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Ed Jones adds name to IndyCar’s elite as top rookie in 2017

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Sure, you can say Ed Jones didn’t have a full-season counterpart for IndyCar’s Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors in 2017 and so he was always going to win the award.

But in a year when you don’t have competition and the other first-year drivers did only selected races, you have to compare yourself to the rest of the field at large and make an impression – and Jones clearly did so for Dale Coyne Racing.

Per Trackside Online, Jones joins this list of drivers in the series’ full-time lineup who won top rookie honors in their year of eligibility: Alexander Rossi, Carlos Munoz, Simon Pagenaud, James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, Will Power, Sebastien Bourdais, Scott Dixon, and Tony Kanaan.

FORT WORTH, TX – JUNE 09: Ed Jones, driver of the #19 Boy Scouts of America Honda, sits in his car during practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series Rainguard Water Sealers 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 9, 2017 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Heading into last year’s offseason, Jones was not the favorite to take over the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda; fellow Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires veteran RC Enerson was on the heels of three impressive debut races at the tail end of 2016.

However Jones was always going to need a place to land with the $1 million Mazda Motorsports advancement scholarship for at least three races. Between that and with additional budget gathered, Jones found his way into Dale Coyne’s second seat alongside Sebastien Bourdais and together the pairing clicked.

Coyne had his eye on him throughout 2016, and watched him win the Indy Lights title at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca – albeit under somewhat controversial circumstances when Carlin teammate Felix Serralles pulled aside to allow Jones through.

“It was Indy Lights. We went to his last race at Laguna Seca when he won the championship,” Coyne said. “We kept an eye on him. We keep an eye on all Indy Lights guys as well. It’s close, we can see them, watch them race, see how aggressive they are.

“He was always smooth in the car. I didn’t know how good he was going to be, because he was smooth. He doesn’t look like Paul Tracy in a car, but he drives better than Paul Tracy, at least in the beginning, at least Paul’s first year. He was a pleasant — it was the biggest surprise we’ve ever had.”

Jones, the 22-year-old Dubai-based Brit who makes his U.S. residence in Miami, was an instant hit on results if not on outright pace. But with finishes of sixth, 10th and 11th among his first five starts and other results lost due to circumstances outside his control, he immediately made a positive impact in the paddock.

Where Jones grew up fastest in a year where he matured so much from a more quiet and reserved driver in Indy Lights – much of that thanks to the family atmosphere at Coyne and its ace PR rep, Karina Redmond – was in May. Bourdais went from points leader and potential Indianapolis 500 contender to hospital-bound after his devastating accident in qualifying.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MAY 28: Max Chilton of England, driver of the #8 Gallagher Honda, Helio Castroneves of Brazil, driver of the #3 Shell Fuel Rewards Team Penske Chevrolet, and Ed Jones of the United Arab Emirates, driver of the #19 Boy Scouts of America Honda, lead a pack of cars during the 101st Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motorspeedway on May 28, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Jones, meanwhile, was suddenly thrust into the unexpected role of team leader, not knowing week-to-week who his teammate might be depending on the issue. Similar to Alexander Rossi last year, Jones carried a quiet swagger during the month of May in Indianapolis, and was aggrieved for getting knocked out of the Fast Nine shootout.

What he did on race day was equally as impressive as Rossi’s 2016 win in the ‘500 if not more so, considering the disparity in equipment and the fact Jones’ car was damaged in the nose from debris contacting it earlier in the race.

That third place finish (and the double points that went with it) was enough to earn many votes for this year’s Indianapolis 500 top rookie honors (including from this writer) although it wasn’t enough to supplant Fernando Alonso for the award, somewhat controversially. Coyne couldn’t resist trolling during Jones’ season-long top rookie acceptance press conference at Sonoma.

“Obviously Indy, third place there. Did you get Rookie of the Year at Indy or no? Didn’t get that, okay,” Coyne deadpanned.

Alas, Jones pressed on anyway with a consistent appetite for learning, thanks to Coyne’s tutelage, Michael Cannon’s sharp mind on the engineering stand and a crew that embraced him.

“It’s hard to say. There’s a lot of advice that Dale’s given me,” Jones said. “But, you know, he’s always been very supportive of learning everything step by step, learning from Seb. Every time I get to every weekend, even every session, I remember early on it was try to learn as much as you can, take it step by step, there’s no need to overdo it early on.

