Ed Jones says the experience gained from his rookie IndyLights campaign has put him in good stead for a title charge this season after claiming the championship lead at Barber.
The United Arab Emirates-based Brit enjoyed a near-flawless race weekend in Alabama to claim pole position, a race win and a second place to grab the drivers' championship lead by five points from American driver Kyle Kaiser.
His race one victory marked his first return to the top step of the rostrum in over a year (Long Beach 2015) and an ecstatic Jones says he's thrilled with his and Carlin's performance to execute its race plan perfectly.
“What a fantastic weekend for both myself and the team,” Jones said. “We knew how critical qualifying would be, given how tricky it has historically been to overtake around Barber. It's a really demanding track with a lot of undulation and high loads through some of the corners and as expected, the session was extremely tight, but I exploited the peak tyre performance to nail two quick laps.
“I focussed on conserving my tyres to begin with in race one, because degradation was greater than anticipated. Félix put me under some pressure towards the end, but I knew that as long as I kept hitting my markers, I would be able to manage the gap and keep him behind me. It was a bit of a chess game in that respect – all about second-guessing his next move.
“We've been working so hard, and it had been so long since we'd last had a win – we've had the speed pretty much everywhere, but for whatever reason, the cards hadn't fallen our way until Barber, so it was fantastic to be back on top again and awesome for the team to come away with a one-two. The Carlin boys did a brilliant job and the result was a real shot in the arm for them all."
Jones also says he never truly had the pace to challenge IndyLights rookie Santiago Urrutia after the Uruguayan pulled of a dicey pass in the opening stages of race two but focused on the overall campaign goal to settle for second place.
“Urrutia made quite an ambitious move, which forced me to take avoiding action – I had already turned into the corner and had to swiftly turn out of it again, as he effectively gave me the choice between jumping out of his way or colliding,” he explained. “One significant lesson I learned in 2015 was that it is far more important to take the points than risk scoring nothing at all, so I let him go and turned my attentions towards defending second place.
“The level of competition is so high in Indy Lights this year – with five different winners from the first five races – that it will all come down to consistency in the final reckoning. On the days when you can't win, you need to make sure you score as well as possible – and that's what we did on Sunday.”