Jones: ‘Satisfying’ to see potential, success recognized by Ganassi

Photo: IndyCar

Ed Jones’ somewhat meteoric rise into the No. 10 NTT Data Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing in the Verizon IndyCar Series comes after a wealth of potential displayed both in his Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires career, then last season as the top rookie in the IndyCar championship.

Jones was a perhaps surprise arrival to Dale Coyne Racing for the 2017 season but excelled in his opportunity throughout the season. Obviously his result at the Indianapolis 500, third place in a damaged car, stood out greatest in a year he was overshadowed for the race rookie of the year honors to Fernando Alonso.

Alas, what he showed to the paddock at large was that his training from the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires and at Coyne’s team delivered a nearly complete prospect ready for a massive opportunity such as driving the No. 10 car, a car with a championship-winning pedigree alongside Scott Dixon in the No. 9 car.

Understanding the magnitude of the seat but also being humble enough to realize he still has more to learn and quickly in a top-flight car, Jones knows he’s in a position where he can thrive.

“It’s been a very quick progression. I think everything has gone to plan, if not better than that,” Jones admitted Thursday during a teleconference.

“It’s just about maintaining that hard work and embracing the group of people I’m going to have around me and learning from the wealth of knowledge and experience that comes from this team.

“So going to take it in my stride, you know, take everything in. I realize that I have a fantastic opportunity to win races and fight at the front the whole year in 2018. That’s my aim. We’re going to do everything we can to make that happen.”

Jones went from being expected back at Coyne’s team for a second season to shifting into Ganassi’s No. 10 car in rapid time.

This week has spoke the largest volumes, as Brendon Hartley’s potential IndyCar bow got sidetracked with a different opportunity when Scuderia Toro Rosso came calling for a Formula 1 drive. That started at Circuit of The Americas last week and has grown into the rest of this season this week, with a permanent number selection all but an official sign of a full-season seat set in 2018.

The 22-year-old Dubai-based Brit was understandably surprised that the Ganassi seat became available, but jumped at it knowing he felt ready for the chance.

“Initially it was a bit of a surprise,” he said. “At the same time I felt that I worked really hard for this. I tried to prove what I could do. They’ve acknowledged that. Surprising on one hand, but on the other hand it was very satisfying that they had realized my potential.”

Jones, who excelled in Indy Lights’ Dallara IL-15 Mazda for two seasons, should mirror fellow past Indy Lights champion Spencer Pigot in excelling with the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit. The new IndyCar body kit is rather similar to the new Indy Lights and rewards those with an aggressive nature on the brakes.

“I think the car, overall it has a lot less downforce, so it’s going to be a different driving style as to how the car was this year. And so I’m really looking forward to that challenge. Like you said, it should be more similar to the Indy Lights car in a sense, so that could help me,” he said.

“In addition to that, for the whole team, it’s a new starting point. What makes this a great opportunity for teams, you know, for me to be with Chip Ganassi Racing, I think the team has one of the best resources out of the whole field. They’re going to have a great go at making the car perform really well from the get-go. It’s a perfect place for me to be at right now.”

And then, of course, there’s Dixon being in the other car – Jones’ second straight four-time champion as a teammate after Sebastien Bourdais.

Jones was complimentary of Bourdais’ feedback and insight all year, and knows that by working with Dixon, he’s working with a second straight legend in IndyCar’s history.

“Scott is a legend of IndyCar racing. Been so successful over the years. He’s one of if not the best person you can learn from. So I’m really going to take advantage of that, try and scrape every bit of knowledge out of him, and take it to my advantage,” he said.

“What I found really different, what Sebastien did very well, he knew a lot about the car, what setup changes to make, things like that. He knew as soon as he went out, he could tell it very quickly just from the experience he’s gained. That was something where I really tried to work hard on to improve that. As you can see, it’s very beneficial.

“In every aspect, there’s different things to learn. I think from Scott, you know, he’s proven to be one of the best in the sport. So, yeah, I’m sure I’m going to pick up a lot on his driving, areas where I can improve myself. I think his driving style, looking at it from the outside, it seems quite the opposite to how I usually drive, so it will be a great place for me to learn how he drives that way and how I can work it into my own driving, make myself better.”

Lastly there’s a bit of pressure on Jones as another MRTI driver in a high-profile situation, but his leap into one of the pre-eminent seats in the series speaks volumes of the ladder’s training and development.

Along with defending IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden at Team Penske, Pigot at Ed Carpenter Racing, Gabby Chaves at Harding Racing and Kyle Kaiser at Juncos Racing, Jones is one of five of the last seven Indy Lights champions set to feature on the IndyCar grid next year – and that’s to go along with a number of other recent graduates spread throughout as well.

“It was a perfect scenario for me coming from Europe to the States. Gave me a clear goal. I knew what I had to achieve,” Jones said.

“If I achieved that, I’d have a chance at IndyCar. That’s exactly what it gave me. It gave me not only that, but a great learning place for the skills, all the experience you need to do well in IndyCar.

“I’m really thankful for that. I’m sure there’s going to be many more drivers like myself coming through the ladder and doing well in IndyCar in years to come.”

Meyer Shank Racing wins Petit Le Mans to take final DPi championship in dramatic finale

Petit Le Mans championship

Meyer Shank Racing outdueled Wayne Taylor Racing to win the Petit Le Mans and clinch the championship in a thrilling final race for the DPi division.

Tom Blomqvist, who started from the pole position, drove the No. 60 Acura ARX-05 to a 4.369-second victory over Pipo Derani in the No. 31 Action Express Cadillac.

With co-drivers Oliver Jarvis and Helio Castroneves, Blomqvist helped MSR bookend its season-opening victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona by winning Saturday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale at Michelin Road Atlanta.

In between those two victories, the No. 60 earned five runner-up finishes to stay in the thick of the championship hunt and trail WTR’s No. 10 Acura by 14 points entering Saturday’s race.

WTR’s Filipe Albuquerque had a lead of more than 10 seconds over Blomqvist with less than 50 minutes remaining in the 10-hour race.

But a Turn 1 crash between the Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillacs brought out a yellow that sent both Acuras into the pits from the top two positions.

Though he entered in second, Blomqvist barely beat Albuquerque out of the pits, and he held the lead for the final 45 minutes.

Albuquerque closed within a few car lengths of Blomqvist with 14 minutes remaining, but he damaged his suspension because of contact with a GT car in Turn 1.

It’s the third consecutive runner-up finish in the points standings for Wayne Taylor Racing, which won the first Daytona Prototype international championship in 2017. The premier category will be rebranded as the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class with the LMDh cars that will establish a bridge to racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Kamui Kobayashi finished third in the No. 48 Cadillac of Action Express that also includes Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.

The podium showing marked Johnson’s last scheduled race in IMSA’s top prototype division. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion has raced in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac lineup as the Action Express entry has run the Endurance Cup races.

Johnson said a lack of inventory will preclude him having a 2023 ride in the top category. But he still is hopeful of racing the Garage 56 Next Gen Camaro in next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and possibly running in a lower class for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“I’d love to be at Le Mans next year,” Johnson told NBC Sports’ Dillon Welch after his final stint Saturday. “I’d love to be at the Rolex 24. The series is going through a shake-up with the reconfiguration of the rules and classes, so I don’t have anything locked down yet, but I’m so thankful for this experience with Action. The support Ally has given us, Mr. Hendrick, Chad Knaus, all of Hendrick Motorsports. It’s been a fun two years, and I certainly hope I’m on the grid again next year.”