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

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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.”

F1 Preview – 2018 French Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
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It’s hard to believe that the French Grand Prix, the oldest grand prix event on the planet, as it dates back to June of 1906, was ever removed from the Formula 1 calendar.

Alas, not since 2008 at Magny-Cours has Formula 1 held a race on French soil. Yet, that all changes this weekend, as Formula 1 visits the Circuit Paul Ricard for its first French race in a decade.

Formula 1 teams are not strangers to Paul Ricard. It has been a popular testing facility for years, as evidenced by the below photo from 2016, featuring Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari in a wet tire test.

LE CASTELLET, FRANCE – JANUARY 26: Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Scuderia Ferrari drives during wet weather tire testing at Circuit Paul Ricard on January 26, 2016 in Le Castellet, France. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

However, in terms of racing, Paul Ricard has also been absent from the calendar for quite a long time – the last time Formula 1 race at Paul Ricard was in 1990. Alain Prost won for Ferrari that day.

1990: Alain Prost of France punches the air in celebration after passing the chequered flag in his Scuderia Ferrari to win the French Grand Prix at the Paul Ricard circuit in Le Beausset, France. Mandatory Credit: Pascal Rondeau/Allsport

As such, despite being a known quantity as a testing facility, how a race weekend will shake out is anybody’s guess.

And what’s more, it marks the beginning of three consecutive race weekends – The French Grand Prix, The Austrian Grand Prix, and The British Grand Prix – which F1 teams and drivers are calling “the triple header.”

Talking points ahead of the French Grand Prix are below.

A Journey Into the Unknown?

Like all new venues, or resurrected and refurbished ones in this case, the Circuit Paul Ricard represents somewhat of an unknown, as there’s no available race data to make predictions off of.

And the 3.61-mile, 15-turn track itself represents a range of challenges. It has fast corners, like Turns 1 and 2 (S de la Verrerie), a technical section between Turns 3 and 7 (Virage de l’Hotel through the Mistral Straight Start), and a 1.1-mile straightaway in the Mistral Straight, though it is separated by a chicane (Turns 8 and 9).

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff discussed the challenge of the circuit, highlighting the lack of data to build off of as well the tough three-race stretch ahead as especially challenging, in a preview on Formula 1’s website.

“France should be an interesting race. We don’t often get to race on a track where we have little to no historical data. It makes preparing for the weekend a bit trickier than usual, but that element of the unknown also adds to the challenge. The French Grand Prix marks the first race of the triple header, which will test all F1 teams to their limits, but also offers the chance to score a lot of points over the course of three weeks – which is precisely what we’re setting out to do,” said Wolff.

That element of the unknown makes Paul Ricard one of the biggest wildcards on the 2018 F1 calendar, and a championship shake up could be in the cards as a result.

Ferrari, Mercedes Continue Their Back and Forth

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 25: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H leads Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 on track during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 25, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Ferrari and Mercedes have traded jabs throughout the 2018 season, with neither able to pull away from the other so far through seven races.

Sebastian Vettel enters the French Grand Prix with a one-point lead over Lewis Hamilton, and holds a slight edge in victories – three to Hamilton’s two – and comes off a thorough domination of the Canadian Grand Prix.

Vettel led every lap at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on his way to victory, while Valtteri Bottas had to carry the Mercedes flag in finishing second. Hamilton languished in fifth, a surprising and disappointing result given his previous success there.

The aforementioned Toto Wolff described it as a “wake up call,” though Mercedes will roll out a power unit upgrade this weekend – Ferrari and Renault, which also powers Red Bull Racing, rolled out upgrades of their own in Canada.

With four long straightaways present at Paul Ricard, power will certainly be at a premium, so such upgrades will be vital in giving Mercedes a chance to make amends after Canada’s disappointment.

Trio of French Drivers Look to Impress on Home Soil

It comes hardly as a surprise that the three French drivers – Romain Grosjean, Pierre Gasly, and Esteban Ocon – are keen to make an impression at their home race.

And all three could certainly use a boost. Gasly has only one finish inside the points (seventh in the Monaco Grand Prix) since his stellar fourth place effort in the Bahrain Grand Prix. Ocon is coming off back-to-back points finishes (sixth in Monaco, ninth in Canada), but he has only one other finish inside the points this year (tenth, in Bahrain). And Grosjean, despite showing the speed to finish in the points, is yet to score any in 2018.

As such, all three are hoping for big things in their home race this weekend.

“I want to get a good weekend, have some luck, get my first points of the season, and get a lot of support from the fans,” said Grosjean. “I think we should be in a nice place at Paul Ricard. I’m always looking forward to jumping back in the car. I just love driving an F1 car.”

Ocon, who has raced and won at Paul Ricard in the past, expects his prior experience could be a big help.

“I did race at Paul Ricard early in my career – it was actually where I had my first victory in single seaters in 2013 so I have some fantastic memories of the place,” Ocon described. “I hope we can add some more success this weekend. Having been there in the junior categories makes getting used to a new track in a Formula One car much easier. I think I will find my rhythm quite quickly.”

Gasly’s excitement level obviously matches that of his French compatriots, with the added bonus that the return coincides with his rookie F1 effort.

“For me it will be absolutely incredible that my first full season of Formula 1 coincides with the return of a French Grand Prix to the calendar for the first time in 10 years,” said Gasly. “That has to be a reason for me to be very happy and I’m really excited to be racing in my home country. I can tell it will be a special feeling going out on track and actually, I have spoken to Jean Alesi and Alain Prost about it and they both told me that it will feel really special and something that you really have to experience as a Frenchman racing in France.”

Qualifying for The French Grand Prix begins at 9:55 a.m. ET on Saturday, with Sunday’s race at 9:30 a.m. ET.

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