“I seen myself as well as one of the guys, rookies, younger guys that would come in and they try to be right at the front the beginning. In a series that’s so competitive like this, it doesn’t really happen that often. It’s extreme difficult to do it. Sometimes doing that, you can actually take steps backwards because you kind of lose where you’re at. It’s always better to sort of take it step by step, yeah, get there that way.”

After a ninth place at Detroit race one, Jones’ results suffered the rest of the way through a myriad of mishaps – be it tough setups, bad caution timing, an occasional spin or pit stop issues. A seventh at Road America was the lone bright spot, and a potential top-10 championship finish went begging. Losing Bourdais hurt primarily from a setup standpoint.

“I wasn’t always sure if it was just me or if it was a lot with the car. Yeah, that was the main thing. Seb is really good with setting up the car. Having his feedback to work off from was really helpful,” he said.

“If I ever wasn’t sure about something, I could use him to back something up. Not having him there, yeah, made it harder. Sometimes I was guessing a bit more. So, yeah, that was the toughest part.”

Jones said his driving and development got better as the year went on as, paradoxically, the results got worse.

“It’s always difficult not having another full-time rookie to compare to. Then again, I’ve looked at the rookies over the last few years. I’ve seen it’s extremely tough. I feel pretty happy with how it’s gone in comparison to other guys recently,” he said.

“I wanted to finish top-10 in the points. Halfway through the season, we were on track to doing that. We had a good opportunity to do it. The last few races, things have maybe not gone to plan.

“But I feel like as a driver, I got stronger. Early on in the season, I had some really great results. I was driving well, but also a lot of things fell my way. I was pretty lucky in that sense. Now I think we’ve gone better, me as a driver, also binding with the team. We got stronger, but things just haven’t gone our way. It’s been frustrating.”

None of the issues were egregious and as Coyne related later, Jones was one of the cleanest drivers he’d ever had in a year where the crash damage bills added up fast.

FORT WORTH, TX – JUNE 09: Ed Jones, driver of the #19 Boy Scouts of America Honda, and Tristan Vautier, driver of the #18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series Rainguard Water Sealers 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 9, 2017 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

With a rotating driver in the second car, be it James Davison, Esteban Gutierrez or Tristan Vautier before Bourdais’ welcome and surprise return at Gateway, Jones was the unexpected but needed rock in the driver lineup.

“I think it’s been a whole progression the whole year. We’ve run a lot of rookies over the years. We run rookies in tests that have never made it to a race, we ran rookies that made it to races,” Coyne said.

“He’s just a puppy. But he’s done a good job, very, very good. I don’t think he scratched the car. He actually did hit the wall at Pocono. The smallest amount of damage I’ve ever seen anybody do hitting a wall at Pocono. Done a very good job all year long, every track.”

Jones isn’t back yet for 2018, but Coyne said “We’re very, very close. I would love to have Ed back next year,” and wants to have a deal struck in the next few weeks.

Looking at what he did as a rookie was quite impressive. The five top-10s matched Conor Daly’s number last year as the lone full-season driver and while Daly was 18th in points in his first full season, Jones ended 14th.

That 14th place in the standings is a Coyne driver’s best finish in the standings since the late Justin Wilson’s incredible run to sixth in 2013, and actually a spot ahead of where Wilson was the following year in 2014, in 15th.

Jones’ qualifying average of 14.3 was 3.5 spots higher than Daly’s last year and Jones out-qualified his teammates nine times this year in 17 races, including Bourdais on three of eight attempts.

What he did for the team this year overall in a tough season will be remembered more than the results itself which again, were impressive given thee circumstances.

“It’s been very tough. But the whole team together, everyone within the team works very well together from the beginning of the year. A big shame to lose Seb after quite a few races. Everyone got on well with it. I remember after the accident, actually Dale got everyone together. We pushed forward,” he said.

“I think there’s been a lot of times that on Dale’s team, there’s things that have happened, gone up and down. As we’ve seen, they’ve always come back stronger.”

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Bourdais leads wet IndyCar warm-up at Watkins Glen

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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – A combination of mist, rainfall, and cold temperatures greeted the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers as they ventured onto Watkins Glen International for their morning warm-up, and all drivers made use of the Firestone wet weather tires.

In the end, it was Sebastien Bourdais who led the way with a best lap of 1:45.9510, more than 20 seconds slower than the pole-sitting time from Alexander Rossi (1:22.4639), evidence of the slippery conditions on the track.

Rossi ended up second, followed by Helio Castroneves, Carlos Munoz, and Simon Pagenaud.

