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Ed Jones hails “fantastic” second IndyCar test with RLL

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One of the protagonists seeking to secure this year’s Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship, Ed Jones, got a bit of extra track time that might help him going into the second-to-last weekend of the Indy Lights season in a car he hopes to be driving full-time next year.

The 21-year-old Dubai-based Brit stepped aboard Graham Rahal’s No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda as part of an Indy Lights driver test day at Watkins Glen International, one of four Indy Lights drivers to do so. The others were Andretti Autosport teammates Dean Stoneman, Dalton Kellett and Shelby Blackstock.

This was Jones’ second IndyCar test day, and like at Sonoma last year, it was with RLL. The Watkins Glen test gave him an opportunity to sample the resurfaced upstate New York road course, where Indy Lights will race alongside the Verizon IndyCar Series on Labor Day weekend.

“It was fantastic to climb back into the cockpit of an IndyCar, and I owe a huge thanks to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing for placing their confidence in me and affording me the opportunity,” Jones said afterwards. “Watkins Glen is such an iconic circuit, and its fast-and-flowing nature really showcases the IndyCar’s incredible downforce. I settled straight back into the groove and felt comfortable pretty much immediately, which was really positive and it was great to work with the team again.

“We’ve made no secret of the fact that moving up to IndyCar is our principal objective for next season, so the more track time I can get in one between now and then, the more prepared I will be to take that step because I learn more every time I go out. It’s notoriously difficult with the funding required and limited number of seats, but we’ve spoken to a couple of teams with regard to 2017 and are exploring all potential options.”

RLL team manager Ricardo “Rico” Nault said Jones did all that was asked of him and then some.

“Ed did a fine job for us,” Nault said. “He methodically got up-to-speed and never put a wheel off. The team hadn’t been to Watkins Glen with an IndyCar since we won there in 2008, and it has changed a lot since then – the track has recently been repaved and it is much faster. Ed found that the car was reasonably balanced to start with, but he was able to provide good feedback that allowed us to make it even quicker.

“The way the IndyCar rules are structured, we needed Ed to complete as many laps as possible. This left him to put in long stints and run the tyres longer than a fuel load but even under these conditions, he still produced good times on old rubber. This is a very demanding track and Ed was able to keep up with it physically. All told, we are very happy with the job he did for us and we thank him for his efforts.”

RLL has been back to a single-car full-time team since 2014, although Graham Rahal made no secret of the fact at the Mid-Ohio weekend he’d like to see the team resume with a second car full-time.

Rahal posted an on-board video of Watkins Glen, and it looks crazy fast.

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).