Sport360’s Stuart Appleby interviews Dubai-born Indy 500 star Ed Jones before he takes to the track at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway circuit in Indiana on Sunday.
ED: I have to pinch myself that I’m about to race in the Indy 500 for the first time. When you’re doing so many things at once you can sometimes forget about the enormity of it all but when you take stock – you’re very aware that you’re about to compete in the biggest motorsport race in the world.
I’ve done everything I can to prepare and I’ve been working really hard with the Dale Coyne Racing team in Indianapolis.
I’m feeling really confident, I had a great qualifying result and averaged over 230mph – outpacing three previous winners of the event.
My final practice session on Friday went okay and our race car, the 720bhp Dallara-Honda single-seater, has been really strong.
I’m confident my team of engineers will give me a solid car so now it’s just down to me on race day.
I’m in a good starting position, 11th place, and will begin from the middle of the fourth row. This is actually the best position Dale Coyne Racing have achieved in their history of IndyCar racing – so that’s a massive boost for the team and I.
I raced here last year in Indy Lights, so I came in with a bit of experience around the track but it’s obviously a lot more extreme when you’re going faster and it’s a place you’ve got to treat with so much respect, because you can end up paying a big price for a small mistake.
The heavy rainfall in Indiana throughout May has made the conditions a bit more unpredictable and they are always changing.
Although we know we will only race in dry conditions, the weather could still play a massive factor – affecting timings and the race schedule.
Our car works better than others in certain conditions and temperatures, so it’s still a bit of a lottery – but that applies to all drivers and teams.
It’s my first Indy 500 so I’m just going to have to try and keep myself together and focus on the process rather than getting too wound up in the whole experience.
But, that said, I know it’s a massive occasion and I do have to try and embrace it too. I’ve completed a lot of races now and I feel I can deal with everything.
The target is getting through those early laps where it can get quite busy and then making my way into the race – the aim is to be there at the last pitstop in the front group.
It was a really unfortunate crash for my team-mate Sebastien (Bourdais) but that’s what happens in this sport when you push the limits and he was gunning for a very fast qualifying time. It’s the risk factor.
Seb’s obviously hurt but he’s still in good mental shape and he will be missed in the race. I went to see him a few days ago and it’s great news he’s now been discharged from hospital. As always, he was there giving me tips so it’s good to see he’s still like that and thinking about racing.
I finished behind Fernando Alonso as the second quickest rookie in qualifying and his switch to IndyCar is huge for our sport. He has obviously achieved so much in his career and in Formula One.
But, there’s a lot of guys out there who are just as talented as he is. I know he wouldn’t have contemplated competing in Indianapolis unless he was positive he had the best equipment, so I’m sure he’s going to be very competitive.
Dubai is still home for me – my parents live there and I always go back in the off-season. It’s good to see all the local karting community watching all of my races, supporting me and sending messages. I’ll hopefully be back in mid-September to see everyone at the end of the season.
THE SUN SHINES IN THE MIDWESTERN STATE
Bright sun greeted me on arrival at the venue on Friday morning and it was great to see after heavy rain on Thursday.
Despite the forecast of more showers on race day (this Sunday), let’s hope the heavens don’t open and spoil the spectacle of racing’s biggest event.
It was Carb Day in Indiana – essentially a tune-up for the Indy 500 drivers – with a final practice session and last-minute mechanical tweaks.
On Sunday, up to 300,000 people will descend on the venue – and although there were far fewer spectators on Friday – it was great to see automobile fans soaking up the sun and enjoying themselves.
It made for a special atmosphere – which you can take in via the video above.
*Track phone clips from Indy 500 Freedom 100 race.
TOUR AROUND ESPN STUDIOS
As part of my Indy 500 press trip with ESPN, I was given an exclusive tour of their broadcast facilities at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
ESPN – the biggest broadcaster at the race providing coverage to millions of people across the world – has more than 300 staff working on-site – from production to on-screen talent.
In addition, the broadcaster boasts 96 cameras across the large venue – helping to cover every angle and provide viewers with the very best coverage.
