Qualifying sessions for the Indy Lights drivers this morning took place at a cool and misty Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. In a tight four way fight for the championship title, Jones showed his intent setting the quickest time five minutes into qualifying, before pitting for new Cooper Tires.
At the half way point, several drivers had improved their times, with Jones second and team mate Chilton now eighth. Jones was soon to make good use of his new Cooper Tires though, going P1 with 14 minutes still to go. It was Chilton though who took P1 a few minutes later, also becoming the first driver to beat the existing track record set by Tony Kanaan in 1997. With 10 minutes remaining it was a Carlin 1-2 with Chilton on provisional pole ahead of Jones.
As the session entered the final minutes, Juncos racers Kyle Kaiser and Spencer Pigot improved, both temporarily claiming P1 before Chilton came back with a 1.14.828 to shatter the lap record with a time that would be unbeaten for the remainder of the session. Jones had done enough to claim fourth at the chequered flag, one place behind championship rival Pigot and one in front of championship leader Jack Harvey.
Jones added, “I’m a little disappointed not to be on the front row as I think that was possible but we’re still in contention in fourth place. I think there’s just one corner where I’m losing some time, but overall the pace we have is good and I’m looking forward to the races. There isn’t really a lot to lose, so we’re just going into it giving the maximum.”
About Ed- the story so far….
The Dubai-based Englishman burst onto the U.S.racingscene by sweeping the race weekend, taking both pole positions and both race victories. Third in points going into the season finale, 18 points behind leader Jack Harvey and 12 behindSpencerPigot, Jones knows that another sweep may not be enough to win the Indy Lights championship – and the Mazda scholarship that comes with it.
“It would be an amazing achievement, to come to America and win in my first year,” said Jones, 20. “That’s always the aim, but to make it a reality is another thing. My goal and my dream is to race in the VerizonIndyCar Series, and winning the championship would allow me to do that. I’m putting everything into it to make sure that happens. The season started off really well but we had a lot of bad luck in the middle of the year. We’ve had strong pace but things haven’t gone our way. I think things will balance out and Mazda Raceway would be a good place for that to happen. We’re not as close as we could be in the points, so we’re going to go for two pole positions and two race wins. As long as we do that, we’ve done everything we could. The rest is up to what the other guys do.”
This season, however, is not the first time Jones has crossed an ocean to compete on circuits for the very first time against seasoned veterans. The experience gained as a young karting driver led not only to the moment Jones decided that this is what he wanted to do with his life, but to the belief that he could not just compete in America, but win the championship.“I did the international Rotax karting championships in Italy and it was the first time I’d ever raced outside of Dubai. I was competing against guys who had been racing in Europe all year long but everything was new to me. I had the fastest lap in my first race and finished eighth in the final from starting 28th. I was able to produce results even though I didn’t have that much experience. All of the sudden I realized that if I gained experience and was serious about this, there was no reason I couldn’t be at the front.”Jones moved into formula cars in 2011 and became the youngest European F3 Open champion in history in 2013, earning six victories and 10 podium finishes. He also finished third in the British Formula 3 National Class with five wins. Progressing up to the FIA Formula 3 European Championships with Carlin last year, Jones had two podium finishes despite missing three races mid-season due to a back injury. Jones and his Carlin team both made the jump across the pond this season.
It’s been a learning year for both team and driver and while Mazda Raceway may be one of many tracks Jones has had to learn this year, at least he’s been working on it for a while. From age 6, to be exact.
“I’ve been ‘driving’ on Mazda Raceway via PlayStation since I was 6 years old. It’s one of those tracks that I remember driving on at such a young age, on a number of games. It will be great to get a chance to drive on it for real! My engineer (Geoff Fickling) has been there with other series, so he has a lot of notes and he’s helped me find the best videos of the track. It’s hard because we don’t have any data for Indy Lights from there. I’ll need to get a good baseline immediately on Thursday, then build on that so we have a really good car on Saturday morning.”
Jones has already had a taste of what his racing dream might look like, as one of seven drivers who climbed behind the wheel of a Verizon IndyCar Series Dallara several weeks ago for a test at Sonoma Raceway with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Jones believes it’s a testament to the new Dallara IL-15 Indy Lights car that the move to the big car did not turn out to be as great as he had expected.
“I expected the adjustment to be much more than it turned out to be. The main difference is in achieving the maximum amount of downforce and that comes from experience. My aim was to help the team and I think we did that, working through a lot of setup changes. The Indy Lights car is a fantastic car to drive and a great place to learn and prepare for IndyCar. I really felt comfortable from the start.”
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