CONDITIONS CONSPIRE TO BLUNT JONES’ CHARGE AT THE GLEN

CONDITIONS CONSPIRE TO BLUNT JONES’ CHARGE AT THE GLEN

Ed Jones placed an unlucky 13th in last weekend’s INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen – the penultimate outing on the fiercely-disputed Verizon IndyCar Series schedule – as he was left to lament an unexpected change in conditions that denied him a better result.

Less than a week after being crowned IndyCar’s ‘Rookie of the Year’, Jones headed to the legendary, ultra-fast Watkins Glen International circuit in upstate New York in optimistic mood, having finished second there 12 months earlier en route to the Indy Lights title. Unlike 18 of his 20 high-calibre rivals, though, the talented Dubai, UAE-born ace had no prior experience around the physically demanding, 3.37-mile permanent road course in an IndyCar, putting him somewhat on the back foot heading into the weekend’s three 45-minute practice sessions.

Logging 56 laps behind the wheel of his 720bhp Dale Coyne Racing Dallara-Honda single-seater, Jones wound up 18th in practice before improving to 15th in qualifying. With rain in the air ahead of the 60-lap race the following day, however, drivers and teams had some difficult decisions to make regarding car set-up. A wet race was subsequently declared, obliging the 22-year-old Brit to take the start on wet tyres but with the track rapidly drying, the majority of the field – Jones included – darted to the pit-lane to switch over to slicks at the end of lap one.

With some drivers adopting a different strategy, the former European F3 Open Champion slipped to 19th after his second pit-stop, but he dug deep and despite having to contend with a car set up for wet weather, he fought his way through to 13th at the chequered flag to maintain 14th position in the points standings during his maiden campaign at the pinnacle of US open-wheel competition.

 

Following three back-to-back races, Jones now has a weekend off before returning to the fray for IndyCar’s 2017 season finale at Sonoma Raceway in California on September 15-17.

It was good to go back to a road course, and Watkins Glen is among my favourite tracks in the United States,” reflected the Williams-Harfield Sports Group protégé. “That said, I knew it would be very different in an IndyCar, and difficult with all the G-forces through the high-speed corners.

We had a decent morning on the first day, but we made some changes for the afternoon that didn’t pay off at all and we struggled a lot in the second session. Nothing felt right, so we worked hard and improved the car again for Saturday – although obviously, it still wasn’t quite enough. I think we were a step behind. If the car had been like it was in qualifying in free practice, we would have been able to take another step forward and maybe be a bit further up, but 15th wasn’t too bad.

We knew we could progress from there and move our way forward, but unfortunately, it was a tough race. The conditions didn’t go as we anticipated they would and being set up for rain, we were at quite a disadvantage, which made it tricky. I thought we would still be on for a decent result, but I ended up at the back of the field after my second pit-stop as some drivers were on a different strategy and it was an uphill battle from there. It’s a bit frustrating, but I feel like I drove pretty well and I had some good racing.”

JONES PRODUCES PACEY POCONO PERFORMANCE BEFORE MISFORTUNE INTERVENES

JONES PRODUCES PACEY POCONO PERFORMANCE BEFORE MISFORTUNE INTERVENES

Ed Jones ran as high as second in last weekend’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway – the 14th of 17 outings in the fiercely-disputed 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series – but the combination of a rare late-race error and little luck with the timing of caution periods conspired to deny the impressive rookie a top ten finish.

Reigning Indy Lights Champion Jones was making his debut around the 2.5-mile Pennsylvania oval – known as the ‘Tricky Triangle’ for the unique challenge it poses – whereas 18 of his 21 high-calibre IndyCar rivals had competed there before. Immediately on the back foot, his lack of experience at the north-eastern superspeedway was compounded by a spin and light contact with the wall in free practice as he got to grips with Pocono’s very particular characteristics.

Undeterred, the talented young Dubai, UAE-born ace produced an excellent performance in qualifying – in which grid slots were determined by the fastest cumulative times over two consecutive laps – to line up 11th at an average speed of 217.565mph behind the wheel of his 720bhp Dale Coyne Racing Dallara-Honda. As strong winds resulted in a number of incidents, Jones didn’t put a foot out-of-place, outpacing championship leader Josef Newgarden and several other big names in the process.

