The journey of the little team that could came full circle as Abel Motorsports and driver RC Enerson qualified for the 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.
An Indy-only outfit that competes full time in INDY NXT by Firestone, this is the first time Abel Motorsports had competed in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.
Led by team manager John Brunner, the group, comprised of INDYCAR SERIES veterans and INDY NXT by Firestone crew members, looked like anything but a rookie squad.
Driving the No. 50 Chevrolet, Enerson was the 16th driver to go out in the qualifying draw and hit the 2.5-mile superspeedway with a four-lap average of 231.129 mph, which slotted him 29th and automatically advanced him into the race Sunday, May 28.
That was Enerson’s only run on the day, so he was forced to sit and wait as fellow rivals attempted swing after swing to push him out of the transfer spot. In the end, though, it was a gratifying result, especially after he failed to make the race in 2021 with the Top Gun team.
“I can’t thank these guys enough,” Enerson said. “Bill (Abel), John (Brunner), my family, all these guys, they busted their asses for two to three months to get this thing ready and prepared. And not only that, almost every team in the paddock had reached out to see if we needed anything. So, it’s been super, super positive. And now, we’re finally here. We finally in the “500.”
“That’s probably the most stressful three hours I’ve in a while just sitting there watching timing on my phone, like if we get close enough (to being bumped out), we’re going to have to go again. I think we’re one of the few teams that only did one run today. We knew it was a little bit conservative, so we had something in the tank for the end there if we did fall down earlier.”
Standing among his driver and crew in the garage, Brunner was still trying to get a grasp of the moment.
“The emotions all day long have been crazy,” Brunner said. “You know, I’ve been here before but never had the emotions get me like it did today. Giving RC his first Indy 500 start, this was his dad’s dream and to think it all started in January and we didn’t have an engine until April, and here we are, a first day qualifier. I can’t even describe it.”
Legge Makes History, Delivers Silver Lining to RLL’s Tough Day
Katherine Legge was the only driver for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (RLL) to advance into this year’s edition of the Indy 500 after Day 1 of qualifying.
In a one-one-done attempt, where she was the 31st driver to go out, she put together a calm drive that put her in the record books. The Briton delivered four crisp laps in the No. 44 Hendrickson Honda for an average of 231.129 mph to qualify 30th, the final spot to lock into the race.
With an opening lap of 231.596 mph, she broke the fastest single qualification lap set by a female in the Indy 500, previously 230.201 mph set in 2021 by Simona De Silvestro. Additionally, Legge became a record holder as the fastest four-lap qualification average by a female, shattering the previous mark of 229.439 mph in 2002 set by Sarah Fisher.
“I’d rather be fastest driver, but that’s cool,” Legge said. “Hopefully, next year we can break some other lap records. That would be good.”
Making her third “500” start, and first since 2013, didn’t come without some nervous moments. The final car to attempt to qualify was teammate Christian Lundgaard, who was trying to get his No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda in the race but fell short.
“It was dramatic,” Legge said. “I don’t want to do it that way again, I’d rather be at the front and be in the top 12 tomorrow … I am pleased that we’re in the show. I know we’ve got a lot of work to do until next week to get fast race cars, but the crew and the team have been phenomenal. I know they’re going to be having sleepless nights making it that way.”
Despite numerous efforts by Jack Harvey, Lundgaard and Graham Rahal, all three will be among the four drivers battling for the final three spots in the Last Chance Qualifying on Sunday, which will see each of the contenders get at least one shot to make the field of 33.
The 234 Club
Five drivers broke through to run a lap of 234 mph during the opening day of PPG Presents Armed Forced Qualifying.
The eighth draw of the 34 drivers, Alexander Rossi, the 2016 Indy 500 winner, was the first to break through the barrier, with his No. 7 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet knocking down a flying first lap of 234.177 mph, which vaulted a four-lap average of 233.528 mph (second overall).
Alex Palou was the second to cross the mark after going out 28th. The Spaniard primed his No. 10 The American Legion Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing to an opening lap that hit 234.248 mph, with a four-lap average of 233.398 (third overall).
Two-time Indy 500 champion Takuma Sato started his second attempt with a stellar lap of 234.085 mph, with his No. 11 Deloitte Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing setting a four-lap average of 233.322 mph (seventh overall).
On his third and final attempt, Tony Kanaan, winner of the 2013 Indy 500, started the run with a lap of 234.057 mph. The Brazilian’s No. 66 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet crossed the finish line to an eruption of cheers after hitting a four-lap average of 233.347 mph (sixth overall) to break into the top 12 in his final Indy 500 start.
The best was saved for last, though, as Felix Rosenqvist, who went out immediately after Kanaan’s third attempt – the Swede’s second – and jetted to a starting lap of 234.329 mph, but then hit 234.310 mph on the following lap to become the only driver to go beyond the mark twice – and on consecutive laps. Rosenqvist rocketed his No. 6 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet to a four-lap average of 233.947 mph and not only became the fastest driver on the day, but also delivered the third-fastest qualifying run in Indy 500 history.
Ganassi vs. McLaren
Qualifying for this year’s edition of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” picked up where last year’s race left off, with Arrow McLaren and Chip Ganassi Racing (CGR) battling for supremacy.
When the clock struck 5:50 p.m. ET and the checkered flag flew, each respective team put all their entries (eight total, four each) into Sunday’s top 12 qualifying bout.
Rosenqvist and Rossi went 1-2 for Arrow McLaren, while Palou was the top CGR driver in third.
Six-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Scott Dixon, who is going for a record third consecutive Indy 500 pole on Sunday, was fifth (233.375 mph four-lap average) in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. Kanaan slotted sixth for Arrow McLaren, ahead of CGR’s Sato in seventh.
The No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet of Pato O’Ward, last year’s runner-up in the race, ended up eighth (233.252). Defending race winner Marcus Ericsson was 10th (233.030) in the No. 8 Huski Ice Spritz Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing.
The only others to break into the top 10 were Ed Carpenter Racing’s Rinus VeeKay and AJ Foyt Racing’s Santino Ferrucci. VeeKay locked up fourth in the No. 21 Bitnile.com Chevrolet after a four-lap average of 233.395, while Ferrucci wheeled his No. 14 Homes For Our Troops Chevrolet to ninth with a four-lap run of 233.147.
Odds & Ends
- Juncos Hollinger Racing faced a daunting challenge of prepping a swap to a backup car for Callum Ilott on Fast Friday, which they managed to complete by day’s end at 10 p.m. ET. Ilott, driver of the team’s No. 77 Chevrolet, shared that he served his mechanics during the stressful change from the primary car by making them English Breakfast tea as a small appreciation for their hard work, which paid off as they qualified 28th (231.182 mph four-lap average) to lock into the race.
- There were a record 84 qualifying attempts made, breaking the previous mark of 73 set in 2019.
- Agustin Canapino qualified 27th in the No. 78 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet, becoming the first Argentine to earn a spot in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” since Raul Riganti in 1940.
- JR Hildebrand, a 12-time “500” starter who finished runner-up in 2011, may not be among this year’s field of 33, but he still will race in Indianapolis during Memorial Day Weekend. He will climb into a midget courtesy of Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Development and pound the pavement at nearby Lucas Oil Raceway Park for the Carb Night Classic on Friday, May 26.