LONDON, April 7 - Europe has always been the hotbed of formula car racing. One young American with high hopes for a career as an Indy car or Formula 1 driver, Jeffrey Jones of Casey Key, Fla., plans to hone his skills there this season on the tough Formula Renault 2000 (FR2000) circuit, which opens its season this weekend at Brands Hatch, England.
As if being a Yankee in fields of over 30 top drivers from around the world isn't enough, at age 17 Jones will be the youngest driver in the series, according to Simon North, the Renault Championship manager.
His tender age didn't stop the top team in the series, England's Manor Motorsport, from signing the rising star. Jones impressed the team's owner last year when he competed in the British and European Formula Ford series for Haywood Racing, especially when he finished fifth in a field of 65 at Spa Francorchamps in Belgium.
"I'm very excited to have signed with Manor Motorsport, which has won the Formula Renault Sport Championship five times," Jones said. "I'm fully committed to this team, and my sponsors and I know that there is much to be learned here. I'm looking forward to the challenge."
Manor Motorsport will enter Jones in events carrying points for both the British and the European FR2000 championships this season. The series, which was formerly called Formula Renault Sport, will hold its first race of the new season this Sunday, April 9, at Brands Hatch.
Although the car will be new to him, Jones has competed at the historic Brands Hatch circuit in the past. In September he was the only American entered in the Formula Ford World Cup Festival at Brands Hatch out of approximately 150 entries, and ran as high as second despite having the flu that day.
This weekend he'll be on Brands Hatch's larger Grand Prix track, however, which is new to the young charger. Another challenge will be the car itself, as the series features brand-new cars this year and very little testing has been done with them yet.
His sponsors include JCI, PVS Chemicals, Winchester Ammunitions, Yogurt Delight and Dyam Design. His racing program also promotes the Make A Wish Foundation for children with terminal illnesses.
The winner of the series' championship will earn a test drive in a Williams Renault Grand Prix car plus a prize worth 30,000 pounds, or about $48,000.
All of the events are televised in Europe.
"We're all in the same boat, so we'll just have to sort things out as quickly as we can this weekend," noted Jones of the open-wheel cars, which can obtain a top speed of approximately 160 miles per hour.
Two confidence-boosters for Jones were his performances in twin SCCA national events in January at two different tracks in his home state of Florida, Sebring and Moroso. Driving a U.S. Formula 2000 Van Diemen prepped by Cape Motorsports, he broke track records, won the pole for both events and then won each race flag-to-flag.
Belying his youth, Jones is taking a philosophical approach to the new racing season overseas. When asked if he had any goals for the new year, he said, "The things you learn when racing are things you never plan on. That's not the way the sport works. You have to make split-second decisions and you don't get a second chance with any of them. I'm just going to continue to try to improve on my race craft and do the best I can."
Jones' website is under construction at www.jeffreyjones.net. Other information can be obtained on the team's website at www.manormotorsport.com.
Jones' schedule, which is subject to change, is as follows:
<pre> British Formula Renault 2000 Championship
April 8-9 Brands Hatch (GP) April 23-24 Donington Park (Nat) April 30-May 1 Thruxton May 13-14 Knockhill May 28-29 Oulton Park (IsI) June 10-11 Silverstone (Int) June 24-25 Croft July 8 Snetterton July 29 -30 Donington Park (GP) Aug. 27-28 Brands Hatch (Indy) Sept. 9-10 Oulton Park (IsI) Sept. 16 Silverstone (Int)
European Formula Renault 2000 Championship
April 16 Mugello May 14 Zandvoort June 25 Monza July 16 Donington Park Aug. 6 Nurburgring Sept. 24 Spa Oct. 8 Valencia Oct. 22 Magny Cours Nov. (TBA) Renault Finals - TBA