Team owner Dale Coyne considered Ed Jones the most pleasant surprise he’s ever experienced in a young driver.
While sold on the 2016 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires champion’s talent, Coyne thought Jones would experience more growing pains in his rookie year in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Jones admitted he encountered his share of them, but impressed with five top-10 finishes on his way to earning Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors.
The obvious highlight was his best finish in the season’s biggest race, when Jones came in third at the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.
“I loved it,” Jones said. “Indy was amazing, just the whole process. Doing something like that, it’s always the best the first time you do it. When you’re naive to things or when you haven’t experienced something for the first time, it’s always going to be even more special. I’m glad it was a good result. I’m going to cherish that forever and look back on it as a great time. I’m just thankful for the opportunity I’ve been given. Hopefully I can be fighting in a similar position in the years to come.”
“That’s important for me, when it came down to the most stressful part, the most challenging thing, I was able to fight for it and I kept my composure. I was pleased that I was able to do that and show to everyone out there that I can perform at that level.”
Coyne and Jones said they’re talking about a new contract for 2018 and each sounded confident they will get a deal done for Jones to return behind the wheel of the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda.
“I did not think he would do this well this year,” Coyne said. “He’s really done a great job. I’m pretty sure we’ll get something done.”
Coyne was excited about Jones after an initial test.
“When you take a rookie to his first test, you usually know right away what you're going to get,” Coyne said. “That's been pretty straightforward everywhere we go. We ran a rookie once named Paul Tracy. First day in his test, he was three seconds faster than Danny Sullivan. A little hard on the car, but three seconds faster. He turned out to be that way, incredibly fast, but took him a while to calm down, not tear cars up, gearboxes.
“The biggest surprise with Ed was his race craft. When we got to the tracks, he's never crashed this year, he's had a couple little spins but never crashed. So that's very welcomed on our team because we crashed plenty with the other car.”
After teammate Sebastien Bourdais crashed while qualifying for the Indy 500, Jones kept his composure despite his mentor being hospitalized. Bourdais, a four-time Indy car series champion, was impressed by how his rookie teammate handled himself.
“Ed has been super solid, especially on the superspeedways,” Bourdais said. “He’s learning. He just has to keep growing into that. He’s definitely got a lot of potential.
“He’s a down-to-earth guy and pretty smart about it. He’s not cocky about anything. He definitely has what it takes to succeed.”
Jones finished 10th in his series debut in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, then was sixth in his next start at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. In addition to placing third at Indy, he was ninth in the first Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear race and seventh in the KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America.
The 22-year-old driver from Dubai ended up 14th in the series points.
“It’s gone well,” Jones said, after accepting his Sunoco Rookie of the Year trophy the day before the season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma. “I feel like there were a lot of opportunities which maybe I missed and should have done better, but that’s going to be expected. Your rookie season, you’re learning a lot and you’re going to make mistakes.
“The key is to learn as much as I could this year and do as well as possible. Yeah, I’ve given it everything. If I can have another go of it next year, I feel I’ll be even stronger and fight for even better results.”
He had hoped to finish in the top 10 in points.
“Halfway through the season, we were on track to doing that,” he said. “We had a good opportunity to do it. The last few races, things have maybe not gone to plan.
“But I feel like as a driver, I got stronger. Early on in the season, I had some really great results. I was driving well, but also a lot of things fell my way. I was pretty lucky in that sense. Now I think we've gotten better, me as a driver, also bonding with the team. We got stronger, but things just haven't gone our way.”
As Coyne and Bourdais continually reminded, the learning curve is a process. Jones showed he could adapt quickly.
“Every time I get to every weekend, even every session, I remember (the advice) was try to learn as much as you can, take it step by step,” Jones said.
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