Wednesday, May 24, 2023

PREVIEW: The debut of Abel Motorsports and R.C. Enerson awaits at Indy

PHOTO: Luis Torrres, @TheLTFiles

by William Soquet Staff Writer

Sunday, May 28, 2023 (12:45 P.M. EDT, NBC)
INDYCAR Race 6 of 17
Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge
2022 Last-Place Finisher: Rinus VeeKay 

There are 34 drivers entered for 33 spots on the grid. All part-time entries locked in on the first day of qualifying, sending four full-time teams to the last row shootout on Sunday, May 21. Graham Rahal was the lone driver that failed to qualify - at least at first - leaving the starting grid set a week in advance.

DRIVER CHANGE: #11-Chip Ganassi Racing
Takuma Sato takes over the #11 machine for the second of four scheduled oval starts. He is splitting the car with Marcus Armstrong this year as the two inherit what was the #48 team last season. His first start, which came at Texas, yielded an early crash and a last-place finish. Sato now goes to Indianapolis, the track that has treated him the best as an IndyCar driver. Two of his six IndyCar wins have come on the famed oval: in 2017 with Andretti Autosport and in 2020 with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. CGR was a dream pairing for Sato, with the team excelling at Indy year in and year out. Sato led two days of practice and qualified eighth for this year’s Indianapolis 500.

MISSING: #11-A.J. Foyt Racing
Foyt's expansion has, in the past, been a constant at Indy. After moving over from Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, J.R. Hildebrand had been the driver of the team’s third entry each of the past two years. However, for whatever the reason, a third Foyt entry was not rolled out for the 500 this year. The IndyStar newspaper reported that Hildebrand was waiting on the team to roll out a third entry, wanting to keep his consecutive starts streak alive (which sat at 12 after 2022). IndyCar media member Marshall Pruett said on his podcast that Foyt was an option for R.C. Enerson to land for this year’s 500 before ultimately deciding to bring his chassis to Abel Motorsports. It was probably more of the former, as Foyt brought in two new drivers and an organizational overhaul for 2023 – something from which a third team could pull resources.

MISSING: #16-Paretta Autosport
Ever looking to get back on the grid, Beth Paretta worked all her possible connections in an attempt to get her team and Simona de Silvestro back on the IndyCar grid. Previous partners Team Penske and Ed Carpenter Racing were not interested in being partners this time around, and with the team’s limited resources, the #16 ultimately did not wind up making an attempt.

DRIVER CHANGE: #23-Dreyer & Reinbold Racing
Ryan Hunter-Reay started no IndyCar races in 2022 after he did not return to Andretti Autosport. He did serve as an endurance driver for Cadillac Racing’s IMSA efforts. Hunter-Reay did not return to that role this year, just as Dreyer & Reinbold Racing was looking for a new driver for their #23. The driver that the Indy 500-only team contracted last year, Santino Ferrucci, moved on to a full-season ride with A.J. Foyt Racing, which promptly put his car on the second row. DRR and RHR announced the pairing on March 15, although the deal was worked out quite in advance of that date. Hunter-Reay qualified 18th.

DRIVER CHANGE: #24-Dreyer & Reinbold Racing
It seemed as though Sage Karam and Dreyer & Reinbold Racing would be a pairing that would stand the test of time. The two first partnered in 2014 for Karam’s IndyCar debut, which came at Indianapolis. They shocked the world, finishing ninth. Save for a 2015 season where Karam ran full-time for Chip Ganassi Racing, driver and team have run every Indy 500 since. The 2021 annual was another highlight year for the pairing, with two laps led and a seventh-place finish. Despite that, DRR filled the entry early, and Karam was left on the outside looking in. The driver signed was Stefan Wilson. Fresh off a scramble in 2022 to fill out the grid with a DragonSpeed entry, Wilson and backer Don Cusick decided to take care of things early for 2023 - so early, in fact, that they announced the Indy 500-only deal in November 2022. Wilson was set to start 25th in the race, but a savage crash with Katherine Legge in Monday practice resulted in a fractured vertebra that has put Wilson out of the race. Graham Rahal, who failed to qualify in his usual Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing entry, was tabbed as the replacement driver on Tuesday.