Cold and damp conditions persisted throughout the 30-minute session, making things very treacherous for all drivers.

The aforementioned Rossi was one of several to demonstrate as much, in his case sliding his way through the bus stop.

However, the session was completed without incident.

Times are below. Coverage of Sunday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen begins at 1:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN, with the green flag scheduled for 1:40 p.m. ET.

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Bourdais scores top ten on IndyCar return

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Everyone was surprised to hear that Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais would make his Verizon IndyCar Series return on Saturday night’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline. A result of that surprise was likely a lack of expectations about just how well he would do, especially given the apparent drag disadvantage Honda’s short-oval aero package has.

Bourdais qualified a conservative, albeit solid 19th to knock the dust off, but the race was expected to be a considerable challenge for the driver of the No. 18 UNIFIN Honda.

Yet, while Bourdais’ run on Saturday was a quiet one, he nonetheless drove a clean race aamid tricky conditions that caught out the likes of  Will Power, Tony Kanaan, Ed Carpenter, and Takuma Sato early on.

Bourdais slowly moved forward throughout the Saturday night affair and, at the checkered flag, he found himself in tenth, a more than solid result on his first race back.

Bourdais described afterward that the restarts were a complicated affair for him, and he nearly crashed on multiple occasions.

“It wasn’t an easy race. We knew the car wasn’t perfect and I had some really complicated restarts. I don’t know what was going on, but I got loose three times and I almost stuffed it, and so I went to the back of the pack,” Bourdais said of his near-misses.

Still, Bourdais and the team got stronger as the race went on, and through a stretch of good pit stops and a strong final restart, managed to sneak into the top ten.

“The guys did a really good job in the pits and got us back in contention there at the end. I finally had a good restart and a couple of wobbles in front of me and I benefitted from it. I’m just really happy with my top 10. It’s a good way to salvage something this weekend.”

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Bourdais: Determination to return in 2017 fueled fast recovery

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MADISON, Ill. – Sebastien Bourdais’ return to Verizon IndyCar Series active competition isn’t just sooner than expected, but also fueled by motivation to silence any doubters or questions about his readiness to return.

He’s back in the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda ahead of the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline (Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, NBCSN), only 14 weeks after his unreal accident during qualifying for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

Bourdais was determined to avoid an offseason of discontent and questions about his recovery, which fueled him to get back in the car for the final three races of the year.

“That’s really the whole thing for me, to get back in the saddle, obviously prove to everybody that nothing has changed, that I’m still the same guy, plus a little bit of hardware, but that’s another thing,” Bourdais said Friday at Gateway, when speaking to reporters.

“I think you always have to prove yourself or re-prove yourself in racing. There’s no doubt about that. Because those questions are going to be in people’s mind and everything, I just wanted to make sure that that’s taken care of and we just can go back to work and just not worry about it.”

The deal came together this week, with Bourdais finding out on Tuesday once contact was made with Coyne that he’d be good to go. Figuring out Esteban Gutierrez’s status was the next step; the team will keep Gutierrez’s full UNIFIN sponsorship and livery at least for this weekend with UNIFIN signage expected to continue the rest of the year.

A third car was expected for Bourdais for Sonoma and the season finale at the least, but the decision was made to move up his return to this week. He wanted to get back on an oval, at a track he’s tested at twice with Coyne, albeit on the prior surface before the repave.

“We never really know exactly the timing of things,” Bourdais said, as he explained the recovery process. “We knew six weeks for weight-bearing, providing the that X-rays looked good, and eight for walking.

“We did eight and a half for weight-bearing and transitioned really quickly into walking, got out of the office and started walking. I was feeling good enough at that stage, and the doctor in Tempe was pretty happy with what he saw, and then Terry and Dr. Scheid didn’t exactly agree with it, so there was a little setback and the cane popped back and things like that, but I’d say overall as soon as we did X-rays and the bone looked pretty strong, I knew things were looking good.

“And then we went out west for the trip that was planned a long time ago with the family, and that went very well, and when I came back, drove the coach back from Vegas to Indy and went to see Dr. Scheid again, and we did the final — what had the potential to be the final check but not necessarily on the 15th of August. He really obviously was pleased with the X-rays and everything looked really strong.

“At that point it was a green light, and let’s go racing. I couldn’t be any happier about that. Yeah, just looking forward to putting this story behind and just getting back to work.”

