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.”