A fourth place finish was all that Ed Jones needed at Laguna Seca on Sunday, the finale of the 2016 Indy Lights season, with the Dubai-born Briton denying Santiago Urrutia by just two points.
The Carlin driver was on course to lose out to the Uruguayan until his team-mate Felix Serralles allowed Jones through into fourth to clinch the title, and he could not have been happier especially against a strong-looking Indy Lights field.
“What an amazing feeling!” said Jones. “I think it’s fair to say this season has been one of the hardest ever in Indy Lights, with such a high calibre of drivers and teams and seven different race-winners.
“Santi in particular has been a fierce rival all year – we’ve enjoyed some fantastic racing and it’s been a really close and exciting battle for the title.”
Jones was unable to match the pace of Zach Veach on Saturday but his second place finish gave him the advantage heading into Sunday’s finale, and although he found himself shuffled down the pack at the start at Laguna Seca, he was able to come through to clinch the title.
“Laguna Seca is a classic American circuit and the perfect setting for a showdown, and having been strong there last year, I knew we would be in with a really good shout,” revealed Jones.
“Although the stakes were obviously sky-high, I tried to treat it like any other race weekend and not get caught up in the emotion of it all. We focussed firmly on the job in-hand, which was to score more points than Urrutia – and that’s exactly what we achieved.
“Qualifying was hectic to say the least, but we lined up ahead of Santi for both races so that was the first box ticked, and whilst we didn’t quite have the pace to challenge the leader on Saturday, we knew what we needed to do and we followed that plan to the letter. Veach was always there, but we had him under control.
“On Sunday, I got a good start but there were a few drivers out there who tried to take advantage of our situation by pulling some risky moves and Zach could afford to gamble going into the first corner because he was aware I had everything to lose. Knowing fifth position would not be enough, I concentrated all my efforts on gaining ground and we pulled it off in the end.”
Carlin are relative newcomers to the American racing scene, and Jones has heaped praise on the sophomore outfit for giving him the machinery to clinch the title having himself followed the team and made the switch over from European racing at the beginning of 2015.
“As a team, we’ve worked so hard over the last two years, and it’s incredible to get the reward we deserve,” said Jones. “I’m immensely proud of everybody involved.
“With the reputation that Carlin has in Europe, there was inevitably a certain expectation that they would carry that form over to Indy Lights, but I think a lot of people underestimate just how tough it is here – not to mention how different the racing is!
“It’s easy to forget that Carlin is still relatively new to competing on this side of the Pond, so for them to win the championship in only their second season is hugely impressive and I owe them a massive ‘thank you’ for giving me such a great car throughout. At the end of the day, this is a team sport and this title is for all of us.”
Jones’ title victory now gives him $1million towards a ride in the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2017, with three rides guaranteed including in the Indianapolis 500 in May, which he insists is a dream come true, although he is working to make turn it into a full-time entry.
“To now have a guaranteed shot at IndyCar is absolutely mega and testament to the Mazda Road to Indy’s success as a genuine ladder of promotion,” said Jones.
“It will be a dream come true to line up on the grid for the Indy 500. It’s the biggest race in the world, and I really don’t think the reality of it all has sunk in yet.
“Our target is obviously to contest the full 2017 season and we are working hard to accomplish that, but for the moment at least, we’ve got some celebrating to do…”