Dubai-based driver Ed Jones stormed back to within one point of series leader Santiago “Santi” Urrutia as the 2016 Indy Lights series heads for a dramatic finish following the penultimate round, the Grand Prix of Watkins Glen on Saturday night.
Jones finished second in the race, just 3.6 seconds behind Zach Veach, to increase his tally in the standings to 318, with Urrutia on 319 after finishing last following a left-front tyre issue.
The last two rounds of the series, which offers a Mazda Scholarship valued at $1 million to assist the Indy Lights champion in graduating to the IndyCar Series in 2017, will be held on September 9-11 at Raceway Laguna Seca.
Veach started fifth at the scenic and challenging 3.37-mile Watkins Glen International road course but quickly moved into the lead before romping to his second win of the season.
Urrutia started the race from the pole, but was usurped by a hard-chasing Jones in the 15th lap.
Within another couple of laps, Urrutia had fallen to fifth, but worse was to come when his left-front tire gave up on Lap 19 and he headed to pit lane for a replacement. He rejoined to finish a distant last.
Jones, who is backed by Jebel Ali Resorts and Hotels and drives for Carlin, said: “This is a good result after Santi held us up in qualifying. I just sat behind him a little bit in the race, because when I was using ‘push-to-pass,’ he was using it as well but eventually I got by.
“After about 10 laps, the degradation was really high on the tires already and I expected it to get much worse but after that, if anything, it got a little better.
“I am happy with my position. It’s good to be back in the championship hunt with a strong second place.”
In the Team Championship, 11 points separate Carlin (365) from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (354).
The UAE flag fluttered high on the podium as the Emirates’ National anthem resonated around the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez Circuit after Khaled Al Qubaisi and Team Abu Dhabi-Proton Racing stormed to victory at the 6 Hours of Mexico.
By taking victory in Mexico City, the team became the first Arab country to win a WEC round.
Al Qubaisi, who dedicated the win to the people of the UAE, shared driving duties with David Heinemeier Hansson of Denmark and Patrick Long of the US behind the wheel of the No.88 Porsche 911 RSR.
“Today everything came together. I am very happy and grateful for the victory. This is fantastic for the whole team,” said Al Qubaisi.
“I am told that this is the first time that the UAE National anthem has been played at an international motorsport world championship.
“I dedicate this win to the UAE and all of the Emirates. Also, I would like to thank our sponsors Abu Dhabi Racing, Etihad Airways, Kaspersky and BearingPoint.”
Long opened the race for the team, which was pushed down to P3 but the American then quickly went up to P2. Long then was involved in a neck-and-neck battle for the top position and managed to wrest the lead after leader No.86 Porsche made a pit-stop.
Al Qubaisi then took the wheel of the No.88 Porsche 911 RSR where he did a fantastic double stint, stretching the lead from 20 seconds to nearly one minute giving his team the advantage going into the second half of the race.
When Hansson stepped into the cockpit for a double stint with the team still in the lead, the rains came down heavily, resulting in chaotic scenes out on the track.
The final 90 minutes witnessed several incidents, but Long, who had taken over for the final stint, put pedal to metal and raced from P3 to victory at the chequered flag.
The victory was more remarkable because Abu Dhabi-Proton were racing for the very first time at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez Circuit.
With this win, Abu Dhabi-Proton Racing have now leapfrogged to second overall in the LMGTE Am class with 94 points, just 35 points behind the leader with four more races to go in the championship.
Round six will be held in Austin, USA, on September 17.
The event, organised and hosted by Dubai Autodrome in collaboration with the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE (ATCUAE) and supported by the Dubai Sports Council, attracted over 1,000 visitors and more than 50 exhibitors to Motor City.
Keen motorsport enthusiasts discussed entry-level opportunities across the sector and met with teams, key stakeholders and even took to the sun-kissed racing track.
Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of ATCUAE and the Expo’s patron, toured the Autodrome’s busy paddock and believes the initiative can help draw fresh talent into UAE motorsport.
“It’s a great new initiative to bridge the gap between the public and motorsport sectors,” the 14-time former FIA Middle East Rally champion said.
“In order to encourage motorsport in the UAE we need to ensure that future competitors and stakeholders have the knowledge and platform to begin their careers in the industry.”
The Emirates Motorsport Expo brought together all forms motoring, from circuit racing to cross-country rallying featuring cars and bikes.
“What’s special about this Expo is that it’s a platform for people who are thinking and looking to start racing,” Bert Grogor, Sponsorship and Business Development Manager at Dubai Autodrome, told Sport360.
“The event is a source of information for everyone here and answers the question: ‘what does it take to go racing?’ It factors in cost and types of racing whether its bikes, cars, rally or off-road. It’s giving people the education and awareness of what is available.
“Dubai is such a heavy information-rich country and getting the message across is sometimes difficult but with this expo we feel we are targeting the right group of individuals and sending out the right messages about the opportunities available to them.”
Among the top racing teams present were AUH Motorsport (Radicals), Dragon Racing (NGK and F4), Formula Gulf Academy (single seater), GP Extreme (NGK and F1), Saluki Motorsport (off road) and UAE superbikes.