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Ed Jones ‘comfortable’ while still learning at first IndyCar oval test

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The only new driver to the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2017, Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion Ed Jones, had a busier test this past week at Phoenix International Raceway than most of the other 20 drivers in the field.

The driver of the No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda took his rookie test on Wednesday, banking about 120 laps to pass his first test as an official rookie participant this season.

Jones, who turned 22 on Sunday, then battled through lingering effects of mono on Saturday before resuming in the final evening session of the test to complete his running for the week. He left the track for a couple hours to rest up, but came back prior to the night session.

In the four official sessions, Jones completed 175 laps, but the number gets closer to 300 when you factor in the rookie day on Wednesday.

The Dubai-based Brit, whose U.S. home is in Miami, said he was more comfortable than he expected as he dealt with the heavier car, traffic and race-like conditions on an oval in anger for the first time.

“Overall it’s been a good couple of days,” Jones said. “The first session yesterday went really well but I struggled a little bit more in the night session when we were simulating race running. It was my first time running like that so it was a lot to take in. We were also practicing pit stops without laps and in laps.

“We knew it was going to be hard but I guess that it’s just part of the learning process and I’ll be better next time.”

Led by engineer Michael Cannon, Jones’ team opted for a more conservative program keeping the car in higher downforce configuration rather than trimming out any. Considering there were four crashes on Saturday, ensuring Jones brought the car home in one piece was a key for both him and the Coyne team.

“I feel comfortable in the car. I also think a lot of the guys went on low trim runs as well so that’s why they did so many quick times,” said Jones, whose best time of 19.5399 seconds (188.292 mph) ranked 18th in the 21-car field.

“We left it on high downforce the whole time making it hard to compare. I have some catching up to do on that side because I haven’t had that experience before but it’s all part of the learning curve.”

Teammate Sebastien Bourdais had a good test as well, working with his engineering group led by Craig Hampson and Olivier Boisson. The driver of the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda was ninth for the combined times, with a best time of 19.3236 seconds (190.399 mph) in 284 laps.

Coyne himself told NBC Sports this was a “good” test and he was relieved to have had the program finalized several months in advance, which has allowed the team to build for the rest of the season without any late delays.

Oliver Askew: ‘I was starting to lose confidence’ after ‘hardest hit I’ve had’

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Oliver Askew knew something was medically wrong in the days after concussion-like symptoms began from “the hardest hit I’ve ever had” in the Indianapolis 500. He’d been evaluated and cleared to race after the Aug. 23 crash, but he just didn’t feel right.

The IndyCar rookie told The Associated Press on Thursday he has been experiencing dizziness, sleeping difficulties, irritability, headaches and confusion since he crashed in the Aug. 23 race. He continued to race in four more events as he tried to “play through it” until friends and family encouraged him to seek medical treatment.

He since has been diagnosed with a concussion and is working on a recovery plan with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s sports medicine concussion program, the same place NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr. received care after concussions in 2012 and ’16. Askew will not compete in next weekend’s doubleheader on the road course at Indianapolis, and Arrow McLaren SP will put three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves in the No. 7 Chevrolet.

“This is all I’ve worked for,” the 23-year-old told AP. “I don’t come from money, and I’ve worked my way up and have finally gotten my shot in a good car. And then all of a sudden, the results just weren’t there in a car I knew should be performing. And I just didn’t feel like myself, you know?

“So initially I felt like I needed to stay in the car and continue to improve. And then I didn’t feel like I could do that with my condition and what was going on. I was starting to lose confidence in myself.”

Earnhardt praised Askew for going to Pittsburgh to see Dr. Micky Collins.

“Oliver is in the best hands when it comes to taking care of this problem and getting back on the racetrack. It was very smart of him to get in front of Micky so that he could understand the seriousness of the situation and begin the process of getting well,” Earnhardt said. “You can absolutely heal from this but not without taking the step of getting help. Often that’s the most difficult step.”

Athletes often hide injuries to continue competing, and even Earnhardt admittedly masked concussions during his driving career. Askew didn’t know what was wrong with him but was frightened to get out of the car.

He is a paid driver who brings no sponsorship money to the team (but did bring a $1 million scholarship for winning last year’s Indy Lights championship), and owner Sam Schmidt holds the option on his contract.

As he tried to race on, his performance suffered. Askew had finished third and sixth at Iowa — the previous two races before Indianapolis. After the crash, he was part of a multicar accident the next week at Gateway and has not finished higher than 14th in the four races since Indy.

A year after winning seven Indy Lights races, Askew has fallen from 12th to 18th in the standings and slipped considerably off the pace. He said he struggled in team debriefs, had difficulty giving feedback and has gone through a personality change that was noticeable to those close to Askew.

Spire Sports + Entertainment, which represents Askew and was among those who pushed the driver to see a doctor, noted Arrow McLaren SP did not reveal that Askew was suffering from a concussion in its Thursday announcement he would miss next week’s race.

“Oliver clearly demonstrated his talent until Lap 91 of the Indianapolis 500, and I hope this does not become another case study of why athletes do not tell their teams they are injured,” said agent Jeff Dickerson. “The reason they do that is because more often times than not they are replaced. In motorsports, there is always somebody to replace you, and whether it was Dale Jr. or Oliver Askew, there is always another driver available.

“I hope this is not a barrier to progress for other drivers — especially young drivers afraid of losing their job — to notify their teams they are hurt. I hope the team proves me wrong because the good news is, the kid has had a head injury for the past month and has still run 14th in IndyCar.”

After finally seeking medical treatment, Askew said he was relieved to learn there was something wrong. He said doctors told him the injury has a “100% recovery rate” and he believes he will be able to race in the IndyCar season finale next month at St. Petersburg. He’s been rehabilitating with exercises and tasks that strain the brain such as deliberately going to grocery stores and the airport.

“Honestly, you know, if I had not gone to see medical professionals I would probably stay in the car,” Askew said. “But now after hearing what’s wrong and that it could get worse, God forbid I have another hit, I know I did the right thing. I think I can be an example for young drivers now in stepping up and saying something is wrong, I need to have this checked out.”