IndyCar

‘Disappointing, but understandable’: Abel Motorsports gives up on Indy 500 return plans

'Disappointing, but understandable': Abel Motorsports gives up on Indy 500 return plans

For months, Bill Abel had two projects working in the background that made an Indianapolis 500 return for his Abel Motorsports crew feel like a foregone conclusion. Within the last month, he’d said not being on the grid for 500 qualifying weekend hadn’t even crossed his mind.

But with a self-imposed deadline of May 3, Abel’s hopes of a second 500 have reached the end of the line, after the team’s driver from last May, RC Enerson – who would’ve come with a chassis equipped with necessary upgrades for this year – had a final primary sponsor option fall through. With a lineup of other veteran drivers with some level of funding, but a brand-new Dallara DW-12 chassis that Abel ordered in October still only in the ‘body fit’ stage, Options A and B failed to reach the finish line.

After an Indy 500 debut together, both driver EC Enerson and Abel Motorsports won’t make a return to the Month of May together in 2024.

This month’s Indy 500 field is now complete at 34 cars – again guaranteeing bumping for the second consecutive year – but with a 35th that some reports had noted as a near-certainty has been left on the cutting room floor.

Abel, a Louisville, Ky. magnate who admits he himself could’ve funded the entry, has found peace with that.

“We’re OK with where we’re at. We’re not happy about it, but OK,” Abel told IndyStar on Friday morning. “But disappointed for sure. After doing it last year, our plans were to be back long term. We were hoping that was just the beginning of a long streak for us, and as it turns out, we’re going to miss in Year 2. We hope to get back there.”

Why a return with RC Enerson fell short

The road back with Enerson began almost immediately after last year’s magical and rather seamless road to the grid – starting 28th and avoiding Sunday’s knockout round – ended with a mechanical failure just 75 laps in. For one, Chevy personnel noticed the promise in Abel’s program and initially said it felt confident it could provided not just one but two 500-only engine leases for 2024 – giving the team a platform to build towards its goals of fielding two full-time entries for 2025.

Though those prospects of two 500 entries for this May had been scrapped by the end of last summer, Abel began charting a course for even a one-car return that he felt would leave nothing to chance. For nearly a year, Abel said, Enerson and his father, Neil, have been searching for a primary sponsor.

A year ago, the No. 50 Chevy ran with ‘Abel Construction’ signage on the sidepods – the Abel family business – but there was hope, even early this week, that the final piece of Enerson’s puzzle he spoke to reporters about at Content Days in January would fall into place. Had it, the Enerson family’s chassis it brought to the table a year ago, which has received all the pertinent updates in preparation for the hybrid system’s now-delayed debut, would’ve again been used.

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“I think in January or February, I spoke to Neil, and he and I were adamant that we both wanted to do this right and with proper funding,” Abel said. “Collectively, we started on a hunt to find that primary (sponsor) for RC, and we had a lot of conversations with a lot of folks, but we just weren’t able to put anything together that was going to be significant enough to make a program happen in a proper manner.

“And we were still hoping even until this week. There was a deal out there that we thought would come together for RC until (Thursday), but we’d put ourselves on a deadline where we needed to have a decision by today. I don’t fault RC. They’ve been working really hard for a year to find that primary sponsor, and we were helping them, but that’s a key component to the plan.”

After an Indy 500 debut together, both driver EC Enerson and Abel Motorsports won’t make a return to the Month of May together in 2024.

A victim of ongoing series wide parts delays

Abel’s order in October was meant to protect against this very thing. Outside Enerson, there remained a veteran contingent of drivers – including JR Hildebrand, Charlie Kimball and Stefan Wilson – known to have some level of funding (or at least likely access to it) that could’ve helped take Abel Motorsports to the starting line May 26. But as so many IndyCar teams have noted of late, even full-time entries are coming upon parts shortages.

More teams than typical ran chassis during last month’s Indy 500 Open Test that they would again be using for the Grand Prix of Long Beach the following weekend largely because enough new components for teams’ purpose-built 500 chassis for their full-time entries had not yet been delivered. Indy 500-only entries run by full-time teams – like Marco Andretti (Andretti Global), Helio Castroneves (Meyer Shank Racing), Takuma Sato (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing), Christian Rasmussen (Ed Carpenter Racing) and Kyle Larson (Arrow McLaren) – had been taken care of so they wouldn’t be left sidelined April 10-11, as were Dreyer and Reinbold Racing’s pair of 500 one-offs, but there remained a waiting list.

And on that list, Abel’s pair of contingency plans – likely because they were not yet earmarked as guaranteed qualifying attempts – sat at the bottom. Public comments of sheer certainty that he’d make it to qualifying weekend made in March and April, he says now, stemmed from not yet realizing just how far behind IndyCar’s parts partners were.

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While making a point to note he feels no ill will toward anyone or any company that has found itself behind on deliveries, the standstill he and his team have found themselves in with the bulk of an Indy car sitting in their shop unable to take the final steps towards preparation has been a sobering reality for Abel. Having long secured even one engine lease, which didn’t come through until the last-minute a year ago, Abel and veteran team manager John Brunner thought they’d gotten past the toughest hurdle.

