IndyCar-Getting To Know: James Jakes

Randy Bernard is right. One of the best things about the IZOD Indycar Series is the diversity of the drivers. There are drivers who came up through the USAC Triple Crown ladder. There are drivers who came up through what is now known as the Mazda Road to Indy. There are drivers who followed the hybrid European Junior Formula/American Formula Atlantic ladder. Then there are drivers from the European Formula One ladder system. James Jakes is one of those drivers. When I first saw his name pop up on timesheets at the 2011 Open Test at Barber Motorsports Park, I have to admit I wasn’t familiar with him at all. Like most others, I scrambled around to find out whatever information I could about this relative unknown. come to find out, James Jakes is actually a quite accomplished driver.

After finishing second in the British T-Car series, James graduated to the British Formula Renault Series in 2004 where he finished 12th in standings. In 2005, he returned to British Formula Renault, finishing 3rd in points via seven podium finishes and two poles. That year, he was also named a Rising Star by the prestigious British Racing Drives Club. From there, hew would go on to race in the British Formula 3 Series, Formula 3 Euro Series, GP2 Asia and GP3.  James came to America when his ride with Coloni in GP2 was givn to Luca Filipi instead when James decided to pursue a test with Dale Coyne Racing. Since then, James has been a member of the IZOD Indycar Series and seems to not be looking back at all. I had the pleasure to speak with James. This is what we discussed.

OP:How difficult has it been to adapt to Indycars from the other formulas you have driven?

JJ: To be honest, on the road courses, it’s not a lot different. Obviously, on the ovals, it’s been quite a different set of skills I’ve not been used to, and that’s obviously been the hardest going from, say GP2 or Formula 3 to Indycars. The road courses are similar, but on ovals, the setup and the way you drive the car are quite different.

OP: How was your transition to ovals, seeing as how you’d never raced on ovals before?

JJ: It’s gone a lot better than I thought it would. What’s more surprising is this year I’ve actually done better in qualifying on the ovals than I have on the road courses. At Milwaukee I made a mistake, but I’m pretty sure we would have been Top 8 in qualifying if I hadn’t caught the wall coming out of turn 2. But this year I think we’ve been very strong on the ovals and it’s been very nice to see that considering it’s only my second year driving on ovals. The road courses have just been a bit of getting used to the red tires, driving them straightaway in qualifying and trying to get used to them.

OP: What do you think about the red and black compound tires?

JJ: Like I said, I’ve been struggling a bit with the red tires. Not so much at the end of the weekend, but putting them on for the first time in qualifying, like last weekend, We set the 8th quickest lap. In Brazil we were 5th quickest, and we would have set the quickest lap if the yellow flag hadn’t come out. Generally we have the speed, we’re just struggling to nail it straightaway in qualifying off the bat because we only get like three or four laps (out of the red tires.)

OP: How many laps do you get out of the red tires before they fall off?

JJ: I would say on an empty car in qualifying, probably one good lap. In 6 or 7 laps, they’re gone.

OP: Last season, your best finish was 13th and the team failed to qualify for the Indianapolis 500. This year you finished 15th at Indy and have two Top 10′s, including a career best 8th at Toronto. What’s changed from last year to enable the improved results?

JJ: It’s not just learning more about the race tracks I’d have to say. Last year we had a few good results pending actually. we were running 3rd in Japan and I stalled in the pit box which was my mistake and that really cost us having a solid result, but it’s about knowing the tracks. Not having to spend most of the session learning the place.  You can work a bit with race strategy and all the other stuff. It’s just one less thing to worry about.

OP: How has a second season with Dale Coyne Racing benefited you?

JJ: It’s been good. there are still a few areas we’d like to see improved, but generally it’s been working well. We’ve got new engineers in John Dick and Bill Pappas, and the team seems to be working well.

OP: How well do you work with Justin Wilson?

JJ: I work very well with Justin. It’s surprising actually. We had a great discussion after Toronto on the areas we see the need to improve. He obviously ended the race a bit early, and I went in afterwards and said my parts, and they were 100% exactly the same as the things he said. I think from a driving style point of view, when you have two people who are the same, it can really help the team move forward.

OP: You’ve been very consistent this season. What are your keys to consistency?

JJ: I just think being patient really. I would like to have finished a bit higher up, but generally I think we always have pace in the race and we’re generally able to come through. Like you said, we finished 10th in Texas and 8th in Toronto. We had a great car in Iowa that I feel we could have gotten a Top 5 out of, but we had a drive though penalty. In Milwaukee we obviously had the incident with Takuma (Sato), but generally we’ve been very consistent because we have a very good balanced car when we get it right, and it’s been good to drive in races.

OP: Do you think the new car (The DW12) has helped your performance?

JJ: Yeah, I think it’s leveled the playing field quite a bit. Obviously the old car had been around for a long time. When a car’s been around for that long, people have done a lot of miles in it. To just show up last season without any preseason testing was quite tough.

OP: Do you have any plans for 2013 yet?

JJ: There are plans in motion to do Indycar again, but that’s all I can say.

OP: After racing in Europe and Asia, what are some of the major differences between racing here in the US versus GP2 in Asia or GP3?

JJ: I’d just say the tracks are quite a bit different. A lot of the overseas tracks are man-made tracks. I actually prefer the street tracks; putting up the walls and just letting us go at it. That’s why I like being in America. I like the culture out here. But that’s probably the main difference, the tracks.

OP: What does James Jakes like to do away from the track?

JJ: I play quite a bit of golf. Me and (Rubens)Barrichello were going to play tomorrow actually, but he’s karting with his son so he has family duty. I do like to kart and generally spend time with my friends  here. we like to go to the movies and work out, hit the lake and do some paddle boarding. when I’m away from the track I like to really get away from it.

OP: How did you initially get into racing?

JJ: It was a corporate hospitality day in the UK and I’d never driven anything before. I didn’t even have a drivers license. I think I was around 13 or 14, but we spoke to the bosses down there to see if I could drive. They let me out and I ended up winning the day, which was strange. We spoke to a few people afterwards and just kinda never looked back. We joined the Junior Touring Car Series where I finished second in the championship and went from there.

OP: Have you always been into racing?

JJ: I’ve always been into sports in general. I drove quite a bit of motorbikes when I was younger. I’ve always said when the right opportunity came along in anything, I’d take it. It did, and I took it. I knew exactly what I had to do.

OP: What would you like our readers to know about James Jakes that they might not already know?

JJ: I would say I just try to be myself. There’s a lot of people at the track who aren’t the same away from the track as they are at the track. I’m just the same person wherever. I f I have an opinion on something, I’ll say it. I’m not afraid to get my own opinion out there.

Learn more about James Jakes by following him on Twitter, @JamesJakes.  You can also follow his team, @DaleCoyneRacing or visit his website, www.jamesjakes.com