St. Petersburg: UAE-born Ed Jones battled back from 17th on the grid to finish eighth on his Chip Ganassi Racing debut in the opening race of the 17-stage Indy Car series in St. Petersburg, Florida, on Sunday.
The 23-year-old British former Dubai College student, who started out karting in Jebel Ali aged four, switched from Dale Coyne Racing over the winter, with whom he won the Rookie of the Year award last season after finishing 14th overall with a best finish of third in the iconic Indy 500 race.
Traffic hampered qualifying on his Ganassi debut however, leaving him 17th on the grid. But, undaunted, he gained seven positions over the first lap and continued to feature around the fringes of the top 10 as no fewer than eight full-course caution periods for a variety of incidents interrupted the action and threw strategies into disarray.
Along the way, Jones indulged in wheel-to-wheel scraps with reigning series champion Josef Newgarden and fellow title winners Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Tony Kanaan — the most-experienced driver in the field with some 344 Indy Car starts under his belt — not to mention his own Ganassi teammate, four-time series champion Scott Dixon.
Keeping illustrious company, he climbed as high as fourth with 21 takeover manoeuvres overall. His third and final pit stop came with 32 laps to go and he found himself sitting seventh behind Dixon and just shy of 10 seconds ahead of Newgarden. Fading tyres and another safety car intervention left him powerless to defend his position to Newgarden, who was running on fresher rubber however. Despite this Jones was happy to have jumped nine places up the field.
“We got off to a tough start in practice, but it was the same for everyone with the 2018-spec car,” said Jones of the new standardised aerodynamics. “I think we all probably had less grip than we’d anticipated. That’s a new challenge, but one I’m certainly up for. I also got caught up in traffic, which meant my speed wasn’t reflective of the package I had underneath me but we weren’t too far off.
“After struggling a bit on Saturday, we reverted to what we had run on Friday and I felt more comfortable in qualifying, but we just missed out on advancing to the next phase by a fraction of a second after a car came out of the pits in front of us and deterred our progress. That was obviously frustrating, but we had a great first lap on Sunday and made up a lot of early ground. As a team, I think we were smart all day and drove a very solid race.
“You always go back and look at some things you may have been able to do better, but all aspects considered, I think my first race with Ganassi went well. It’s been an exciting start to the season, and now I can’t wait for the next race in Phoenix on April 7.”