Dubai-born Ed Jones rolled the dice in last weekend’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at Gateway Motorsports Park – digging deep to tally a seventh top-ten finish of the 2018 campaign.
The race was round 15 of 17 on the fiercely-disputed Verizon IndyCar Series calendar and whilst his late podium bid didn’t quite come off under the Illinois floodlights, he nevertheless impressed.
Unlike many of their rivals, Chip Ganassi Racing did not undergo testing at the 1.25-mile St. Louis oval earlier this year, meaning IndyCar sophomore Jones headed into the weekend somewhat on the back foot.
However, the British driver was immediately on the pace behind the wheel of his 720bhp Dallara-Honda single-seater, lapping fifth-quickest among the 21 contenders in FP1 – a session repeatedly interrupted by rain that left puddles of standing water at the entry to the pit-lane.
With the elements playing havoc with the track schedule, qualifying was cancelled in favour of a longer final practice to allow drivers and teams more time to dial their cars in for the following evening’s 248-lap race. Jones improved to fourth in that session.
The field lined up in championship order, meaning Jones took the start from 12th position but he gained three spots straight away and soon settled into seventh, chasing former champions Simon Pagenaud and Ryan Hunter-Reay.
Breaking away from the pursuing pack and pegging leader Dixon for pace – at one stage posting the fastest lap of anybody at an average speed of 177.362mph – the European F3 Open Champion went on a charge.
Pulling off a series of spectacular overtakes, he scythed his way past Pagenaud, defending title-holder and Gateway race-winner Josef Newgarden and 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi, before latching onto his team-mate’s tail.
A late splash ‘n’ dash fuel top-up with 22 laps to go dropped Jones to 10th, from where he battled back to eighth at the chequered flag.
The 23-year-old 2016 Indy Lights Champion and 2017 IndyCar ‘Rookie of the Year’ will return to the fray this coming weekend (August 30-September 2) for the Grand Prix of Portland at Portland International Raceway, the penultimate round on IndyCar’s 2018 schedule.
Red Bull athlete Mohammed Al Balooshi is a motocross and desert rally rider, and the first Emirati to take part in the Dakar Rally. In an exclusive interview with Sport360 he tells us how he became the first Emirati to claim the FIM crown.
Physically, riding in Hungary was challenging because mud was getting everywhere so the bike is a lot heavier. If you take a desert rider, like myself, and race on mud, it makes you fatigue a lot faster than someone who is used to riding on that surface. It’s not natural for me, so the body and mind felt it a lot more, as I was out of my comfort zone. My body gets tried in mud because you try to ride, it’s not coming naturally, and that’s an issue. You need to be in Europe really to get used to mud riding.
Saying that, my training always stays the same, I make sure I peak at the right time because sometimes people over-train and they don’t get the results. They’re already burned out before the race has even begun.
On the final round I didn’t have much pressure because my task was to finish in the top eight to secure the title and I managed to do that. The biggest pressure was that the bike might not make it, so that was on my mind during the last 100kms, because the race was mine to lose, but the machine can always let you down. I had some technical problems with the bike that I tried to fix and I tried not to go all out because I had it all to lose.
The rain made it hard though, because no matter how much it rains in the desert we don’t get mud so you can’t prepare for it. So I lack the technique needed for riding on it and those guys have a lot more experience than I do on that terrain. It’s a lot of small details you need to know to be able to handle muddy surfaces.
In terms of my recovery fitness I’m already back in the gym, I did a 35km ride in the bike in the gym to loosen up a few days after the event. For me the training week is the hardest part, the race is the easier bit. When I’m training I give it my all and try to peak at the exact right time. The race is hard but really the hard work is done before you even start.
I’m going to be doing local races next so I’m looking forward to this and I’m hoping that’ll get my fitter in time for Dakar 2019. I like to be busy with training and riding though; it’s a great life, full of excitement.
Mohammed Al Balooshi became the UAE’s first FIM world champion by clinching the Bajas World Championship in Hungary.
The Emirati’s achievement goes beyond his country’s borders as well, making him the first Arab to ever win a world title in a motorcycle FIM off-road series.
By winning in Hungary, Al Balooshi – who earlier this year became the first Emirati to complete the Dakar Rally – sets yet another milestone for the motorsport in the UAE, reinforcing once again his role as pioneer and a constant figure in the development of the sport in the country.
“I am very happy to have been able to put this medal to the achievements of the UAE. Our country came a long way in motorsport and it’s an honour to be able to make this humble contribution, and a motive of great pride to have my name next to the UAE flag, engraved forever in the FIM records.
“I hope to also represent the Arab world well and do justice to so many great athletes who work hard and keep pushing their limits, always following their passion. I’m struggling with words right now to describe how proud and happy I feel for me and my team, for my country, for the sport.”
On the last day in Veszpren, the picturesque city hosting the final round of the World Cup in Hungary, Al Balooshi had to deal with rain and changing terrain from slippery mud, along with rocky dry areas. He also had to battle mechanical problem, struggling with his KTM’s petrol pump all day, which continued failing when it touched water.
The obstacles resulted in a penalty for the Emirati, but the advantage he had built up earlier in the race and season allowed him to sustain his position atop the standings.
Mahir Badri, managing director at Sports2, the engine behind Balooshi’s International race programme, said: “It took us years working as a team, we faced a lot of challenges, and struggled a lot to reach to this point. This achievement is the result of very hard work, a lot of talent, and a strong belief.
“Even when it looked that we couldn’t go on, we never stopped believing in the project, in the talented and professional athlete we had, and in the dream of taking the UAE to a scene that has been ruled by Europeans throughout its history. We believed we could win this for our people and today the dream is a reality. We are very proud of working with such an amazing athlete like Mohammed who has strong
moral and professional values.”