Mike Conway stole the early headlines this weekend in Detroit as the “spoiler British driver,” but come Sunday, the other under-the-radar Englishman in the IZOD IndyCar Series field – James Jakes – had his day.
Jakes spent the first two years of his career in Dale Coyne’s second car, and rarely made a huge impression. That said, being a mistake-free, clean and relatively quick driver who was close enough on times to teammate Justin Wilson has earned him his place within the field.
This year, Jakes has been a man reborn in the new confines of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. He’s meshed well with engineer Eddie Jones, and the No. 16 Acorn Stairlifts Honda has shown further speed increases, often times outqualifying teammate Graham Rahal.
Jakes struggled massively on Firestone’s red alternate tires in Saturday’s Chevrolet Indy Dual at Detroit race one, and fell to a disappointing 10th place from third on the grid. Come Sunday, the RLL team had found a much nicer balance on the reds, and he had a chance from second on the grid, where he finished.
“We qualified on the blacks this week because the car was working so well on them,” Jakes explained. “We really, really struggled on the reds. The game plan yesterday was to put them on and get them out of the way as quick as possible. We did that, but we lost so much ground.
“I mean, we knew we wanted a chance at a podium today, maintaining a position where we started, we had to find a bit of consistency on the reds,” he added. “Big credit to the guys because we found a lot. Yesterday in the race we couldn’t get in the 79s on red. Today we got in the 77s or low 78s. Without that we wouldn’t have been able to do that.”
More than finding a setup on the reds, Jakes also had to avoid the first-turn pileup on lap 28, and he almost made it through unscathed. He needed a front wing change and was “hit from all angles,” but otherwise emerged without damage.
“I actually hurt my wrist, the one I hurt a couple years ago, so I was a bit worried about that,” he noted. “We had a window towards the end of the race where everyone pitted in front of us, the track really opened up, and we were able to leapfrog a lot of people. That’s what put us in the position really.”
His day included some surprise guests – Jakes’ girlfriend made last-minute arrangements to fly up to Detroit from Orlando, and Jakes’ fan club, “Jakesy Nation,” was also in attendance and viewed Sunday’s race from pit side grandstands in Turn 1.