Having worked in various television roles previously, I’m aware of the high-level operational work that goes into producing live television.
But, even still, I walked away with a renewed sense of appreciation for what goes into broadcasting a sporting event of Indy 500’s scale.
ESPN production crews and equipment were in place in Indiana last Friday, illustrating the preparation that goes into the process.
Did you know that the majority of the teams and drivers competing in the Indy 500 literally camp out at the venue, enabling quick and easy access to the track!
I can’t confirm, though, whether the man himself – Fernando Alonso – opted for a caravan or hotel!
AND NOW FOR SOME NEWS…
Three-time Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves rolled back the years on Friday, speeding to the fastest Carb Day practice lap.
The Brazilian posted a quickest speed of 227.377mph for Team Penske Chevrolet and completed the fastest of his 28 laps in 00:39.5819 seconds.
He was closely followed in the placings by as many as six Honda-powered cars – which included Fernando Alonso – back in sixth position.
Dubai’s Ed Jones, driving 19, ranked 23rd.
Meanwhile, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe suffered engine trouble on turn three.
The Indy 500 is a sporting event like no other and isn’t known as the ‘Greatest Spectacle in Racing’ for nothing.
And yet, I don’t think I fully appreciated its scale and for that matter how much the annual automobile race, which is set for its 101st edition on Sunday (June 28), meant to American sport and further afield. Until now.
Getting immersed in Indy build-up, seeing the frenzy around Fernando Alonso’s rookie bow and a city (and nation) painted in chequered flag colours, has really given me a sense of history and understanding of what makes IndyCar’s showpiece so special.
NOW FOR THE WEATHER…
Thursday saw yet more rain in Indiana and sparked fears it could affect Indy 500, especially given the race day forecast isn’t too promising.
Basically, bad news.
Most of the 33 drivers on the grid will surpass speeds in excess of 235mph, and for safety reasons, the race has to take place on a completely dry surface.
However, in the mid-western State, this May has been one of the wettest months on record and if further rain falls – organisers will be left with big decisions to make.
A tweak to the start time and reserve day options may come into play.
The green flag is normally dropped at 12.19pm, waving the way for drivers’ to take on 200 laps of the 2.5 mile-long Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval circuit.
‘If you don’t like the weather in Indiana, just wait a few minutes, and it’ll a change’ – is apparently the old adage in this part of the world.
Let’s hope that rings true.
The Spanish two-time World Champion was in excellent spirits as fans and media mobbed him.
Having achieved so much in his star-studded career, Sunday will be a step into the unknown as he makes his rookie appearance in the prestigious event for team McLaren, Honda and Andretti Autosport.
Watch our video clip above to hear from the 35-year-old and get a taste of what life must be like for him living in the fast lane.
VICE PRESIDENT TO WATCH RACE
United States Vice President Mike Pence will be attending ‘as a fan’ and not in a political capacity, an official confirmed in the press room.
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD FOR LEGEND KANAAN?
After conducting an impromptu, fun interview with Alonso, 42-year-old Tony Kanaan discussed his own future.
The 2013 Indy 500 and 2004 IndyCar Series champion said: “I can tell you one thing, I’m not ready to retire from IndyCar right now.”
Here’s to more years then of seeing the brilliant Brazilian in action.
DID YOU KNOW?
The much-anticipated Indy race falls on Memorial Day weekend – a special day in the calendar here where people honour and remember veterans.
THINGS TO LOOK FORWARD TO…
DUBAI’S ED JONES IN HIGH SPIRITS
I had an exclusive chat with the Dubai-born ace ahead of his debut in the event.
Jones, who found top speed in ‘Fast Friday’ qualifying – surpassing the 230mph mark – looks in prime shape.
Keep your eyes peeled for our full interview with Ed on Sport360.com.
His team, Dale Coyne Racing, were also boosted by the huge news that driver Sebastien Bourdais was discharged from IU Health Methodist Hospital following his practice crash.
I also spoke to ESPN commentators and former Indy racing stars Eddie Cheever and Scott Goodyear – look out for both interviews in due course.