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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.

Penske won’t discuss if Castroneves returns to Indy in 2020

Bruce Martin Photo
Bruce Martin Photo
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INDIANAPOLIS – NBC Sports.com asked Indianapolis 500 winning team owner Roger Penske if three-time Indy winner Helio Castroneves would return to the team in 2020?

Penske immediately brushed off the question.

“We’re not going to talk about that right now,” Penske told NBC Sports.com. “I’m just not going to talk about it. We’re going to have a meeting about it before we decide, but I’m not going to talk about that right now.

“Simon won the race and that is what I’m focused on right now.”

Simon Pagenaud, gave Penske a record-extending 18thIndy 500 win on Sunday. Penske confirmed that Pagenaud will be back with the team in 2020 after he scored his first win in Sunday’s 103rdIndianapolis 500.

Castroneves was an NTT IndyCar Series regular at Team Penske from 2000 until the 2017 season. After that, Castroneves was shifted over to the team’s Acura IMSA Sports Car program, but the three-time Indy 500 winner was given a ride at both races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway the past two years.

The popular driver from Brazil is trying to join AJ Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as four-time Indy 500 winners.

But the whispers in Gasoline Alley indicate his future with Team Penske at Indy remain uncertain.

“I’ve heard the rumors, too,” Castroneves told NBC Sports.com on pit lane after his disappointing finish in the Indy 500. “I will definitely give it a good, hard think about coming back in 2020. I want to be the rest of the season, here.”

But, will Castroneves run the Indy 500 again?

“Who knows?” Castroneves told NBC Sports.com. “Let’s see what happens.”

Castroneves’s bid for a fourth Indianapolis 500 was derailed in a pit road incident after his first pit stop when he ran into James Davison’s Chevrolet on the team’s first pit stop on Lap 30.

The front wing of Castroneves’s Chevrolet was damaged and INDYCAR officials gave him a “Drive Through” penalty for “Avoidable Contact.” Castroneves would ultimate drop three laps down but finished one lap down in 18thplace.

Castroneves explained what happened to him earlier in the race and how it affected the rest of his Indy 500.

“The accident that happened in the pits hurt us for sure,” Castroneves explained. “We had a problem with the fuel mapping, and I couldn’t go over 200 miles an hour for four or five laps. We lost 35 seconds. There was a bug in the system.

“Then, we went back out and that was it. I wasn’t able to recoup after that. I was excited. The car was very, very good entering the race.”

Castroneves spoke with second-place finisher Alexander Rossi, who was furious with the driver from Brazil earlier in the race for not moving out of the way, even though he was three laps down at the time.

The two drivers hugged, and Castroneves walked back up pit lane.

“I did what the team told me to do, and they told me to go as fast as I could,” Castroneves explained after talking to Rossi. “It’s racing and everybody is upset they didn’t win.”

Castroneves hopes his walk up pit lane is not the final time as an Indy 500 competitor.

But it could be.

“I hope I can come back next year,” Castroneves said. “I’m really upset as a competitor, but extremely happy for Team Penske and for Simon Pagenaud for winning the race.

“The good news is I go back to the Acura sports car, but I will be dreaming about coming back here again.”