Ed Jones’ somewhat meteoric rise into the No. 10 NTT Data Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing in the Verizon IndyCar Series comes after a wealth of potential displayed both in his Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires career, then last season as the top rookie in the IndyCar championship.
Jones was a perhaps surprise arrival to Dale Coyne Racing for the 2017 season but excelled in his opportunity throughout the season. Obviously his result at the Indianapolis 500, third place in a damaged car, stood out greatest in a year he was overshadowed for the race rookie of the year honors to Fernando Alonso.
Alas, what he showed to the paddock at large was that his training from the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires and at Coyne’s team delivered a nearly complete prospect ready for a massive opportunity such as driving the No. 10 car, a car with a championship-winning pedigree alongside Scott Dixon in the No. 9 car.
Understanding the magnitude of the seat but also being humble enough to realize he still has more to learn and quickly in a top-flight car, Jones knows he’s in a position where he can thrive.
“It’s been a very quick progression. I think everything has gone to plan, if not better than that,” Jones admitted Thursday during a teleconference.
“It’s just about maintaining that hard work and embracing the group of people I’m going to have around me and learning from the wealth of knowledge and experience that comes from this team.
“So going to take it in my stride, you know, take everything in. I realize that I have a fantastic opportunity to win races and fight at the front the whole year in 2018. That’s my aim. We’re going to do everything we can to make that happen.”
Jones went from being expected back at Coyne’s team for a second season to shifting into Ganassi’s No. 10 car in rapid time.
This week has spoke the largest volumes, as Brendon Hartley’s potential IndyCar bow got sidetracked with a different opportunity when Scuderia Toro Rosso came calling for a Formula 1 drive. That started at Circuit of The Americas last week and has grown into the rest of this season this week, with a permanent number selection all but an official sign of a full-season seat set in 2018.
The 22-year-old Dubai-based Brit was understandably surprised that the Ganassi seat became available, but jumped at it knowing he felt ready for the chance.
“Initially it was a bit of a surprise,” he said. “At the same time I felt that I worked really hard for this. I tried to prove what I could do. They’ve acknowledged that. Surprising on one hand, but on the other hand it was very satisfying that they had realized my potential.”
Jones, who excelled in Indy Lights’ Dallara IL-15 Mazda for two seasons, should mirror fellow past Indy Lights champion Spencer Pigot in excelling with the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit. The new IndyCar body kit is rather similar to the new Indy Lights and rewards those with an aggressive nature on the brakes.
“I think the car, overall it has a lot less downforce, so it’s going to be a different driving style as to how the car was this year. And so I’m really looking forward to that challenge. Like you said, it should be more similar to the Indy Lights car in a sense, so that could help me,” he said.
“In addition to that, for the whole team, it’s a new starting point. What makes this a great opportunity for teams, you know, for me to be with Chip Ganassi Racing, I think the team has one of the best resources out of the whole field. They’re going to have a great go at making the car perform really well from the get-go. It’s a perfect place for me to be at right now.”
And then, of course, there’s Dixon being in the other car – Jones’ second straight four-time champion as a teammate after Sebastien Bourdais.
Jones was complimentary of Bourdais’ feedback and insight all year, and knows that by working with Dixon, he’s working with a second straight legend in IndyCar’s history.
“Scott is a legend of IndyCar racing. Been so successful over the years. He’s one of if not the best person you can learn from. So I’m really going to take advantage of that, try and scrape every bit of knowledge out of him, and take it to my advantage,” he said.
“What I found really different, what Sebastien did very well, he knew a lot about the car, what setup changes to make, things like that. He knew as soon as he went out, he could tell it very quickly just from the experience he’s gained. That was something where I really tried to work hard on to improve that. As you can see, it’s very beneficial.
“In every aspect, there’s different things to learn. I think from Scott, you know, he’s proven to be one of the best in the sport. So, yeah, I’m sure I’m going to pick up a lot on his driving, areas where I can improve myself. I think his driving style, looking at it from the outside, it seems quite the opposite to how I usually drive, so it will be a great place for me to learn how he drives that way and how I can work it into my own driving, make myself better.”
Lastly there’s a bit of pressure on Jones as another MRTI driver in a high-profile situation, but his leap into one of the pre-eminent seats in the series speaks volumes of the ladder’s training and development.
Along with defending IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden at Team Penske, Pigot at Ed Carpenter Racing, Gabby Chaves at Harding Racing and Kyle Kaiser at Juncos Racing, Jones is one of five of the last seven Indy Lights champions set to feature on the IndyCar grid next year – and that’s to go along with a number of other recent graduates spread throughout as well.
“It was a perfect scenario for me coming from Europe to the States. Gave me a clear goal. I knew what I had to achieve,” Jones said.
“If I achieved that, I’d have a chance at IndyCar. That’s exactly what it gave me. It gave me not only that, but a great learning place for the skills, all the experience you need to do well in IndyCar.
“I’m really thankful for that. I’m sure there’s going to be many more drivers like myself coming through the ladder and doing well in IndyCar in years to come.”