RETURNING: #33-Ed Carpenter Racing
Texas, Iowa, and Gateway are fine and all, but Indianapolis is the main reason that Ed Carpenter still hangs around the IndyCar Series as a driver. Now in his 10th year of an ovals-only driving schedule, the month of May remains a highlight for both Carpenter as a driver and his entire team. Carpenter has finished as high as second at Indy before, and his team has speed, with Rinus VeeKay putting his Ed Carpenter Racing car on the front row. The team owner will start 13th in this year’s running.

RETURNING: #44-Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
With a 17th Honda engine lease up for grabs, RLL jumped on it in order to once again expand for the Indy 500. The team most recently did this in 2021, when it fielded the #45 for Santino Ferrucci. Now at three full-time entries with Christian Lundgaard piloting the #45, the fourth entry was numbered #44. The driver selected was Katherine Legge, tabbed for her third Indy 500. Legge drove ten races in 2012 for the ill-fated Dragon/Lotus effort and was signed by then-Schmidt Peterson Motorsports for a 2013 Indy 500 bid, in which she finished 26th. From there, Legge became immersed in the world of sports cars, becoming a GTD mainstay in IMSA. She also dabbled in other series, and actually drove for RLL in the Jaguar I-PACE series, winning in Mexico in 2019. This year’s driver and team pairing were announced on February 9. After a tense week of practice leading up to qualifying, Legge was the only RLL car to lock in on the first day, nabbing the 30th starting spot.

NEW TEAM: #50-Abel Motorsports
Five years ago, a seventeen-year-old Louisville native debuted in the U.S. F2000 championship at Road America, running a car fielded by his father. Fast forward to 2023, and that small team has now blossomed into the newest entrant in the IndyCar Series. Bill Abel, a construction businessman, got in the ownership game when his son Jacob entered single-seater racing, but he had eyes set much higher than that. When Jacob moved up to then-Indy Lights in 2022, the team expanded to multiple entries, and that whetted an appetite to go IndyCar racing. The team found a match in driver R.C. Enerson, who owned the chassis that Top Gun Racing tried to qualify for the 2021 Indy 500. The team and driver worked out a provisional agreement before the IndyCar season started and secured one of the final Chevrolet engine leases during the Texas race weekend. Despite being the obvious pick for ‘slowest car at the Speedway’, Abel and Enerson did well on their efforts, with the car locking in during the first day of qualifying and avoiding any potential Bump Day shenanigans. If all goes well, Abel is exploring a move to a full-time IndyCar operation in 2024.

DRIVER CHANGE: #66-Arrow McLaren
A year ago at the Indianapolis 500, Tony Kanaan was running a special fourth entry for Chip Ganassi Racing during what was supposed to be his farewell oval tour. He came tantalizingly close to another victory at the Speedway, mixing it up for the lead after a late caution en route to a third-place finish. After becoming the Tom Brady of IndyCar with his many retirement tours, TK is back for one final Indy 500, this time with Arrow McLaren. The team once again fields an extra entry for the 500, although this year it is a fourth entry and numbered #66. Last year, Juan Pablo Montoya finished 11th in the extra entry, third-best of all Indy 500 one-offs. Kanaan will start ninth in this year’s 500.

RETURNING: #98-Andretti Autosport
As noted by the man himself, Marco Andretti has now been running the Indianapolis 500 for half of his life. The 36-year-old returns for his 18th attempt at a Borg-Warner trophy, driving for his family’s team. Despite not running any additional IndyCar races in 2022, it was still a busy summer for Marco, as he drove the entire Superstar Racing Experience schedule and was named the champion of that series. A year removed from a 23rd-place starting spot, Andretti qualified 24th, looking to improve upon his 22nd-place finish last year.

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