INTERVIEW. 2016 Indy Lights Champion Ed Jones (UAE)

From the kart tracks of Dubai to the Indianapolis 500, the UAE’s Ed Jones has risen to the very top of the racing ladder

On 12 March, 2017, Ed Jones will take to the IndyCar grid for the first time at the Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg in Florida. The streets of Florida are a long way from the UAE, where Ed was born, grew up and first found his talent for speed. The #19 Dale Coyne Racing-prepared Dallara DW12 is a world away from rental karts. But natural speed and a determination to compete and win have taken the 21-year-old to the top of the motorsport ladder.

Born in 1995 to Dubai-based British parents, Ed first sat in a kart at four years old. His father Russell, a former kart racer, introduced him to motorsport at the Jebel Ali kart track. Just for fun. 

“At first I was in one of the rental karts and at that time there were no other kids doing it,” Ed recalls. “But soon after that he bought me a kart and we started going really often.”

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Ed Jones spent his early years getting faster, even though there was no racing series in which to prove himself. Eventually, a UAE cadet karting championship began, but the grids were tiny, and having had several years of practice, Ed was considerably quicker than the competition. He proceeded to win multiple cadet and junior UAE karting championships. It was in 2008 when, as the UAE Rotax champion, he was awarded a place in the world finals in Italy, and for the first time could measure himself against drivers from around the globe.

“I had no idea what the standard was elsewhere, so I went in completely blind,” Ed says, “but it went really well. The first race was wet. I’d never driven in the wet in my life. By the third corner I was leading, led pretty much the whole race and finished second in the end. In the final I started 28th and finished eighth, with the fastest lap. That was our first experience outside Dubai and straight away we were competitive.”

Encouraged, Ed Jones travelled to Europe. “In 2010 I did the KF3 World Cup and finished second in the first final. I was racing [Max] Verstappen, [Esteban] Ocon, [Jake] Dennis, all these other guys that are now at the top as well, and I was the only driver in the top 35 that wasn’t part of a factory team.”

The success made it clear that Ed’s results hadn’t been flukes, and together with his family, he decided to move from karts to cars. At the age of 15, he sat in his first racing car – a Formula Renault – at the Kirkistown track in Northern Ireland. Suddenly he had wings, gears and a lot more machine to deal with. “I was just learning, trying to get up to speed but it went really well, Ed remembers. “It was difficult, but the hardest thing from moving to karts to cars is that it’s a lot heavier and a lot easier to spin.”

A season in Interstep Formula BMW taught Ed the ropes. “We realised it was important to have a good foundation before going into the top-level series,” he explains. “So we did one year of that in England and then moved over to Formula Renault and Formula 3.”

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Despite his natural speed, growing up in the UAE meant Ed Jones had missed years of vital racecraft practice against drivers of the same level. To compete with the best, he had a lot to learn.

“One thing I always had from the beginning was the pace; it always came pretty easily to me. It was everything else that I needed to work on. Getting it right for qualifying, tyre preparation, race craft and stuff like that. In Formula Renault I struggled a lot with qualifying, and if you didn’t qualify well it was so hard to overtake that you never had good results.”

“In the final I started 28th and finished eighth, with the fastest lap. That was our first experience outside Dubai and straight away we were competitive”

Visits to a sports psychologist during 2012 proved a turning point, and in 2013 everything clicked. Ed won the European Formula 3 Open Championship and for 2014 moved to the FIA European Formula 3 Championship, with eyes firmly set on Formula 1.

But in the third race of the season, at the Pau street circuit in France, an accident during qualifying left Ed with a broken back, and he missed much of the year. While recuperating, he came to the conclusion that F1 was an unrealistic dream. “We realised that unless you have unlimited funds, F1, at this time anyway, is not very attainable. It’s more of a money game than anything else. But in America, with the ladder system and the scholarships that they have, if you perform well you’re guaranteed to move up.”

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