He still leads the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship by 29 points heading into this week’s races at Road America, but make no mistake: this is a pivotal weekend for Ed Jones of Carlin.
The Dubai-based Englishman will look to add his first Road America win to the two he’s achieved already this season at Barber Motorsports Park and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, two other permanent road circuits.
Jones, who’s lost 17 points to Dean Stoneman in the last two races, will need to correct course on that to avoid losing the early season grasp he has on the Indy Lights points lead, on the road to securing the $1 million Mazda advancement scholarship for winning the top step on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder. The Indy Lights champion moves up to the Verizon IndyCar Series next season and is guaranteed at least three races, including the Indianapolis 500.
The driver of the No. 11 Jebel Ali Resorts and Hotels Dallara IL-15 Mazda is also going to need to rebound after the cruelest of defeats – by an IMS oval record 0.0024 of a second to Stoneman in last month’s Freedom 100, the most recent Indy Lights race.
“It was my fault,” Jones said immediately after the race. “I feel like if I had gone outside, maybe I would have held a little more momentum and maybe would have been able to hold him off. But unfortunately I made the wrong call and that’s what cost us. It’s straining, especially since the team gave me a car to win the race, we were battling at the front the whole time, and to lose it by such a small margin is a case where I can’t think of things much worse.”
Jones attempted to analyze the moments leading up to that last lap, in the one-lap dash for home when he restarted third, got into first by Turn 1 but then came out the wrong side of the side-by-side bout with Stoneman at the line.
“I didn’t realize I was so close with Dean and I had a bit of a moment in the last corner as well, so I wasn’t sure if I was going to touch him on the outside. I was a bit occupied,” Jones laughed.
“The car got a little bit loose mid to exit. I was kind of expecting to hit him, but fortunately I didn’t. I wasn’t sure if I had enough room. I could see I was gaining on him.
“Throughout this weekend we had a really weird thing with the gears. Our fifth and sixth are so close together and it’s always hard to decide which one to be in. I chose sixth maybe a hundred meters off the last corner. I was coming and coming, but just not enough.”
Perhaps the only solace – if any – Jones could take away from the loss there was that the Freedom 100 hasn’t been a harbinger of title success.
In the last five years, the only two drivers who’ve won the Freedom 100 and the title in the same year were Josef Newgarden (2011) and Gabby Chaves (2014). Both are now full-time regulars in IndyCar. Additionally, 2012, 2013 and 2015 Freedom 100 winners Esteban Guerrieri, Peter Dempsey and Jack Harvey have not started an IndyCar race.
For Jones, he’s still able to think big picture going into this weekend.
“It’s going to take me a few days to get over that, but yeah throughout the race I saw other guys drop off and those were the two guys behind me in the championship (Santiago Urrutia and Kyle Kaiser). Obviously Dean is up there as well now.
“I thought, I was trying for the win, but I wasn’t going to take too many unnecessary risks because of how things fell on that last lap after the safety car. I actually got a good run and I took the lead.
“We have to think of the big picture and I did for a little bit under the safety car period. I’ll probably be thankful I didn’t throw it off.”
Jones has tested at Road America before and as he makes his track race debut there this weekend, should be well poised and determined to get back to his winning ways from earlier this year.