In the 500-mile race the following day, the 22-year-old Brit conceded some early ground but swiftly set about fighting back. He was up to eighth – duelling with IndyCar heavyweights Ryan Hunter-Reay and Hélio Castroneves – by the time he made his second pit visit just past one-quarter distance. As is frequently the case at the pinnacle of US single-seater competition, the pecking order oscillated wildly as various issues and dramas brought out the yellow flags, sending drivers scurrying for the pits and playing havoc with strategy calls – and on this occasion, Jones did not enjoy the rub of the green.

Running competitively in the pack, the former European F3 Open Champion reached second place at one stage – picking off the likes of oval specialist Ed Carpenter and pole-sitter Takuma Sato along the way – but a mistake entering his pit box at his final stop relegated him to the tail of the field. Jones went on to take the chequered flag a disappointed 17th, and is fired-up to bounce back quickly at Gateway Motorsports Park this coming weekend (25/26 August).

 

Pocono Raceway certainly lived up to its nickname!” quipped the Williams-Harfield Sports Group protégé. “It’s fast and quite a difficult track, but DCR had been really strong on circuits like that earlier in the season, so I was confident we would have a good idea of what we needed when we got there and I was really looking forward to it.

Our plan was always to go conservative in qualifying, because looking at the bigger picture, there can be a lot of consequences for not a lot of gain – and it had been proved in the past that grid position is not necessarily one of the major factors at Pocono.

Eleventh represented a solid place to start from and I was optimistic of being able to move forward, but unfortunately, it was a difficult race. The approach we took with the set-up meant it was really hard to progress without errors from the cars in front, which made things challenging.

That said, it was fun in parts; some guys were quite aggressive and there were a few crazy moves, so I was adjusting to that and we had a good run, but we were pretty unlucky with the timing of the yellows. We were still looking alright towards the end, but then I made a mistake at my last pit-stop and that cost us. It’s just frustrating, because I feel we should have come away with a decent result.”

TAN SHOWCASES RAW PACE AGAIN IN CHINA

TAN SHOWCASES RAW PACE AGAIN IN CHINA

Weiron Tan proved that the podium is within reach in the latest outing of the fiercely-disputed China GT Championship at Zhuhai International Circuit last weekend, with an impressive performance around a track that was far from ideally suited to his Bentley Continental GT3.

After finding himself out-of-luck at the same circuit three weeks earlier, Tan returned to Zhuhai eager to continue his eye-catching rate of progress with Absolute Racing in what is his maiden full sportscar campaign.

Picking up from where he had left off, the 22-year-old Chinese ace – working in tandem with Korean team-mate Andrew Kim – snared pole position for both contests amongst the 12 high-calibre GT3 class contenders, meaning the #05 crew have claimed the top spot on the starting grid for half of the rounds in 2017 to-date. With the nature of Zhuhai International Circuit playing more to the strengths of some of Bentley’s rivals, however, Tan and Kim struggled to maintain that same level of pace in the races, battling hard before ultimately finding themselves forced to give best.

A gritty effort nonetheless earned the pair fifth place at the chequered flag in the first encounter and fourth in the next, just a handful of seconds adrift of victory after an hour’s flat-out competition. Notwithstanding the obvious disappointment of having come so close only to miss out by the narrowest of margins, the Williams Harfield Sports Group protégé and erstwhile Caterham F1 Academy member is bullish about his prospects for the remainder of the campaign, beginning in Shanghai on 8-10 September.

I was actually pretty pleased with the weekend, even though we didn’t get the results we deserved,” reflected Tan. “We secured a double pole position to make it three in a row, and with this being my rookie season in GT3, that’s a pretty big achievement for me.

We knew we had the speed, but we also knew that winning in Zhuhai wouldn’t be easy for the Bentley as the circuit just doesn’t suit our car over longer runs – it’s too small, our brakes overheat and the tyres degrade too quickly. We’re good for the first few laps, but after that it’s all about trying to hang on. It was especially tricky towards the end of stints.

