. At a major test in Phoenix last month, from a total of 283 laps his 12th-fastest average speed of 187.696 mph was less than one-tenth of a second behind lauded four-time IndyCar champ and CGR team-mate Dixon.
What are the expectations for his first race of 2018?
“You never know until you get to that first qualifying session in St. Petersburg,” Jones says.
“I’ve just got to get the maximum out of everything there with the car I have. If I can do that, then I’m sure the results will come.
“We’ve got to get a solid base at the first race an work from there. Obviously, I want to be at the front.
“But, we’ve got to see how things play out. more than that.”
With the rapid speed at which he’s progressed thus far, it cannot be too long before the chequered flag falls for Jones.
Abu Dhabi Racing and Peugeot Middle East official driver Sheikh Khalid bin Faisal Al Qassimi, behind the wheel of a 3008 DKR Maxi, with co-driver Xavier Panseri, moved up to seventh overall after finishing fourth on stage 10, the Salta-Belén section in Argentina, which comprised of a total distance of 797km, with 373km of special section.
Stage nine had to be cancelled for safety reasons as organisers did not want to take any risks because of persistent thunderstorms and flooding due to rising river waters.
Al Qassimi, was inside the top five throughout the stage and did a brilliant job for an excellent result at the end of the day to stay inside the top 10 contenders overall.
The challenge for the Abu Dhabi Racing driver was negotiating the narrow tracks in the canyons, but Sheikh Khalid eventually tackled the section to come up with an excellent result at close of business.
He said: “We started the day with two sections to tackle. At about 70km we caught the car ahead of us and when we came to the rios it was quite narrow, so navigation was difficult.
“We found a track which was part of the road-book and we drove about 9km and realised we had missed the track far away from the waypoint. We had to go back so we lost what we gained.
“Then I pushed hard in the second section where I finished 4th overall. It was a good feel for me today although it was rough and difficult.
“Tomorrow (stage 11) will be a very difficult day. It will feature lots of dunes but also vegetation. Smart crews will get the navigation points right, but again as I said it will be a difficult day.”
Stage 11: Belén – Chilecito (747 km)
If the weather is particularly hot, reducing the firmness of the sand, this will be one of the toughest spots in Argentina… and potentially the place where a racer in good shape will be able to shine. As in 2016, the previous day’s special stage times will define the starting order, with a mix of bikes, cars and trucks for the 25 fastest finishers.
In front of 4,000 spectators, Omani Rafaat Al Yahyai managed to clinch the 2017 Red Bull Car Park Drift Series Final title in a spectacular manner. Second place went to Othman Al Takriti from Jordan while Egypt’s Ahmad Hamada claimed third spot on the podium.
The day started with motorsport spectators lining up at Sirbb Circuit to witness the high adrenaline spectacle and find out who will claim the coveted 2017 King of Drift title.
The final was held under the patronage of Sheikh Ali Fawaz AlSabah, organized by Basel Salem AlSabah Motor Racing Club, in cooperation with SIRBB Circuit and partners Total, Falken, Shop & Ship, PS4, Nissan, Boubyan Bank, Drag 965, Acqua Eva and Trolley. Media partners, MBC Action, Kuwait Times and Aljarida covered this popular event.
The drifters then began the first heat consisting of 15 drifters on a challenging track concocted by Abdo Feghali, Guinness World Book Record holder for the longest drift.
Round one featured 15 drifters from Kuwait, Egypt, Lebanon, Mauritius, Bahrain, Tunisia, Jordan, Oman, Morocco, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Iran, and Palestine. With only one drifter from each participating country, the Red Bull Car Park Drift rules allows three drifters from the hosting country; this year, Kuwait. The three drifters from Kuwait participated in the local qualifier and topped the leaderboard; the winner, Ali Makhseed, first runner up, Fahad Aljadei, and the third place winner, Abdullah Aljadi.
Consisting of top motorsport and drifting experts and athletes, the judging panel were assigned the task of evaluating the competitors. Brothers Elias and Johannes Hountdonji, together forming “Team Driftbrothers”, are both expert drifters from Germany with a history of full-on drifting careers. Aleksandr Grinchuk, a Ukrainian native, has participated in every competition in the city of Odessa, Ukraine, since kick-starting his drifting career in 2007. Local racer and Kuwait’s first certified FIA racing driver, Khaled Al Mudhaf, rounded up the highly qualified judging panel.
Aiming to elevate the competition year after year, Abdo Feghali, modified the criteria to challenge the drifters.
This year, their performance was determined based on car look and design (10%), tire smoke (10%), car sound (7%), section one drifting (15%), section 2 drifting (15%), boxes (15%), gates (15%), and pendulum (13%).
The top eight who broke through to round two were Raafat Al Yahyai, Othman Al Takriti, Ahmad Hamada, Sary Zahalan, Mohammed Al Mansouri, Shahab Pishanidar, Ali Makhseed, and Nassim Saad. This time, only four would make it to the next round. While awaiting the action to resume, spectators were treated to a show by Julien Welsch, pro stunt rider since 2009, who displayed his unique talents to the roaring crowd.
The final four from round 2, Rafaat Al Yahyai, Othman Al Takriti, Ahmad Hamada, and Sary Zahalan all went head to head, with one aim; to be crowned the 2017 King of Drift. Local Kuwaiti competitor, Ali Maskheed impressed the judges with his tire smoke and was awarded the King of Smoke title by Falken Tires.
Ultimately, Omani national, Rafaat Al Yahyai, edged past the competition and clinched the title with a jaw-dropping performance – collecting an impressive 378 points, ensuring that the crown remains in Oman, after his compatriot Haitham Al Hadidi won it last year. He said: “I am incredibly happy to be crowned the 2017 King of Drift and delighted that the crown will remain in Oman for another year.”