INTERVIEW: Ed Jones - Dubai to the Deep South at 370kph

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In the driving seat: Ed Jones.

For all the success enjoyed by Will Ferrell’s blockbusting comedies, they have rarely been hailed for their grasp on reality.

But for Dubai-born racer Ed Jones, he fondly draws a parallel between the raucous take on NASCAR depicted in ‘Talladega Nights’ and his journey from winning the 2016 Indy Lights title then finishing a promising 10th on debut in March 12’s Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in the United States’ premier IndyCar series.

“You go from one track like Long Beach where it is quite stylish, with a city vibe,” the 22-year-old tells Sport360 during a brief stopover in his hometown.

“You then go to places like Iowa where to get to the track you drive three or four hours through corn fields until you get there. It is nice to have that massive difference.

“A lot of the racing fans are in the Deep South or Mid-West. They are really into the racing, and it is really American.

“It is a lot of fun to be a part of. There are a lot of stereotypes and I don’t know if you’ve watched Talladega Nights, but there are a lot of things in that.

“Some of it is a bit over the top and people think it’s all a bit crazy. But to be honest, a lot of it is kind of like that.

“There are a lot of things in that which are a lot more realistic than they should be.

“The attitude of how crazy and into it some of the people are. When you drive on the ovals, because you drive so fast, you have a spotter on the track.

“[With them it’s] Just like the pit crew in Talladega Nights, the accents and how into it they are. It’s really good fun.”

The former Dubai English Speaking College and Dubai College pupil has been earning his stripes in North America after lifting the 2013 European F3 Open Championship and competing against Red Bull’s Formula One firebrand Max Verstappen in the FIA European Formula Three Championship.

He has not looked back since he made the permanent switch to Miami two years ago. A second campaign in the Lights with Carlin Motorsport saw two wins gained at Barber and Indianapolis on his way to being crowned champion, albeit in controversial fashion after team-mate Felix Serralles crucially moved aside from fourth in the last lap of the last race in Laguna Seca.

Victory in the feeder series for IndyCar earned a slot at Dale Coyne Racing, a team renowned for hiring drivers of huge promise.

For Jones, getting away from the old continent’s staid atmosphere has been enlivening.

He says: “Coming over from racing in Europe, it was very different in the beginning. But I got used to it and I am loving America.

“The way the fans go about it, the sport organisation, they want to make it as exciting as possible. I feel when I was racing in Europe, it wasn’t about that.

“When you look at Formula One, it is about the constructors – Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull. It is very predictable. In America, they want to mix things up.

“The great thing about it is, you can be at the smallest team on the grid and still have a chance at winning.

“They also like English people a lot. There have been some very successful British drivers in the past, the likes of Dan Wheldon and Dario Franchitti and even further back Jim Clark and Graham Hill at Indianapolis.”

Ed Jones.

Ed Jones.

The IndyCar series provides a varied challenge. Tight street circuits such as Long Beach contrast with the classic motoring test presented by Watkins Glen, while the hallowed Indianapolis 500, in which of up to 230mph/370kph are reached, provides one of sport’s most-intense adrenaline rushes.

Jones won the junior Indy race last year and he already cannot wait for May 28’s shot in the top class, despite the inherent risks which make him admit an accident there is, “more like an airplane crash than a car crash”.

He says: “In my opinion, that’s the race you want to win in an open-wheel racing. In terms of the atmosphere, I’ve never experienced anything like that.

“Last year they said it’s the most-attended sports event in history, with 400,000 people there. There is so much history behind it and oval racing is a lot more rewarding.

“It is the only time you get out the car and you question yourself.

“You have these concrete walls. If something goes wrong, it is more like an airplane crash than a car crash.”

His love for the American action is obvious, yet Jones also looks back warmly on his time battling friend Verstappen. The wild overtaking moves from the teenager which have upset the order in F1 have come as no surprise to him.

“On my laptop, I have a lot of on-board videos from when we were racing,” says Jones. “There are quite a few from when I was driving with him and we were fighting for leads, he is very aggressive but you have to be like that.

“It creates tension, it creates excitement. That is important for the sport.”

Jones first got behind the wheel of a kart aged five in Jebel Ali. This is a passion which has not subsided, with trips back to the UAE still involving hitting the track at the Dubai Kartdrome, Al Ain or Ras Al Khaimah.

Despite now racing under the British flag rather than the Emirates’, a long-held dream remains to compete on the international stage there.

“Dubai is my home,” Jones says. “A dream of mine would be to race in a home race.

“This would be to race with the F1 in Abu Dhabi or if IndyCar could have a race here.”

Next up for Jones is April 9’s tackling of Long Beach. With so much achieved at such a young age, it is no surprise to hear he intends to keep on pushing.

He says: “I raced at Long Beach in 2015 in Indy Lights. Apart from the Indy 500, it’s my favourite event in America.

“If I can get another top 10, that’d be great I’d like to move expectations up even higher.”

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