Abel Tops Opening Practice at Mid-Ohio

A single-car team bested its larger counterparts Friday in the opening practice for the INDY NXT by Firestone Grand Prix at Mid-Ohio.
Driving the No. 51 Abel Motorsports entry, Jacob Abel turned the fastest lap of the 45-minute session at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course at 1 minute 11.3899 seconds. Following him were Christian Rasmussen and rookie Nolan Siegel, members of HMD Motorsport’s eight-car program, and rookie Louis Foster, who drives one of Andretti Autosport’s four entries.
 
It certainly was a competitive session, with 11 drivers within a second of Abel’s best lap time on the 13-turn, 2.258-mile permanent road course. Rasmussen (1:11.4291), Siegel (1:11.4583) and Foster (1:11.5715) turned a lap within two-tenths of a second of the pace setter.
Mid-Ohio is the track where Abel first completed a racing school, and this weekend he hopes it will be where he scores his first INDY NXT by Firestone victory.
“I’ve got a lot of experience at this track – I consider it my home track,” Abel said. “It’s the first place I ever drove a race car, (and) I used to work at the (driving) school here.
“It’s good to start (the weekend) off well. The track is ever-changing and the conditions here change a ton for how you set up a car and how you drive it a lot throughout the weekend, so to be ahead of that and on top of that is really important for qualifying and in the race on Sunday. We could have a completely different formula there.
“Yeah, I think it will be a pretty good weekend. (This is) definitely a good start.”
Siegel, who has won the past two races in HMD’s No. 39 car, holds a 40-point lead over Rasmussen, the driver of the No. 6 entry. Andretti Autosport’s Hunter McElrea, who was sixth in Friday’s practice, is third in the standings, 56 points in arrears. Abel is fourth, trailing Siegel by 61 points.
McElrea won last year’s Mid-Ohio race from the pole, leading all 35 laps.
There was one red flag in Friday’s practice, as Ernie Francis Jr. spun at the entrance of Turn 9 and slid backward into the sand trap. The driver of HMD Motorsport with Force Indy’s No. 99 car, who is still rehabbing a broken wrist from earlier in the season, said he was “trying to come to grips with the track pretty quick” when the incident began.
INDY NXT will stage the weekend’s second practice Saturday at 8:35 a.m. ET followed by qualifying at 2:05 p.m. ET. Both sessions will air on INDYCAR LIVE and the INDYCAR Radio Network.
Sunday’s 35-lap race, the seventh in a 14-race season, is set for 11:40 a.m. (Peacock, INDYCAR LIVE, INDYCAR Radio Network).
 
IndyCar NXT PR