INDIANAPOLIS – He was overshadowed and overlooked, but after his performance Sunday in the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, the phrase “keeping up with the Joneses” takes on new meaning.
Ed Jones was a little-known Indy 500 rookie this year, especially in comparison to the attention that Formula One champion Fernando Alonso received as a newcomer to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval scene.
Race day for Jones began like much of the month, with Alonso grabbing the early spotlight by running up front and leading 27 laps before a mechanical failure ended his day 20 laps from the finish.
Then it was Jones’ turn to shine. The Dale Coyne Racing driver took full advantage to finish in third place, his first career podium in the Verizon IndyCar Series. The 22-year-old Brit from Dubai started 11th overcame early misfortune to battle back to the front, finishing behind only winner Takuma Sato and runner-up Helio Castroneves.
“It was a great race for us,” said Jones, driver of the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda. “Great car I've had the whole month, really. We were running through traffic, but the race was so up and down for us. Solid start, we were running in the top 10 or 11 for most of the first half.
“Then when Dixon had his crash – thankfully those guys are OK – but I ran over some debris. It damaged the floor and also the rear wing. We had to change the rear wing. That sent me to the back of the field. We had to claw our way back up again.”
Jones dropped to 28th place after stopping three times to repair the wing during the caution period for the crash involving Dixon and Jay Howard. From there began the slow climb back into contention. Jones moved back into the top 10 on Lap 140 of 200 around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval.
Running sixth, Jones made a fortuitous final stop for fuel and tires on Lap 166. The caution flag waved again a lap later for Charlie Kimball’s mechanical failure, allowing Jones to cycle up to second place when the other front-runners stopped under the yellow.
“But then I had some bad luck again. I actually damaged my front wing, had a big hole in it,” Jones said. “My legs got pretty cold, to be honest. I had wind blowing into them like crazy.
“It also created a lot of drag. That meant I was really good in the corners catching up to other cars, but it was difficult in the straights. I couldn't pull up to them. We lacked that straight-line speed for, I'd say, the last 40 laps. It was really hard for me to defend or even attack, which was really frustrating because I think we had the car to win today.”
Passed by Castroneves and Sato on successive laps, Jones fell to fourth place with 20 laps to go, but overtook Max Chilton for third on Lap 196 and held strong for the podium finish. Castroneves, the three-time Indy 500 winner, praised Jones for the job the newcomer did.
“I have to say he did a very good job,” said Castroneves, driver of the No. 3 Shell Fuel Rewards Team Penske Chevrolet. “When we ran side-by-side, he was very smart. I have to say that you drove not like a rookie, to be honest, so congrats. You did a good job.”
Jones has competed on ovals only since coming 2015, when he began competing in Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires, the top level of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires developmental ladder. Jones won the 2016 Indy Lights championship that included the Freedom 100 win on the IMS oval.
“I've loved ovals since I started racing them,” said Jones, who moved to ninth in the Verizon IndyCar Series standings, just five points behind fifth-place Alexander Rossi. “Last year, I think we finished on podium in all three of them (Phoenix Raceway, Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Iowa Speedway) in Indy Lights.
“Coming here, the big part of it is having a good car underneath you. I was fortunate to have that. I've had good battles around here in the Lights car, where you can run side-by-side for a lot of it. When I was running next to Helio, it was a bit of déjà vu. It was good.”
For Jones, each lap on an oval is on-the-job training. The 200 circuit he completed Sunday at IMS were immeasurable in value.
“I haven't actually done that much running in traffic,” he admitted. “I was learning how close you could get, using my tools a lot, more than I have done in the past. Although it looked common or normal for me, I was learning so much every time I was driving, making passes.
“Throughout the race, I actually mixed up quite a bit with Helio. He was the one car where I couldn't really defend from him. I realized he was really quick, especially in traffic. It's nice to have that acknowledgment from him.
“Hopefully we'll be racing for the win next year.”
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