INDIANAPOLIS – Fernando Alonso has hogged the headlines as the top rookie – albeit in name only – for this year’s 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.
But the Verizon IndyCar Series’ lone full-season rookie, Ed Jones, has been the revelation of the month of May and a potential spoiler in the works in today’s race.
The first driver from the United Arab Emirates to compete in the Indy 500 will roll off from 11th place in the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda for Dale Coyne Racing.
This is the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion’s first big oval race and the adjustment period to this full month has been something Jones has coped with well.
“It’s such a long month. It’s very tiring. And you try to rest as much as you can to be honest,” Jones told NBC Sports. “On those days off you rest, because it’s been so much driving – a week straight, and you have to be as efficient as you can on track. You have a lot of distractions.
“But it’s great the event is so big. There’s a lot I learned from Seb, which has been a massive help.”
Seb, of course, is Sebastien Bourdais – injured a little over a week ago but already having since been released from hospital and back at IMS today to have met his crew and met the media.
Jones’ steely resolve and determination shone through as he got back in the car after Bourdais’ crash with no visible signs of being affected by it.
“I think it was a massive crash. But he was so lucky. He’s in a lot of pain, but it could have been a lot worse,” Jones said.
“We all know it’s a part of racing. When you’re pushing the limits here, the margin for error is so small. Accidents are very costly. You hate to see it. But it’s part of racing. I felt confident going out, and going quick again.”
Jones was a hard luck second in the 2016 Freedom 100 to Dean Stoneman by just 0.0024 of a second. Racing in the ‘500 is something that he relishes for the challenge of it and for what he has had to learn and comprehend.
“It’s a lot more intense now. It’s very tough! There’s lot more attention on what you do,” he said.
“But it’s about getting through. I’m really looking forward to the race. There’s so many things to think about. It’s even things like coming into pits off Turn 4, you’re getting tired, that gets tricky.”
Team owner Coyne has hailed Jones’ performance all year, and particularly at Indianapolis this month.
“Ed’s had a very good month. He’s done a tremendous job,” Coyne told NBC Sports.
“To come in here and qualify 11th as a rookie, the job he’s done all year. He’s been a very pleasant surprise. We knew he was a good racer, but we did not know he was a good qualifier! He’s turned out to be both, and he raced harder than in Indy Lights. He’s doing a very good job.”
Jones is one of three traditional rookies who got their training in the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires. He starts 11th while Jack Harvey starts 27th and Zach Veach starts 32nd.
Oh, and about that “other” rookie who rolls off fifth? Jones, like the Honey Badger, doesn’t give a you-know-what about Alonso. He just wants to beat him, same as another competitor on track. After all, Alexander Rossi won as a rookie from 11th on the grid last year.
“It can be annoying. But at the end of the day, I can’t do anything about that.
“If I beat the other rookies – and that includes him – people will notice me more.”