Saying all that, I thought I executed the weekend very well.”

TAN’S SCINTILLATING SPEED GOES UNREWARDED IN ZHUHAI

TAN’S SCINTILLATING SPEED GOES UNREWARDED IN ZHUHAI

Weiron Tan showcased his impressive raw pace with a pole position and fastest lap in the latest outing of the fiercely-disputed China GT Championship at Zhuhai International Circuit last weekend (8/9 July), only for misfortune to deny him the kind of result his performance palpably deserved.

Following a productive free practice session, Tan and Absolute Racing team-mate Andrew Kim headed into qualifying in optimistic mood, but the weather then threw an unexpected curve ball. A tyre gamble in the changeable conditions initially looked set to pay off, but ultimately, a timing misjudgment cost the #05 crew and they wound up fourth on the grid amongst the 14 high-calibre GT3 class contenders for race one.

Kim took to the wheel of the Bentley Continental GT3 for the start, but on a damp track surface, contact and a spin dropped the car down the order. Tan took over just as the rain intensified, but distracted by loose seatbelts and running on slick tyres in the treacherous conditions, the 22-year-old lost the rear a handful of laps from the end, precipitating an early bath. A quicker overall lap time than the winner hinted at what might have been.

With lessons learned from the previous day, a superb effort secured Tan and Kim pole position for race two in a Bentley Team Absolute front row lockout, as the duo snared the top spot by a commanding seven tenths-of-a-second. This time, it was the erstwhile Caterham F1 Academy member and Lotus SuperCup Asia GT4 Champion who completed the opening stint, leading all the way to the driver change and setting fastest lap along the way. Unfortunately, fate again intervened, as a short circuit in the Electronic Control Unit (ECU) with two laps remaining restricted Tan and Kim to fourth place at the chequered flag – just over five seconds shy of the podium – and third in the supporting GT Asia Championship for international teams.

Whilst understandably disappointed, the highly-rated Chinese ace – who only steered his burgeoning career from single-seaters to sportscars this year – nonetheless took considerable encouragement from the pair’s form in Zhuhai ahead of the series’ return to the circuit for the fifth and sixth rounds of its 2017 campaign at the end of the month.

 

Overall, it wasn’t the luckiest weekend for us as a team,” he reflected. “I think the Balance of Performance favoured the Audis more than us. Practice represented a solid start and I felt confident going into qualifying, but then the weather started to change. It was pretty damp at the beginning of the first part of the session and we weren’t sure if the drizzle was going to get worse or go away, so I took a gamble and asked to switch to slicks just after my ‘out’ lap on wets.

We were the first to change tyres, and we were P1 for a while until the surface dried up all of a sudden and everyone else went onto slicks – by which point, the sweet spot on our tyres was long gone. The second part of the session was almost the opposite situation, as we started off on wets and went to slicks too late as the track dried towards the end. That meant I only managed to squeeze in one flying lap – had we had another, I was sure I could have put the car on the front row.

Race one was frustrating. Just before Andrew handed over to me, the rain started to get heavier but as it wasn’t forecast to last long, we decided to stay on slicks whilst everyone else went onto wets. It was pretty tricky in those conditions, but what ultimately cost us was that my belts weren’t properly clicked in during the pit-stop. That meant I was moving around in the car, and I consequently lost the rear coming out of Turn 12.

Thankfully, we got the timing right for the next day’s qualifying and we both put together good laps, which earned us pole position. I started the race and we had great pace – as was proved by posting the fastest lap – and I led up to the driver change. I was struggling slightly with the rear going away a bit too quickly towards the end of my stint, but I still thought we had a good chance of grabbing a podium at least. Andrew drove well too, so it was very unfortunate that our ECU had a short circuit with two laps to go.

Absolute Racing did a fantastic job again all weekend, Andrew is consistently improving and we will all work hard to make sure incidents like the seatbelt issue do not reoccur. I am already looking forward to the next round. Hopefully Lady Luck will be a bit kinder to us when we come back here in a few weeks’ time.”

