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
When it comes to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Jacky Ickx knows better than almost everyone else what it takes to be a success.
From 1969-1982, the Belgian speedster claimed six gruelling editions of the prestigious race to place second on the list of all-time winners – only Denmark’s Tom Kristensen with nine betters him.
What makes this achievement even more remarkable is the fact it was contiguous with a fine Formula One career, containing eight wins band 25 podium finishes.
Sport360 caught up with the venerable motorsport figure at the Circuit de la Sarthe to talk about his cherished Le Mans memories, the event’s future and the prospects of his country’s latest great hope.
Q) How do you rate the health of the Le Mans race, compared to other years?
A) I think it has been a great show and when you produce a great show, you have a lot of spectators. The level is about the same, as that. The reason it is so special is because you are living some moments that we are living. The leading car just stopped and now it is out of the race, so there are plenty of surprises. In the Le Mans Prototype (LMP), there was a big battle. In the GT class you have Aston Martin, Corvette etc. all fighting. Within a minute, there are three or four cars fighting after three or four thousand kilometres – that is Le Mans.
Q) How important is Le Mans to the motorsports world of today?
A) Long distance racing, a long time ago, was considered to be more important than Formula One. They then became professional before endurance racing and they took the whole show. One survivor is the Le Mans race, partly because it always has big constructors. It is also a race where amateurs can participate, as you need a large number of cars –you need about 60. This gives the people plenty of emotions and there are plenty of emotions when you do it.
Q) Of your six triumphs, which was your most memorable and what does it take to become a Le Mans winner?
A) If you offer a driver to win Le Mans once, I am absolutely convinced he will sign the paper and say, ‘I am ready’. So you can imagine, if you win six times. You have to be grateful to the people who give you the right chance.
My number one win was 1977, this is because we were far away and thought the race was lost. We went flat out for probably 10 hours. The lesson is never give up. There is no limitation or strategy, the only rule is go as fast as you can.
Q) You have people like Mark Webber, who also jumped from F1 to endurance. Why don’t people often do this transition?
You can only do one thing at a time. The difference before was that there was no exclusivity. You were not linked to a sponsor exclusively, or a car. You could drive many different things at the same time. Endurance today is a grand prix for 24 hours, it is flat out.
Q) Your fellow Belgian Stoffel Vandoorne is currently in Formula One with McLaren-Honda. Are you close to him?
Stoffel (left) is a very talented driver, he did everything right to reach Formula One. He won all his classes, very talented. But the misfortune is that he arrived at McLaren at the wrong moment. I have no advice to give him, as he is very talented. McLaren are fighting for their survival at the moment. The team is concentrating number one on Fernando Alonso, Vandoorne is just secondary.
Interview by Elias El-indari.
Lightness, efficiency, technicality: the new Chopard high-frequency watch epitomises pure performance. The Superfast Power Control Porsche 919 HF Edition is a tribute from the Maison to its partner Porsche Motorsport’s success in the FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC). It has a lot in common with the car that has been monopolising the podium at the various championship events: the Porsche 919 Hybrid. Further proof of the technical and performance-oriented culture defining Chopard watchmaking.
Porsche floored Hong Kong actor and stuntman Jackie Chan’s audacious bid for Le Mans glory as Toyota suffered fresh torment in a gripping 85th edition of the 24-hour endurance race.
Timo Bernhard overtook Ho-Pin Tung in Chan’s LMP2 class Oreca-Gibson with less than an hour to go to claim a 19th Le Mans title for the German constructor.
While Bernhard, who won with Audi in 2010, and his New Zealand co-drivers and childhood friends Earl Bamber and Brendon Hartley were celebrating, Toyota’s wait for a maiden title continued.
As night fell on Saturday, Toyota, who made their Le Mans debut in 1986, were sitting pretty with the car of Kamui Kobayashi, Mike Conway and Stephane Sarrazin holding a comfortable lead.
But with Kobayashi – who had set a record lap for pole – behind the wheel his hybrid car limped out of contention with clutch problems.
A little later, the Toyota of Japanese rookie Yuji Kunimoto, Nicolas Lapierre and Jose Maria Lopez was also kyboshed after a shunt in the Dunlop Chicane.
“Le Mans is a truly ruthless race,” said Pierre Fillon, president of race organiser Automobile Club de l’Ouest.
That twin disaster left Toyota with one car still out on the track, driven by Sebastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson and Kazuki Nakajima.
Last year Nakajima’s Toyota had the race at his mercy only for his car to give up the ghost on the final lap, handing victory on a plate to Porsche. He and his co-drivers had to settle for ninth this time around.
The impish Le Mans gods that wreaked havoc on Toyota also poked fun at Porsche, the constructor’s No1 car with Andre Lotterer driving breaking down while leading by a massive 13 laps and only three hours to run. Lotterer said: “We were driving really conservatively but suddenly the oil pressure dropped,” said Lotterer. “To retire this way is hard, but this is Le Mans.
“It’s a pity, very sad. You almost wanted to not believe it.”
As Lotterer – teamed up with last year’s winner Neel Jani and Nick Tandy – climbed out of his stricken machine and broke down in tears, Chan was dreaming of a historic first ever Le Mans success for a privately entered team.
But the remaining Porsche 919 Hybrid, dead last on Saturday evening, reeled in the film star’s surprise leader, pouncing to seize control on the fastest section of the fabled Sarthe circuit on lap 348.
As a bleary-eyed and sun-baked 250,000 crowd watched on, Bernhard crossed the line with a lap to spare over Dutch-born Tung with Nelson Piquet Junior in another Oreca in third.
Quite a reversal of fortune for Porsche’s No2 car after a one-hour pit stop on Saturday.
“I was driving at the time when I heard it go ‘bang’ and I thought it was our race done,” Bamber, the 2015 winner, said. “I brought it back to the pits and the guys looked into it, and we were back out in under an hour. It was a matter of fighting back into the top five at first, then that became a podium and then a podium became a win.”
This was Porsche’s third successive win in endurance racing’s Holy Grail, first staged in 1923.
The team admitted later their calculations had predicted the race would go down to the final lap, so close were the leading teams in terms of speed.
Hartley said: “It was really tight. From the calculations we made it was going to come down to the last lap. The pace that they predicted, we were looking at not passing all of the LMP2s, so the plan was just to push as hard as we could for the remaining 18 or 19 hours.
“Before I hopped back into the car they were not even expecting us to be fighting for the podium.
“Maybe the P2s ran into some problems – my three stints are potentially some of the best I’ve done, I really attacked as hard as I could.”
“You don’t choose to win Le Mans, Le Mans chooses you. We hope one day it will choose us. We’ll be back,” said Toyota.
Chan, who was absent from the race, is the latest silver screen star to be seduced by Le Mans after Steve McQueen, Paul Newman and Patrick Dempsey.
Chopard are the Official Timekeeper of Porsche Motorsport