If we’re being honest, not much was expected of James Jakes when he joined the IZOD IndyCar Series back in 2011. The Leeds, England native came to Dale Coyne racing with a fairly quiet racing résumé from GP2 Asia and various European series. As a relatively unknown rookie, he saw his share of the standard learning curve, finishing P22 in points overall. Still, by the end of the year, he had shown enough potential that writers such as Marshall Pruett were impressed with his overall progress, even if the results did not necessarily show it.
Unfortunately, 2012 would not be the season Jakes or his fans wanted. Despite his first two IndyCar Top 10s taking place at Texas and Toronto, Jakes again placed P22 in the final standings, and it appeared that tension and frustration on the team definitely began to show a bit as he lagged behind the results of veteran teammate Justin Wilson. With relationship between owner and driver having deteriorated, it was probably for the best that driver and team could each look to a fresh start in 2013.
Fans closely tracking the IndyCar silly season were probably a bit surprised to see Jakes sign onto the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team, especially since that car had looked to be a part-time affair this season as recently as last week. Now, Jakes will be moving into the #30 Acorn Stairlifts machine, and just like that, Graham Rahal has a full-time teammate. For Jakes, it would seem to be a better situation than he faced going into the last two years.
With RLLR, Jakes his best chance yet to show what he can do. He has 31 IndyCar races under his belt, and is with what should be a very fast team. As Graham’s teammate, he’s probably going to be more in the spotlight than he was the past two years. In short, he’s got the best shot he’s had since joining the Series to show just what he can do. Frankly, with this team and his prior experience, anything out of the Leaders Circle in terms of season results would likely be a grave disappointment. For a team like Rahal’s, which was so close to victory with Takuma Sato last year, there’s the expectation that this year’s changes and expansions will bring them closer to the top tier of IndyCar teams. Jakes will be a key part of gauging that success.
For those looking for positive indicators for James Jakes coming into the new season, there are plenty of reasons for hope. Jakes looked much more comfortable on ovals last season, with a respectable performance at Indianapolis and a nice result at Texas. He’s also joining a team in RLLR that has shown it knows how to qualify, which should make race weekends a bit less of an uphill battle. He’s had his rookie shot at Indy, and has seen most of the tracks twice now. If his second season was a sort of a sophomore slump, we should know very quickly.
James Jakes has garnered a dedicated, enthusiastic group of IndyCar fans (“Jakesy Nation”) who believe he has what it takes to be a high-level driver in this series. This season, James Jakes should have every opportunity to show them they’re correct. The rookie and sophomore experiences are in the past. It’s time for the next step.
Zachary Houghton runs indycaradvocate.com, which features regularly-updated INDYCAR, IZOD IndyCar Series, and Mazda Road to Indy interviews, commentary, and more. You can find him on Twitter at @indycaradvocate.