Jacob Abel feels like he’s on the right path to get to the next level of his racing career, reaching the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. He took a very important step toward that goal this week.
INDY NXT by Firestone veteran Abel, a 22-year-old Louisville native, tested an NTT INDYCAR SERIES car for the first time Monday, Nov. 6 at Sebring International Raceway, turning slightly more than 130 laps in a Honda-powered car prepared by Dale Coyne Racing.
“It was awesome,” Abel said. “It was a really cool thing. The main goals of the test were really just to go out there and get a lot of laps and just get some learning done. It was obviously my first taste of an INDYCAR SERIES car, so expectations weren't terribly high.
“At the end of the day, I'm a race car driver. So, I'm always going to push myself. I think at the end of the day, we put some very competitive lap times in for this track. Obviously, I was the only car out there, so it was a little bit hard to compare to, but made improvements all day long and that's all we can really ask for.”
Now that he’s had a test day in an INDYCAR SERIES car, Abel is motivated for more seat time in this top-level machinery. He thinks this test showed he’s close to being ready for an NTT INDYCAR SERIES seat. That is the main goal for Abel and his father, Abel Motorsports owner Bill Abel.
“It was a very much a full-circle moment for me and my dad just because this is the goal,” he said. “The goal is INDYCAR. The goal is to go racing in the Indy 500. Driving an INDYCAR SERIES car is obviously a huge step toward that. So, yeah, it was a really cool experience.”
Racing for the last two seasons in INDY NXT by Firestone did a great job of preparing Abel for this moment. He finished a career-best fifth in the standings this season in the No. 51 Abel Motorsports car but ended up just 18 points out of third place. Abel also produced four podium finishes with a best of second at Road America and Iowa, also career bests.
“It wasn't anything that was too dramatically different from the INDY NXT car,” Abel said. “I think that's obviously a really good thing. It (INDY NXT) really prepares drivers for the INDYCAR SERIES, especially with the new Firestone, the characteristics of the tire, which are very, very similar. The way you trail into the corners, the way the load works, all of that is very much the same.
“From INDY NXT to INDYCAR is a step up, but the INDYCAR shocks are fantastic. It handles the bumps very well. It shifts super well, obviously, much more power and grip and downforce, as well. Now that I've gotten here, I've seen now the data of past Dale Coyne drivers and seeing their tendencies and seeing what makes them successful. So, being able to take that back to INDY NXT is going to be helpful.”
While Monday was a test and an audition, the current plan is for him to return to his family team, Abel Motorsports, in INDY NXT by Firestone in 2024.
“In 2023, we had a very successful year for the team and for myself, but we didn't go out and win a bunch of races and we didn't win the championship,” Abel said. “So, it's more just motivation for me to go out there and go back to INDY NXT and really just push as hard as I can to prove to everyone that I do belong in INDYCAR and show them by going out and winning races and hopefully winning the championship next year.”
Abel has improved in each of his first two seasons in INDY NXT by Firestone in going from eighth in points as a rookie to fifth in 2023. He also advanced from five top-five finishes in 2022 to eight top-fives in 2023. His four podium finishes also came across all disciplines of tracks –
street circuits (St. Petersburg, Nashville), natural road courses (Road America) and an oval (Iowa).
“Really just want to push to win that championship next year and win a lot of races,” Abel said.