The journey to the Verizon IndyCar Series has nearly come full circle for Ed Jones.
When the season begins March 10-12 at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the 21-year-old Brit from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, will start a new chapter in what has been an impressive career up to now.
Jones enjoyed five wins, 15 podiums and 11 poles in 34 starts over the past two season before becoming the 2016 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires champion – earning a $1 million Mazda scholarship that paved the way for three guaranteed starts this season in the Verizon IndyCar Series, including the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.
However, Verizon IndyCar Series team owner Dale Coyne was on hand to witness Jones’ title-clinching race at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca last September and was impressed enough to ink the 2013 European Formula 3 Open champion to a deal shortly thereafter for the upcoming season in North America’s top open-wheel series.
As if it weren’t already a dream come true to pilot the No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda and follow the path of fellow former race-winning Brits such as Mike Conway and the late Justin Wilson – each of whom drove to Victory Lane with Coyne previously – Jones gets the chance to become teammates with four-time Indy car champion Sebastien Bourdais.
“For a rookie, it's going to be perfect,” Jones said. “It’s the perfect scenario, a relatively small team, which actually is sometimes better than being on a large team because you can work more closely with the guys. My engineer, Michael Cannon, he's also worked with a lot of drivers up-and-coming.
“So I'm in a great position (with) Sebastien. I'm going to try to gain as much as I can from him, really learn because he's one of the best guys in the series. We're both at very different points in our careers, so I think it should make working with each other quite a bit easier than, for example, if it were two rookies.
A challenger for the 2017 Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors in the series, Jones understands the difficulties that can plague newcomers but believes that a chance to challenge for podiums by year’s end is not out of the realm of possibility.
“You have to be realistic about the goals,” he said. “I think it's always hard for the junior drivers when they initially go to the top level of racing, you've been so used to being up front and winning often and I know it's going to be tough.
“I really believe that with the team we have at Dale Coyne and what I am going to learn from Sebastien, it's going to be possible for me to have a few podiums maybe later on towards the end of the season. I really think that we can get a podium or two and, if we can achieve that, it would be great and put me in good stead for next season.”
Despite a European background that focused on road and street courses, Jones admitted an affinity to racing on ovals during his time in Indy Lights. In fact, he is at Phoenix Raceway today undergoing his Verizon IndyCar Series rookie oval evaluation test ahead of the series-wide open test Friday and Saturday on the 1-mile oval.
“It's quite limited the amount of ovals we had in Indy Lights,” Jones said. “(In) 2016, I felt like I really got the hang of them and I actually can't wait to get on them for INDYCAR. If anything, ovals are my favorite part of racing.”