DUBAI-BORN BRIT UNREWARDED FOR EXCELLENT QUALIFYING FORM

DUBAI-BORN BRIT UNREWARDED FOR EXCELLENT QUALIFYING FORM

Ed Jones grappled with an ill-handling car at Iowa Speedway last weekend (8/9 July), as the talented young Dubai, UAE-born ace struggled for speed in the 11th round of the fiercely-disputed Verizon IndyCar Series – but he is already planning to bounce straight back in Toronto.

Jones had competed around the bumpy, 0.894-mile oval twice in Indy Lights – finishing on the podium both times – but he knew that tackling it in a 720bhp IndyCar would be an altogether more challenging proposition. Underscoring his credentials, however – and following a productive pre-event test – the Dale Coyne Racing rookie returned to the track and lapped 13th-quickest amongst the 21 high-calibre protagonists during practice, despite driving with a fractured left foot.

He subsequently belied his early running slot – in a scenario in which track conditions generally improve as more rubber is laid down – to top the timesheets for a while in qualifying, and his impressive two-lap average of 182.290mph would ultimately prove good enough to snare a season-best eighth on the starting grid behind the wheel of his Dallara-Honda single-seater. Unfortunately, a set-up change ahead of Sunday’s 300-lap Iowa Corn 300 backfired, leaving the reigning Indy Lights Champion waging a losing battle from the outset and despite his earnest efforts, he was powerless to prevent a slide down the order.

After dropping to the rear of the lead pack in 15th, Jones settled into a rhythm and enjoyed entertaining scraps with the likes of Josef Newgarden, Carlos Munoz and championship leader Scott Dixon. He had hauled himself back up to 12th when an ill-timed pit-stop just before the second caution period of the race cost him two laps and relegated him to the very tail of the field. Following a short stoppage prompted by a rain shower, the 22-year-old Brit gritted his teeth to take the chequered flag a frustrated 18th.

Wasting no time at all in dwelling on his misfortune, Jones is already en route to Toronto for the next outing at the pinnacle of US open-wheel competition this coming weekend (15/16 July), with the former European F3 Open Champion eager indeed to unleash his street fighting skills north of the border in Canada.

 

It was good to have the chance to test at Iowa prior to the race weekend, but still we expected it to be difficult for the Honda teams, like it was in Phoenix,” he reflected. “That said, I was looking forward to it and having established a strong record on ovals – especially at Iowa in Indy Lights – the aim was to keep that form going.

Qualifying went well, even though the track changed significantly from morning practice, which made it very tricky to drive. I think a lot of people struggled, but the DCR engineers did a good job deciding what to do with the car and we ended up eighth. Being such a short lap, you have to rehearse it in your mind before you go out there so you know exactly what to do, because it all happens so quickly. It’s a lot of fun, and when you climb out at the end, you’re shaking a bit because it’s pretty extreme.

We made some changes overnight with the race distance in mind and we were confident of coming away with another good result, but unfortunately, we went the wrong way on the set-up and struggled with oversteer throughout, which made the car a handful to drive.

We tried to dial the oversteer out by reducing the front wing angle in the pit-stops, but the problem was more mechanical than aerodynamic so there wasn’t a great deal we could do. To then compound matters, we found ourselves caught out by the yellows just after we had pitted for the second time. It was a tough race all-told, but on the positive side, we brought the car home in one piece and we get to go again straightaway in Toronto.

MENEZES VOWS NO LET-UP AFTER EPIC LE MANS FIGHTBACK

MENEZES VOWS NO LET-UP AFTER EPIC LE MANS FIGHTBACK

For the second year in a row, Gustavo Menezes showcased his scintillating raw speed in the legendary Le Mans 24 Hours, but 12 months on from his outstanding rookie success, the talented young American’s bid to make it back-to-back triumphs in the ‘world’s toughest race’ was undone by a variety of dramas.

Buoyed by the headline-grabbing form evinced by the sister Signatech Alpine Matmut entry at the official pre-event test day, Menezes returned to the iconic La Sarthe circuit for the 85th edition of the celebrated round-the-clock classic in optimistic spirits – and ready to tackle an ultra-competitive LMP2 class field comprising no fewer than eight ex-Formula 1 drivers. As France basked in a heatwave, track temperatures exceeded a dizzying 50°C but underscoring his peak physical fitness, the Santa Monica, California native was the quickest of the high-calibre Alpine sextet throughout practice and the first two qualifying sessions – consistently outpacing experienced team-mate Romain Dumas, two times an outright winner at Le Mans.