“Unfortunately, you’d think that would have been enough time to get everything together and build the car properly, but we just ran out of time,” Abel said. “We anticipated a lot of things, but in the world we live in today, it’s hard to count on every nut and bolt getting there when it’s promised. (The new car) will probably be ready by qualifying weekend where we could’ve potentially been able to run it, but that’s just too late.

“Whether it was hard work or luck last year, we had such a good performance coming straight out of the box, and we even had more time to prepare the car last year than this year. I just don’t want to throw things together. In our eyes, we sorta set the bar and had a competitive entry last year, and we didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize that and not be at the level we wanted to be.”

While sitting tied atop the Indy NXT standings entering May, Jacob Abel will focus on his championship pursuit rather than taking a run at qualifying for the Indy 500 in an IndyCar debut.

Why Jacob Abel won’t be making 500 debut in ’24

Abel admits he considered funding an entry himself and slapping Abel Construction on the side for a second year running, but as he toyed with that option, he felt that significant out-of-pocket expense would only make true sense with one driver: his son, Jacob Abel.

Before the realities of the delays in preparing his team’s new chassis had fully set in, the elder Abel said he wrestled with the idea, going so far as to pitching it to his son, who in his third Indy NXT campaign sits tied for the championship lead coming off he and the team’s first series win at Barber. As you might expect, the younger Abel was immediately sold, but as his father consulted those close to him, he saw the bigger picture.

“Had we had the car and had the option to do all that, we were seriously considering it, but I thought it would only make the most sense if we were going to fund a driver if it was going to be Jacob,” Bill Abel said. “But after getting a lot of opinions and asking, ‘If you were in my spot, would you put Jacob in the car this year?’ everybody came back and said, ‘You know, it might be a good idea to let him focus on the Indy NXT championship. Doing the 500 might be a distraction.’

“Although it might’ve been great for him, it might not be the best thing right now, and he’s okay with that.”

After an Indy 500 debut together, both driver EC Enerson and Abel Motorsports won’t make a return to the Month of May together in 2024.

Uncertain IndyCar future for 2025 and beyond

Though he knew days ago Abel Motorsports wouldn’t be using their brand-new IndyCar chassis this May, the team owner sent it off for body fit because there may still be a window to make use of it this year. While noting Chevy has not confirmed whether it might have a spare engine to run at a round or two later this year, Bill Abel said his team has the desire to make a return to the IndyCar grid as early as later this year if enough were to fall into place.

Post-2024, though, things get murky. As IndyCar puts the final pieces together for a charter program that are likely to include 25 of its 27 present-day full-time entries – combined with the talk of capping non-500 weekends at 27 cars and giving those 25 chartered ones a guaranteed grid spot – Abel is no longer certain if there’s a short-term place for his team in the series. Last fall, his team made clear to Chevy officials of its desire to field two full-time cars starting in 2025, while knowing other prospective programs were concurrently working toward that same goal.

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And with the admission of Prema Racing for 2025 for two full-time cars, Abel said he’s been told Chevy is out of full-time engine leases. With Honda Racing Corp. USA officials long contending that 15 full-time entries was its desired cap, it appears IndyCar has reached its ceiling of full-time programs until an ever-elusive third engine manufacture can be found – unless the series regulars scale back, or one agrees to part ways with one or more charters they’ve yet to even formally receive.

“It’s all disappointing, but it’s understandable. John Brunner and I talk all the time, and we always say that at the end of the day, if we’re a good Indy NXT team – and hopefully a championship-winning one – running three or four cars while also possibly an Indy 500-only IndyCar team, we’re okay with that,” Abel said. “We’re glad to try that if that’s all the opportunity that’s afforded to us right now.

“That’s not to say we won’t be looking for other opportunities on the grid, whether that’s partnering with teams or something, But with all the changes going on (in IndyCar right now), the goalposts just keep moving on us. A year ago, the charter talk was maybe out there, but it didn’t seem like it was moving as quickly as it really was. I think the future of IndyCar is super bright, and that’s why we wanted to be part of it.”

Latest 2025 Indianapolis 500 entry list

CHEVY (16 cars)

Arrow McLaren (4): Pato O’Ward, Alexander Rossi, Kyle Larson, TBD

Team Penske (3): Josef Newgarden, Scott McLaughlin, Will Power

Ed Carpenter Racing (3): Rinus VeeKay, Ed Carpenter, Christian Rasmussen

AJ Foyt Racing (2): Santino Ferrucci, Sting Ray Robb

Juncos Hollinger Racing (2): Romain Grosjean, Agustin Canapino

Dreyer and Reinbold Racing (2): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Conor Daly

HONDA TEAMS (18 cars)

Chip Ganassi Racing (5): Scott Dixon, Alex Palou, Linus Lundqvist, Marcus Armstrong, Kyffin Simpson

Andretti Global (4): Marcus Ericsson, Colton Herta, Kyle Kirkwood, Marco Andretti

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (4): Graham Rahal, Christian Lundgaard, Pietro Fittipaldi, Takuma Sato

Meyer Shank Racing (3): Felix Rosenqvist, Tom Blomqvist, Helio Castroneves

Dale Coyne Racing (2): Katherine Legge, Nolan Siegel

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Abel Motorsports shelves Indy 500 return plans, 2024 grid set at 34

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