Ed Jones says that he wants a full-time ride in IndyCar next year, above and beyond his guaranteed three-race prize for winning the 2016 Indy Lights championship.
As part of his Mazda Road To Indy prize for winning the Lights title, the Dubai-born Briton is guaranteed three races in the Verizon IndyCar Series next year, including the Indianapolis 500.
However, Jones says he is working hard to parlay that into a full season, and he confirmed he would remain in U.S. racing.
He told Motorsport.com: “Yes, I can tell you absolutely 100 percent I’m going to be racing in America. Ovals have become my favorite thing now, so I have to race in a series with ovals!
“The idea is to find the best IndyCar deal possible that gives me the most races possible, and there are a lot of drivers available and not many seats left. There are three teams we’re talking to; we’re narrowing it down. We have to at this stage.”
Although he didn’t wish to go into who those rides might be with, Jones did acknowledge that Carlin Racing, with whom he won the Indy Lights crown, would be his top choice. The drawback is that as yet, the team has not yet committed to expanding to IndyCar next season.
He said: “Carlin are trying really hard to make the step up, and I’d loved to make the move with Carlin because I’ve spent the last three seasons there [one year in European Formula 3, two in Indy Lights].
"To carry that on into IndyCar would be amazing and it would be a great story. So that’s something I’d love to do, but we’re still working on it.”
Asked if there was a deadline by which he’d have to know from Carlin whether the team was indeed expanding to IndyCar, Jones replied: “Well, the other available seats are running out so we need to know in the next few weeks.”
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, which ran Jones in tests at Sonoma in 2015 and Watkins Glen in 2016 is thought to be one option, although RLLR team owner Bobby Rahal ran last year’s Lights champion Spencer Pigot for the three Mazda-funded prize races last season and felt it didn’t help the RLLR program overall.
Larry Foyt, in what will be a rebuilding year for AJ Foyt Racing, has ruled out running a rookie alongside Carlos Munoz.
Given Jones’ taste for ovals, he’s unlikely to jump at the chance to drive the #20 Ed Carpenter Racing entry for the road/street course events. Thus aside from Carlin, the unlikely options available to Jones appear to be the #8 Chip Ganassi Racing entry, replacing his former Carlin teammate Max Chilton, or a third entry from Schmidt Peterson, the team Jones beat somewhat controversially to the Lights title.
However, like RLLR, SPM would need to pay for an extra engine lease to add Jones to their programs.
“Comfortable” in an IndyCar
One factor strongly in Jones’ favor as he seeks an IndyCar ride is the extra test days available to rookies. From Oct. 3 through April 6, teams are allowed just three test days, with rookie drivers receiving an additional four – five if they’re Indy Lights drivers.
Jones has stated this is crucial also to him as a driver. He said: “The objective of the two IndyCar test days at Sonoma last year and Watkins Glen this year was to get laps for the team. I feel that when I next get with a team and test, I’ll be able to do laps that are a lot more gainful for me and I can make much bigger steps.
“But I felt comfortable, and I’m sure after a day or two in the car I’ll be up to speed. It does take time to get a handle on an IndyCar. Some people think it’s easy because it’s got so much downforce and is slightly underpowered, but in fact it’s difficult to extract the most out of a car like that. Luckily, I feel like the way to drive it really suits my driving style.
“It’s so hard for rookies to get the time to feel comfortable with the car where they can push to their limit during qualifying, so something I’ve really focused on the past few years has been getting the most of out of new tires right away.”