THRUXTON, England, May 8 - With a quarter of the British Formula Renault 2000 Championship already in the books, 17-year-old Jeffrey Jones of Casey Key, Fla., is a solid sixth in the point standings despite being the youngest driver entered in the series.
Even more importantly, the young American has been turning the heads of veteran European railbirds and fans alike. They're noticing his talent, his commitment, his dynamite Manor Motorsport team and the colorful decals on his immaculate Tatuus that promote his sponsors: JCI, PVS Chemicals, Winchester Ammunitions, Yogurt Delight, Dyam Design and the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Jones was named the "Elf Driver of the Day" at the most recent event, held on the 2.356-mile road course at Thruxton here May 1. The award, sponsored by engine lubricant supplier Elf, carried a monetary prize of 100 pounds and was given "to the driver judged to have made the best overall sporting performance during the meeting."
Jones qualified ninth for that event and finished eighth, but he was later credited with seventh when the third-place driver was disqualified. Officially Kimi Raikkonen won the event over Ryan Dalziel, Leighton Walker, Carl Breeze, Charles Hall, Tom Sisley and Jones.
Tires were the primary topic of conversation at Thruxton. The track had been recently resurfaced, but excessive tire blistering proved to be a problem for the Formula Renault 2000 teams almost immediately. Due "to force majeure," the race organizers ruled that the 12-lap event would be split into two sections of six laps each so that the cars' tires could be examined for blistering at the halfway point. At the end of the race the result was compiled from an aggregate of the two six-lap sections.
Jones got squeezed at the start of the first six-lapper in the first turn but he held on gamely. He didn't push things in the first half because he wanted to try to save his tires, and when the second half began he was still in ninth. He got eighth on lap one of the second six-lapper and things stayed pretty much the same until the end, which is lucky because after the race the Manor Motorsport team discovered that Jones' left-rear tire had blistered sometime during the second half.
The tire problem affected qualifying too. When several competitors complained, officials brought the field to the pits 15 minutes into the session to inspect the rubber. Jones was fifth-fastest at that point and his tires seemed to be fine, so he wasn't allowed to change to fresh ones. Right after qualifying resumed he did blister both of his rear tires, however, so he dropped from fifth to ninth in the starting line-up for Monday's race.
"I wanted to have a trouble-free weekend, but because of so many problems with the tires blistering, I never got that very fastest lap in," Jones noted. "The races were good, but I lost touch with the lead pack due to slower cars making moves to the outside of the first corner. A lot of people who qualified behind me used the outside groove because the chicane is tricky and you can pass there, but then they held me up. With only six laps per race, that made for very little time to catch those out front. It was a difficult situation for everyone, and I'm thankful to be sixth in points for the championship."
Jones' next race in the British series is slated for May 13-14 at Knockhill. He is also competing in the European Formula Renault 2000 Championship this season.
For more information, Internet surfers can call up www.jeffreyjones.net or www.manormotorsport.com.