James Jakes has added his name to a growing list of IndyCar Series drivers on the hunt for new deals and better opportunities. The 26-year-old Englishman joined Dale Coyne Racing in 2011, completing two seasons with DCR before moving to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing for 2013, and has been regarded as a revelation this season in RLLR's Honda-powered No. 16 Acorn Stairlifts entry.
Although Jakes and teammate Graham Rahal have struggled to post meaningful results – the two are currently 19th and 18th in points, respectively – the team has been far more competitive of late.
Partnered with engineer Eddie Jones, Jakes has often been the fastest driver in the RLLR stable, racing toward the front of the field on numerous occasions, but other than a podium finish in the second Detroit race, Jakes has placed 10th or worse on 15 occasions. Despite the potential the No. 16 has shown, it has gone unrealized for most of the season, leaving Jakes to ponder whether staying for a second year would improve his fortunes. A return to RLLR is possible, but as Jakes told RACER, there could be other opportunities to consider.
“Some offers are better than others, and I've met with a lot of teams,” he said. “I don't think it would be my choice to leave and then start to look for something; you're in a better position of power to do so while you're still with a team. I've met with Panther and a few others, but right now, it's all about seeing where the best fit is and that could be staying where I am.”
“I've got a great relationship with Eddie, and I'd like to continue that relationship next year, but there are some hurdles to overcome with the team, and we've got to sort them out if I'm going to be there next year.”
With Jakes' rise in competitiveness, he'd also like to move away from bringing a budget to secure a drive. His family's stair lift business has gotten him to this point in his career, but becoming a paid driver with a top team is his ultimate goal.
“I'm only going to go somewhere that I'm able to better the situation I've been in,” he confirmed. “And I want to do a multi-year deal and get away from the Acorn thing. I've had a few teams put offers in front of me that would let me do that. It would allow me to build on what I've been doing. Things have been good sometimes this year and a disaster other times; the car lasted 10 laps at Baltimore and maybe 10 before that at Sonoma, and the cars were good enough to finish in the top-10. I want something more than that, obviously.
“There are some good options out there – one that's quite interesting. I believe [James] Hinchcliffe is the key to the whole puzzle. It seems like most team managers are holding out to see where he goes before committing to anything with anyone else, and Tony [Kanaan] is also a free agent so he's got to get his ride sorted. All of those things are making an impact on where some drivers have options.”
With a vacancy expected at KV Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing working hard to add a fourth car, Panther Racing intent on adding a second entry and Andretti Autosport possibly expanding to five or six cars, Jakes is working through the paddock to determine if moving to his third team in four years of IndyCar competition is what's best at this point in his burgeoning career.
“If Tony moves on from KV, that will open a stable seat, but unless you can bring an engineer with you there, it's going to be hard,” he explained. “There are some interesting developments going on right now that I can't speak about. I think it would shock the paddock to see the driver lineup if that comes off, but we'll have to wait and see if that works out. My aim is to get my deal done before the last race.”