Jones' Verizon IndyCar Series learning curve delayed by Sebring weather

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SEBRING, Fla. -- In four short days, Ed Jones went from receiving accolades to receiving advice.

A week ago in London, Jones won the prestigious Earl Howe Trophy at the British Racing Drivers’ Club annual awards ceremony. On Friday morning in Florida, he was preparing for his first Verizon IndyCar Series test with Dale Coyne Racing.

Ultimately, the two-team private session at Sebring International Raceway was postponed until next month because of weather, but Jones was able to bond with his new teammates and get ready for his rookie season.

At the ceremony and at the track, Jones found himself in reputable company. The Earl Howe Trophy, presented to the British driver with the best finish in the Indianapolis 500 or the most meritorious performance of the year in North America, counts Nigel Mansell, Dario Franchitti, Dan Wheldon and Justin Wilson among its previous winners.

Despite the test rainout, Jones sought and received advice from his new teammate at DCR, four-time Indy car champion Sebastien Bourdais, and veteran engineers Michael Cannon, Olivier Boisson and Craig Hampson.

“Going into the move to the States, this was always what the dream was,” Jones said. “The way it’s gone and what we’ve achieved has gone to plan, but there are so many variables. You can’t expect those things to happen. For things to have fallen into place is incredible.”

Jones has been taking advice from Bourdais, whose years in Formula One, sports cars and Indy car racing provide a breadth of experience and knowledge for the 21-year-old reigning Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires champion.

“It’s always tough to ask questions when you haven’t been in the car or with the team yet,” Bourdais said. “But if I can help him, I will. It’s a series that’s a bit difficult for rookies because there’s not much testing. The car is fairly easy to drive, but the racing is so tight and you go to so many different types of tracks. It’s hard on a rookie to absorb everything and perform right away.”

Born in Dubai of British descent, Jones won the national United Arab Emirates karting championship at the age of 11. He won six more UAE championships and other top-level international karting events before transitioning to cars at 16 and finishing fourth in his rookie year of the Intersteps Championship.

That led to Formula Renault and Formula 3, where Jones won the European F3 Open Championship in 2013. In 2014, he joined Carlin Racing in the FIA European F3 Championship before the team moved him to Indy Lights in 2015. Jones’ Lights championship this year earned the $1 million Mazda Road to Indy scholarship and led Coyne to sign him to his first year in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Which means, of course, learning the art of pit stops, something the team had planned to address before weather got in the way at Sebring.

“There are a lot of things happening in Indy car races,” Jones said. “Obviously, you’ve got pit stops and fuel strategy and fuel saving. It’s just getting used to the whole concept of learning new things and trying to adapt to it as quickly as possible. For the young drivers, we have to get up to speed fairly quickly and perform in qualifying, but the racing is where it’s going to be a lot harder to learn straight away. The races are longer and there are so many more things you have to worry about.”

Bourdais agreed. It’s hard out there for a rookie, no matter how talented.

“The length of the race, the dynamics of the race, the push-to-pass, the aggression level in the series – it’s a bullfight out there,” Bourdais said. “The number and length of the races will be new to him, as will the number of restarts and the fuller fields of cars. We spread out pretty quickly. You’ve got cars on top of you all the time with denser fields. It’s not easy to come right out and be good at it and feel like you’re right where you need to be. It takes adjusting.”

It takes adjusting to be named alongside the sport’s legends before your first Verizon IndyCar Series race, too. The Earl Howe Trophy is named for Francis Curzon, the fifth Earl Howe, who won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1931. He co-founded the BRDC in 1928 and served as its president until he died in 1964.

Franchitti won the award six times, Wheldon won it five times and Wilson won it in 2013. Impressive company for a 21-year-old.

“It’s really something for me to have people recognize my achievements,” Jones said. “It pushes me on even further. To be recognized alongside those guys is incredible. … When I was at the awards and got the trophy, I read the placard with all the names. It made me realize how far we’ve come. It makes you appreciate it.”

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