Ed Jones is less than three weeks removed from becoming the 2016 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires champion, but he is already building for next year.
The 21-year-old Dubai native took home a $1 million Mazda scholarship award that enables a three-race opportunity next season in the Verizon IndyCar Series, including the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.
During the Verizon IndyCar Series’ season finale weekend at Sonoma Raceway, the five-time Indy Lights race winner over two seasons said his title-clinching campaign is already behind him and that his focus rests on securing an opportunity in North America’s top open-wheel series. He added that talks with teams have already begun.
“It’s nice to be at the racetrack and not racing for once,” Jones said. “You get to see it in a different way.
“I’m meeting with a few different people,” he added. “My manager is here as well and we’re talking to a few teams to start the talks to sort something out for next year. But yeah, Indy Lights is now the past and it’s time to move on, and this is Day 1 of it.”
Some have linked the soon-to-be Verizon IndyCar Series rookie to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Even though Jones tested with RLL as recently as mid-August at Watkins Glen International, he said the list goes beyond just one team.
“It’s nice to have driven with the (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing) team twice and got to know the guys there,” Jones said. “But still, they also ran with Spencer (Pigot, the 2015 Indy Lights champ who drove three races for RLL before joining Ed Carpenter Racing in June) this year as well.
“At the moment it’s a broader range of team we are looking at. It’s no one specific at the moment.”
Teams look for several key ingredients in a driver and Jones believes he brings a wealth of qualities that can help. He added that, with many seasoned veterans set in place for 2017, it makes finding a seat that much more difficult.
“With INDYCAR, there’s a lot of drivers coming to the end of their careers, getting older now,” Jones said. “I’m not trying to be (mean), but that’s just the way it is and you need new drivers. With drivers like myself and other guys coming up, getting them in early and help them progress as well. You can create relationships, which could be more successful as you do it longer.
“I feel like, especially with the car we had in Indy Lights with Carlin, I helped them to develop the tire a lot. I think one of my strong points is being able to help produce a fast car that can handle. I think I can help bring a lot to the team and being brought up in the UAE (United Arab Emirates) as well, there’s different angles for sponsorship and support from over there as well – so yeah, something different that the sport hasn’t seen before.”