James Jakes returns to INDYCAR
James Jakes is back on the Indy car trail, leaving after the 2013 season. Jakes, 27, a veteran of Formula Renault and Formula 3 Euro series, has also raced GP3, GP2 Asia and did a couple of events in GP2 before coming to the USA with Dale Coyne Racing, where he spent the 2011-12 seasons, finishing 22nd each year.
In 2013 Jakes drove for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (RLL) and was starting to come into his own, earning a single podium spot (Detroit 2013) but definitely looking like he understood the Dallara DW12 and the circuits that had, until his first year in America been quite foreign to the lad from Leeds, England. When RLL scaled back to a single entry for Graham Rahal in 2014, Jakes, despite a growing fan base, was on the sidelines.
He had a two-day test for Sam Schmidt Motorsports last week at NOLA and this week was chosen for the second seat on that team, partnering with Canadian James Hinchcliffe and driving the No. 7 Dallara/Honda/Firestone Indy car. Which makes you wonder who’s going to respond first when somebody calls for “James” on that team?
Jakesy, as his legions call him, hadn’t been in a Verizon IndyCar Series car for 16 months but it’s apparent he lost nothing during that time. And as he said when the announcement was made, “I”m extremely excited and motivated” to get back in this game. “The team has done a fantastic job over the past few seasons and I look forward to continuing that progress,” Jakes said.
With his now-teammate looking on at New Orleans, Jakes handled himself properly in the No. 7 and impressed Hinchcliffe and the pack of engineers responsible for helping the duo race to the front of the field. With his hiring, co-owner Sam Schimidt has fulfilled one goal of his team, which came to the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2011: to have “two veteran drivers in the car, capable of pushing each other. This finally checks that box,” Schmidt declared. “We look forward to continuing the tradition that has been established over the past three season of winning races and competing for the championship.”
Of course Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (SPM) has competed for those hard-earned wins and contended for those titles with Frenchman Simon Pagenaud at the helm of their No. 77 car, which is now the province of Hinchcliffe. Last year the No. 7 had Mikhael Aleshin in the driver’s seat but the Russian is now going sportscar racing after his massive accident at Auto Club Speedway during practice for the 2014 season finale on that 2-mile oval.
SPM co-owner Ric Peterson, like Schmidt a former driver, is “confident that James will be a great addition to the team. He knows the INDYCAR landscape and he has impressed us, both in and out of the race car. Over the past several years, we have aimed at developing a group of talented drivers who fit seamlessly into the culture of our great team. We feel that James meets those criteria.”
Although James Jakes hasn’t been in an Indy car for nearly a year and a half (!), he found the sweet spot quite quickly. Still he’ll have to learn the new aero kits that are coming out in time for the Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg season opener on March 29. Jakes will partake in the all-skate open test at Barber Motorsports Park the week before that race, getting his first whiff of the Honda aero kit he’ll be using for the full season at that time.
Words and Photos By Anne Proffit