ABEL MOTORSPORTS set for front row start in St. Pete

Jacob Abel led the ABEL Motorsports trio of drivers in Saturday qualifying, earning a front row starting spot in the INDY NXT by Firestone season opener – part of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES’ Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg weekend.

Series rookies Josh Mason and Yuven Sundaramoorthy acquitted themselves well in their first series qualifying session of the season, securing the 13th and 20th starting positions respectively.

Abel and Sundaramoorthy have a vast amount of experience on the St. Petersburg circuit – which includes city streets and a section of the Albert Whitted Airport – through their junior formula careers (nine races for Sundaramoorthy and eight for Abel on the combination street/airport runway circuit).

Mason, who has a street circuit race on his CV (scoring a fourth-place finish in 2022 at Pau) is not only racing at St. Pete for the first time, but the event also marks the first-ever experience for the British racer to drive to race the No. 21 ABEL Motorsports Dallara IL-15.

Through media activities Thursday and Friday morning, Mason fielded questions regarding expectations, as he would turn a wheel in the car for the first time in practice Friday afternoon. Mason answered those questions right out of the box, checking off his goal of quickly getting used to the car’s handling – as well as the push-to-pass system – and learning the track’s nuances.

Meanwhile, Abel got back in the groove through the 45-minute practice session, rolling off the truck with a solid setup on his No. 51 ABEL Construction Dallara and adjusting as the track evolved. Abel finished the session with the fifth fastest time, as Sundaramoorthy and Mason steadily improved to finish the session 13th and 16th, respectively.

The INDY NXT series opened track activity Saturday morning, with the second 45-minute practice. With increased grip throughout the combination asphalt and concrete racing surface, Sundaramoorthy posted laps in the top six through the session. Abel once again paced among the leaders in the top five, with Mason methodically ticking items off the learning curve checklist.

For the afternoon’s qualifying session, the 20-car field was split in half, with Sundaramoorthy in group one and Mason and Abel in group two – and all cars on sticker Firestone tires. In very warm and windy conditions, Sundaramoorthy set quick early times, but found himself lacking just that small bit to work his way forward, putting the No. 22 S Team/ABEL Motorsports Dallara in the 13th starting spot.

“The car was great, and the grip was good,” said Sundaramoorthy, “I just was missing a little bit. We’ve just got to go back to the data and figure out where that is. But with only 10 cars out there, traffic wasn’t an issue, which was nice. There’s usually a bit of attrition in this race and hopefully we’ll have that much more pace tomorrow and can find those opportunities to move up.”

In group two, last year’s race front row – Louis Foster and Abel – topped the early speed charts. Several red flags wreaked havoc on the drivers’ ability to get into a rhythm and set a quick lap, but with four minutes remaining, Abel set the fastest time in group two with a lap of 1:04.5825. Unfortunately, Nolan Siegel had set a time a mere .0066 seconds quicker than Abel’s.

But for Abel, earning a second straight front row start was not a bad way to spend one’s 23rd birthday.

“Shout out to the series – they listened to us and tried to work on something for qualifying this year,” said Abel, of the new qualifying procedures. “With that format, you need a bit of luck today, and we just got unlucky with all the red flags in our session. The track was good, the car has been good all weekend, and I know I’ve got more for tomorrow.”

For only his third session in the car, Mason was happy with his performance so far, ready for his series debut on Sunday after setting the 20th quickest lap.

“Having two full practice sessions ahead of qualifying was very important,” said Mason. “The track condition was very similar to yesterday, but the grip level was ramped up a bit due to the INDYCAR rubber down. But I think for me the driving definitely improved. That’s what I was slightly struggling with today and yesterday, how to push this car correctly. I felt like in qualifying, we found a good spot and now, just looking forward to racing. Tomorrow is a brand new day, and that’s where the points really matter.”

ABEL Motorsports thanks partners ABEL Construction Company, Advance Ready Mix, Boyd Cat®, S Team Motorsports, and OMP for their continued support.

The INDY NXT by Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will be streamed live in the U.S. on Peacock at 10:00 a.m. EDT Sunday, while international viewers can watch via INDYCARLIVE.com with INDYCAR Radio available at indycar.com/radio and on Sirius XM.