Expectations are minimal for Bourdais this weekend, not because of how he’s feeling but more due to the anticipated gap between the Chevrolet and Honda aero kits, in the final oval race for the manufacturer aero kits over a three-year period before the 2018 Dallara universal aero kit comes into the series next year. The Chevy kit has less drag than does the Honda one.

“It’s obviously a bit of a difficult one because we knew going into this one that it was not going to be the easiest of weekends for our package,” he said. “But Honda has worked really hard, and so we’ll see exactly where we’re at. But I think it’s very much of a Phoenix scenario as far as where we stand with field position. We’ll see how things go, but I mean, we’ll just try and do the best we can, and for me to get back in the saddle.

“I think it’s a great layout, and obviously now with the new pavement, it looks like a first-class facility, so it’s awesome,” he added about Gateway. “You know, hats off to the organization. I think a lot of people had doubts about the organization being able to pull it together and repave so fast and be ready for a race like that.”

Bourdais hasn’t lost his sense of humor and candor, either. Asked whether he wanted to forget the Indianapolis crash best as he could, he said you can’t and instead have to focus forward.

“There’s no forgetting it, and I think it would be a mistake to forget it. I think it’s a good reminder that obviously you should not disregard the signs that the car is giving you sometimes, and I did.

“Like I said, I got caught up in the moment, and I paid for it. So, probably don’t want to do that again.”

Welcome surprise: Coyne announces Bourdais back for final 3 races

Photo courtesy Dale Coyne Racing (Kate Shoup photo)
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The talk for months since his injury qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 was when Sebastien Bourdais would be back in his No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda.

The Verizon IndyCar Series season finale at Sonoma Raceway was a near certainty, with the penultimate race at Watkins Glen International also considered.

But in a welcome surprise that few if any saw coming, Bourdais’ return date to racing will actually come in this weekend’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Valvoline (Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, NBCSN) at Gateway Motorsports Park, back in the car with Esteban Gutierrez stepping aside.

Bourdais, who was officially cleared to drive as of Wednesday, August 16, by Dr. Geoffrey Billows, INDYCAR medical director, following his recovery from injuries sustained in a crash during Indianapolis 500 qualifications. following an evaluation by INDYCAR orthopedic consultant Dr. Kevin Scheid on Tuesday and was given clearance to fully return to racing activities.

He suffered multiple fractures to his pelvis and right hip in the incident, but made an incredible recovery from his injuries and is returning sooner than anticipated to take part in the final three races of the season.

Gateway marked the site of Bourdais’ first test with the team upon his return over the 2016 offseason and he also tested on the old surface again in May of this year, prior to the two weeks of running in Indianapolis.

His first time back in a car was in a one-day test at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course the day after the Honda Indy 200, with a successful bit of running.

Per Trackside Online, Bourdais was expected to run in a third Coyne car at the Sonoma season finale, but now Gutierrez has made way for this return on the 1.25-mile oval this year. The Mexican driver raced a total of seven events this season, the most number among fill-ins (James Davison and Tristan Vautier each raced once), and posted a best result of 13th in his oval debut at Iowa Speedway.

Bourdais, understandably, was thrilled with this news.

“You have no idea how excited I am to be getting back in the car this weekend and for the remainder of the season,” Bourdais said in a release.

“It’s been a long 14 weeks and I’ve worked very hard to get to this point. Following the crash, I had one goal in mind and that was to be back for Sonoma, and here I am getting back in the car with three races to go. It’s a bit unbelievable but I can’t wait to try out that new surface at Gateway this weekend!”

Both Gutierrez and team owner Coyne were gracious in their respective quotes, Gutierrez for the opportunity and Coyne for Gutierrez’s work.

Gutierrez could end up at a high-profile team in the 2018 IndyCar season, and is now working to solidify those plans.

“It’s been a very interesting few months for me getting to race in the Verizon IndyCar Series on the street circuits, road courses and especially ovals,” shared Gutierrez. “I want to thank the team and Dale Coyne for giving me this opportunity to gain this experience in view of a full-time program in the Verizon IndyCar Series next year. My goal was to learn as much as possible in order to be ready for 2018 where a new car will be introduced. This experience with the team will pay dividends next season.”

Coyne added: “It’s great to have Sebastien back, but I want to thank Esteban for the amazing job he did filling in for him these last few months. It wasn’t easy for him coming in and having never driven an Indy car, but he did a fantastic job especially on the ovals. For someone that had never driven on an oval track before Iowa in July, he impressed a lot of people including myself. Hopefully we get to work with him again in the future.”