The only new driver to the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2017, Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion Ed Jones, had a busier test this past week at Phoenix International Raceway than most of the other 20 drivers in the field.
The driver of the No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda took his rookie test on Wednesday, banking about 120 laps to pass his first test as an official rookie participant this season.
Jones, who turned 22 on Sunday, then battled through lingering effects of mono on Saturday before resuming in the final evening session of the test to complete his running for the week. He left the track for a couple hours to rest up, but came back prior to the night session.
In the four official sessions, Jones completed 175 laps, but the number gets closer to 300 when you factor in the rookie day on Wednesday.
The Dubai-based Brit, whose U.S. home is in Miami, said he was more comfortable than he expected as he dealt with the heavier car, traffic and race-like conditions on an oval in anger for the first time.
“Overall it’s been a good couple of days,” Jones said. “The first session yesterday went really well but I struggled a little bit more in the night session when we were simulating race running. It was my first time running like that so it was a lot to take in. We were also practicing pit stops without laps and in laps.
“We knew it was going to be hard but I guess that it’s just part of the learning process and I’ll be better next time.”
Led by engineer Michael Cannon, Jones’ team opted for a more conservative program keeping the car in higher downforce configuration rather than trimming out any. Considering there were four crashes on Saturday, ensuring Jones brought the car home in one piece was a key for both him and the Coyne team.
“I feel comfortable in the car. I also think a lot of the guys went on low trim runs as well so that’s why they did so many quick times,” said Jones, whose best time of 19.5399 seconds (188.292 mph) ranked 18th in the 21-car field.
“We left it on high downforce the whole time making it hard to compare. I have some catching up to do on that side because I haven’t had that experience before but it’s all part of the learning curve.”
Teammate Sebastien Bourdais had a good test as well, working with his engineering group led by Craig Hampson and Olivier Boisson. The driver of the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda was ninth for the combined times, with a best time of 19.3236 seconds (190.399 mph) in 284 laps.
Coyne himself told NBC Sports this was a “good” test and he was relieved to have had the program finalized several months in advance, which has allowed the team to build for the rest of the season without any late delays.
The two-day Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test concluded on Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Combined times after the two days of running are below, with Nico Jamin (Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires) and Oliver Askew (Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires) remaining on top from Saturday to Sunday, and Darren Keane (Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda) supplanting Andres Gutierrez at the head of that field.
Previous notebooks are linked here (Friday, Saturday), with additional Sunday notes to follow.
Several drivers pulled double duty between series, namely Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport in Pro Mazda and USF2000), Carlos Cunha (Juncos Racing in Indy Lights and Pro Mazda) and Aaron Telitz (Team Pelfrey in Pro Mazda, RJB Motorsports in USF2000). Telitz (above) added a run in Pro Mazda in Team Pelfrey’s No. 82 car; the Wisconsinite has done a lot of the series’ testing for the new Pro Mazda Tatuus PM-18, and had hoped to run all three series. We’ll have more meanwhile on Thompson and Exclusive’s double in the days to come; the Michael Duncalfe-led team out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan was one of three new Pro Mazda teams adding those cars to USF2000 efforts (Pabst Racing, BN Racing) this week.
There were a handful of drivers that changed cars or teams for Sunday’s second day of the test, primarily in USF2000. While Keane ran both days at Newman Wachs, the Brian Halahan-managed team ran David Osborne and Oscar DeLuzuriaga in the Nos. 37 and 38 cars, taking over from Jake Craig and Max Peichel. Osborne switched from Team Pelfrey, where he ran Saturday, and where Jacob Loomis ran Sunday. Justin Gordon ran a second Exclusive Autosport chassis, switching to the No. 90 on Sunday after running the No. 92 Saturday.
The PM-18 best lap set by Askew is more than three seconds faster than the series’ official track record (Pato O’Ward in 2016, at 1:22.8800, 105.941 mph). Askew’s best time of 1:19.8142 averages 110.010 mph around the 2.439-mile circuit. Neither the Indy Lights nor USF2000 cars eclipsed the existing lap records in those categories.
Drivers largely extolled the PM-18’s outright pace and potential with the horsepower upgrade, in what is a significant step forward for the series. “Following prototype testing of the new PM-18, I believed that we had a special race car and this weekend’s testing confirms that,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Based on team and driver comments, this is a fantastic race car and I am very pleased with what Tatuus, Elite Engines and my team have assembled. It fits perfectly in between the USF-17 and the IL-15 in terms of lap times and, more importantly, it takes what a driver learns in the first step and introduces higher HP, higher grip and higher aero. This will be a great training car for years to come, and seeing our program now with three excellent and well-designed cars is very satisfying to me.”
Keane, one of the few veterans (relatively speaking) within USF2000 was plugged in this weekend as the only driver outside Pabst Racing to threaten the top of the timesheets. “It’s a good boost in confidence for me heading into next year. I am really happy with how everything is going with the team. They are a great group of guys and it’s just really good to see us improving and being where we want to be,” he said.
Rinus Veekay hailed the Indy Lights Dallara IL-15 Mazda this weekend in his first test there, although the talented Dutch teenager may well focus on Pro Mazda next season and shoot to win that championship, and continue his battle with Askew established in USF2000. “The car is very nice, quick,” noted VeeKay. “You can really feel the downforce and it was a pleasure to drive.”
The MRTI is done with official running for the year, but the $200,000 MRTI Scholarship Shootout remains in December at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, the former Firebird Raceway, outside Phoenix. The winner of that will get a ticket into USF2000 for the 2018 season.
Full MRTI spring training will take place at Homestead-Miami Speedway in February 2018, with undoubtedly a bevy of driver and team announcements to come over the following months.