By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Prior to Belle Isle the sophomore slump had plagued Chip Ganassi Racing driver Ed Jones.
In the first six races of the Verizon IndyCar Series season, the former Dale Coyne Racing shoe failed to finish three races, including last Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 – where he was transported to the hospital after a Turn 1 crash.
Jones soldiered onto Detroit to turn his season around. In the end the United Arab Emirates native did just that – providing a quiet, consistent run.
Last year’s Verizon IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year improved from his 11th starting spot to finish sixth in Saturday’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix Race No. 1 at Belle Isle Park.
The top 10 was Jones’ best result at Belle Isle, and helped him gain five spots in the championship standings. He now sits 13th, 43 points behind Simon Pagenaud for tenth.
Jones and teammate Scott Dixon started the race on the alternate red tires and were the last two to pit for primaries on Lap 25. Prior of his stop, Jones was up to third.
“Obviously we didn’t have the greatest qualifying. It was still good for us in 11th, and we could move forward,” Jones said of his opening stint. “We had a decent start. We were really strong on the reds in comparison to other people, especially on how long we could keep our pace. That helped us out a lot early on.”
Jones crept his way up to sixth before the halfway point, and was able to crack the top-five on Lap 45, when he moved up to fourth during a cycle of green flag stops. He dropped to fifth after Rossi passed him before a single-car crash by Graham Rahal brought out the first full-course caution.
Jones lost fifth to Takuma Sato after the cleanup, conceding the position to the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing ace on Lap 54. He stayed there for the remainder of the race, riding along while teammate Dixon went on to score his first win of the season and 42nd triumph of his IndyCar career.
“It was a tough race for everyone, but we made good progress. It was great for the (No.) 9 team to win a race,” Jones said. “Now we’re going to try to progress in qualifying tomorrow, hopefully be up front and try to make it a 1-2 for Chip Ganassi Racing.”
Jones described working with Dixon and finding ways to craft his own driving style.
“We always look at each other’s data. Scott’s on top of his game,” Jones explained. “He’s been really quick from the get-go this weekend, this track really suits his style. I’m really trying to adapt my style to what he does here to improve myself.”
The second leg of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix will take place tomorrow. Last year in the event Jones’ car stalled with 10 laps to go, relegating him to a 22nd-place finish after coming home in ninth the day before.
Compared to his last three underwhelming results, where he finished 20th or worse due to unfortunate circumstances, Jones felt his team was capable of bouncing back.
“I think we always knew we could do this,” he said. “At Barber (Motorsports Park) were on for a top five until the engine gave up. Indy we were in for an easy top 10 until I got a double-puncture on the last yellow.
“We knew we had the pace. It’s been a bit frustrating with some of the races recently, but we’re going to get back up there and hopefully fight for a top five through the rest of the season.”