He unfortunately found his efforts thwarted by traffic when it mattered most, with the lack of a clear lap and repeated yellow flag appearances conspiring to mask the true potential of the 600bhp Alpine A470 prototype, leaving Menezes, Dumas and Britain’s Matt Rao an unrepresentative 11th on the grid amongst the 25 LMP2 contenders and 17th overall. The defending FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) title-holder took to the wheel at the beginning of the race and immediately made up ground to ninth in-class before a small mistake saw him overshoot at Mulsanne Corner and dig into the gravel, with the delay dropping the car to 59th place out of the 60 starters.

Alongside his two team-mates, the 22-year-old had battled back as far as 15th in-class when gearbox issues struck – a legacy of the earlier ‘off’ and costing another eight laps – while the final nail was hammered in by a ten-minute pit halt shortly before 11pm on Saturday to resolve an electronics issue that was causing the engine to cut out. From 20th amongst the LMP2 protagonists at midnight, the N°36 car had scythed through to 12th by daybreak – with Menezes alone gaining five spots during the course of an impressive three-hour stint. By virtue of refusing to give up and pushing right to the end, the Signatech Alpine Matmut crew snatched a late spot to secure eighth position out of the 20 classified LMP2 finishers and tenth overall.

It was a heroic comeback that undeniably deserved more, but the Williams-Harfield Sports Group protégé nonetheless made his mark by lapping half-a-second faster than any of his Alpine counterparts. The result has also elevated Menezes and Rao to third in the fiercely-disputed FIA WEC Endurance Trophy for LMP2 Drivers, with six of 2017’s nine outings yet to run.

 

Le Mans this year was a rough ride – a very different experience to 12 months ago,” mused the former Jim Russell Driver Scholarship Award winner. “The race felt a lot longer, for a start! We thought we had some pretty decent pace after the test day, but we didn’t seem to improve as much as some of our rivals as the track conditions evolved – the higher temperatures altered the balance of the car and impacted on tyre wear.

We struggled for single-lap speed during practice and qualifying and Romain and I both got caught up in traffic, which meant we didn’t manage to put the lap time in that we were capable of. Having said that, I don’t think the gap to the leading cars could be totally explained away by that and we probably didn’t have quite enough to challenge for pole position, but we did know we had a very solid race car underneath us.

I made up a few spots at the start, but I was having a lot of difficulty with the rear brakes locking in the high temperatures and was probably pushing a bit too hard to keep up with the cars ahead, which was what sent me off the track at Mulsanne. That was the first of several dramas, and I felt so bad for all the guys in the team, who deserved better. I was very disappointed in myself, because although it was a comparatively minor error, we paid a heavy price.

We later ran into related gearbox issues that cost us a further eight laps, and during my quadruple stint going into the night, we encountered problems with the ECU. At that point we knew it would be impossible to come back, but we kept fighting and refused to become disheartened. We were almost last at one stage, so to finish inside the category top ten was genuinely a marathon effort!

Although clearly not the result we had been targeting, reaching the chequered flag after everything that had happened was at least something to give back to everybody at Signatech Alpine Matmut, who worked tirelessly throughout and truly put their heart and soul into the race. To rebuild the gearbox in just half-an-hour was incredible. It was tough on them, and I take my hat off to each and every member of the team.

With an error-free race, I think there’s little doubt we would have finished on the podium – the N°35 Alpine proved the pace was there, and once I’d settled into a rhythm, I was able to string together some very quick and consistent lap times – but the reality was that we went to Le Mans aiming to defend our crown from 2016 and we came up a long way short. That’s life I guess, and as they say, you can’t win them all, but we do want to win some of them this year so we need to get our heads down before the Nürburgring next month.

