Ed Jones called his first oval race in the IndyCar Series at Phoenix International Raceway a big learning experience as he finished just outside the top ten.
Ovals are a unique challenge in North American motorsport and call for a completely different mindset to traditional road courses and street circuits, but the Dubai-based Jones had already proved his proficiency in winning the coveted Indy Lights crown in 2016, which included a close second-place finish at Phoenix along the way.
With only a single practice session to prepare for qualifying, the pressure was on the 22-year-old, but he did well to secure 16th spot on the starting grid.
In the following day’s 250-lap Phoenix Grand Prix held under the floodlights, he steered clear of an early melee that removed a number of cars from the reckoning, before settling into 14th position.
He made further progress over the second half of the race, again carefully staying out of trouble, and took advantage of rapid pit-stops by his Dale Coyne Racing crew to cross the finish line in 11th place and consolidating his top-10 standing in the drivers’ classification.
“I felt pretty comfortable, having done well here last year in Indy Lights and following the test a couple of months ago,” said Jones.
“I was optimistic about being able to move forward in the race, but it proved to be quite difficult as I struggled a lot in traffic. So, to finish only just outside the top ten was good. There was plenty to learn and I gained a lot of experience.”
Saeed Al Mehairi, Mohammed Mattar and Ramez Azzam of Batelco Racing are now two-for-two after winning the second round of the Endurance Championship at Dubai Kartdrome on Saturday.
Team Emirates topped the Corporate Class and ZOOM Racing Team earned its first Nations Cup victory.
A total of 29 teams lined up for the Le Mans style running start of the race on the 1.245 kilometre Switchback Circuit at Dubai Kartdrome. The 600-lap endurance race started at 19.00 on Friday and took almost 13 hours to finish by Saturday morning.
Ramez Azzam got Batelco Racing off to a great start by topping timing screens during qualifying with a blazing lap time of 1:10.620, just 0.030 seconds ahead of arch-rivals CG Racing Pro and 0.051 seconds ahead of Bin Drai Karting Team in third.
CG Racing Pro got the jump on the opening lap, but it only took a few trips around the track for Azzam to regain the lead for Batelco. From there it was a tight race between the two heavyweight teams, with Bin Drai Karting Team and ZOOM Racing Team intermittently challenging for the front as well.
Methodical strategy and relentless pace throughout the night kept Batelco Racing just out of reach of rival teams. Saeed Al Mehairi wrapped up the 600th lap and crossed the finish line 31.650 seconds ahead of Alban Varutti of CG Racing Pro.
The overall win gave Batelco Racing its second Pro Class victory in a row, with CG Racing Pro having to settle for second place both times and Bin Drai Karting Team also repeating its third place position on the Pro podium.
“The team did a fantastic job. The crew and drivers followed the strategy from the beginning. We worked hard and pushed, and the strategy worked really nice for us,” said Batelco Racing team representative, Ali Abbas.
Team Emirates managed to top the Corporate Class for the second round in a row, despite early setbacks which had two Choueiri Group (CG) teams out in front for the first half of the race. The team kept consistent throughout the contest and eventually regained the lead, taking the class win.
CG Racing 1 took home second place silverware in Corporate, while IUM Racing claimed third.
In the Nations Cup, for drivers of the same nationality, ZOOM Racing Team achieved an upset victory over veteran squad Dubai Falcon Racing Team. ZOOM suffered a spin out on the opening lap, dropping down to last place on the grid, but the Indian drivers managed to claw back into the race and finish an astonishing fourth place overall.
It was a maiden Nations Cup win for ZOOM Racing Team, followed by the all-Emirati Dubai Falcon Racing Team in second place and Lukoil Racing Team of Russia in third.
Having dominated the final day of the season at RAK Track in Ras Al Khaimah, Al Dhaheri added to his Dubai ‘O’ Plate title claimed in January 2017.
Al Dhaheri started race day on RAK Track by claiming pole position in slippery conditions, posting a time half a second quicker than the next best in the Cadet class of 8-12 years.
In the Pre-Final and Final, the young Emirati made no mistakes, powering across the line with an eight second lead in both races to claim maximum points on the day and the UAE IAME Cadet Championship title.
“I am really happy to take this IAME Championship Cadet title home with me,” said the nine-year-old.
“Winning the race and the championship at the same time is a very good feeling. Thanks to the RAK Track for organising a great series, to my family, my sponsors and to my team for the support.”
While the UAE season has now come to a close, Al Dhaheri will be racing in Europe again this year in various high-level junior championships.
He will participate in 15 races over the next couple of weeks with the highly rated Italian BabyRace team, with his next outing scheduled to be at the first round of the 2017 Italian Championship, at Lonato, on April 30.