I’m really excited to have Nico [Lapierre] back in the car now for the rest of the season. It has been brilliant working with Romain and he is without question a class act, but Nico was a key part of our winning crew from last year so it’s great to welcome him back to the fold. There is still a long way to go in this championship battle – and I assure you that we will work our absolute tails off to turn this car into a rocketship and come back fighting!

MENEZES FIRED-UP TO DEFEND HIS CROWN IN BIGGEST RACE OF THE YEAR

MENEZES FIRED-UP TO DEFEND HIS CROWN IN BIGGEST RACE OF THE YEAR

Gustavo Menezes is ready to fight to defend one of the most coveted trophies in international motorsport later this month, following a positive and productive ‘dress rehearsal’ for the legendary Le Mans 24 Hours.

Menezes stunned the sportscar racing fraternity last year by speeding to LMP2 class victory at La Sarthe as a rookie, alongside team-mates Nicolas Lapierre and Stéphane Richelmi. The talented young American will be the only one of the race-winning trio to return to the cockpit of the N°36 Signatech Alpine Matmut entry 12 months on – now partnered by Romain Dumas, a man with two outright triumphs to his name at Le Mans, and newcomer Matt Rao – and his sights are firmly set on replicating his stellar 2016 result.

Behind the wheel of the 600bhp Alpine A470 prototype, Menezes, Dumas and Rao took it in turns to lap the ultra-fast 13.629km French circuit during the course of the official test day, with the highly-rated Santa Monica, California native completing 28 tours as he outpaced multiple grand prix-winner Rubens Barrichello amongst a whole host of fiercely competitive adversaries. In ideal weather conditions, the primary focus was on long runs, aerodynamic evaluations, tyre durability comparisons and race set-up. Whilst single-lap form was not a major preoccupation, the Alpine A470 did display consistently strong pace on both new and used rubber, as Nelson Panciatici in the N°35 sister car topped the timesheets with a new class lap record – at an average speed of an eye-watering 235.72km/h.

Menezes was denied the opportunity to challenge that benchmark by traffic – with the N°36 Alpine ultimately placing eighth amongst the 25 high-calibre LMP2 protagonists and 14th out of 60 overall – but the 22-year-old Williams-Harfield Sports Group protégé was nonetheless greatly encouraged by both reliability and performance as preparations intensify for the 85th edition of the iconic round-the-clock classic on 17/18 June.

 

The test day went well,” affirmed the reigning FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) LMP2 title-holder. “It’s fantastic to go back to Le Mans and our speed looked good straight out-of-the-box. With everybody following their individual agendas, it’s tricky to ascertain the true pecking order at this early stage – but one thing for sure is that it’s insanely close in LMP2.

The N°35 car put in a great lap, which proved the potential of the package we have and that’s promising because our pace was very similar but we just never got a clear run to show it. We concentrated on our own technical programme, played around with a variety of different set-ups, came away with plenty of useful data and – most importantly of all – worked well together as a team.

At Le Mans in particular, you can really feel the extra downforce and power in LMP2 this year because the long straights allow the cars to properly stretch their legs. The Alpine A470 felt incredible to drive round there – more like a single-seater than ever before. We were hitting top speeds in excess of 330km/h, which was very impressive and in a non-competitive session, Nelson was already eight seconds faster than last year’s best LMP2 qualifying time – meaning we’re likely to be even quicker come the race weekend itself.

We still have a bit more work to do, of course, but I think we’re in reasonable shape and I’m really excited to return next week. The team and Alpine have placed their trust in me, and I want to reward them for that by fighting for the win again. The clear objective is to keep up my 100 per cent record at Le Mans and whilst that obviously won’t be easy, nothing worth having ever is – so bring it on!

It was a very positive day,” echoed Alpine Deputy Managing Director Bernard Ollivier, “with a lot of work completed by the team and some superb performances. They say it’s only testing and it’s true that we don’t necessarily know the strategies adopted by our rivals, but I think we can safely say we have the potential to successfully defend our victory.

Le Mans is the most important race of the year, and not just because there are double points on offer towards the FIA WEC standings. We want to live up to the achievements of last season, and we came away from the test with a lot of confidence that we can be a force to be reckoned with again.”

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