Jacob Abel Leads Rough-and-Tumble Opening Practice at St. Petersburg

Jacob Abel
Jacob Abel

Jacob Abel drives for one of the smallest teams in INDY NXT by Firestone, but he produced the biggest lap to lead the opening practice of the 2023 season Friday afternoon in the INDY NXT by Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Series veteran Abel, from Louisville, Kentucky, topped the time charts in a session interrupted by two crashes with a best lap of 1 minute, 6.3288 seconds in the No. 51 Abel Motorsports car. He ended up .0364 of a second ahead of rookie Nolan Siegel, who was second overall at 1:06.3652 in the No. 39 HMD Motorsports with DCR car.

SEE: Practice Results

This session started a new era for INDYCAR’s development series, which features a new name and has switched to Firestone tires starting in 2023.

“It was really good,” Abel said. “This Firestone tire is going to be really, really interesting. We didn’t get much time on it in the preseason, so I think a lot of people are going to be learning as the year goes on. Definitely off to a good start, and we’ll see if we can keep it up.”

INDY NXT by Firestone drivers will be on track next at 9 a.m. ET Saturday, followed by qualifying at 1:35 p.m. on the 14-turn, 1.8-mile street circuit that includes the downtown asphalt streets of St. Petersburg and a concrete runway at Albert Whitted Airport. The race starts at 9:50 a.m. Sunday, with live coverage on Peacock and the INDYCAR Radio Network.

Rasmus Lindh ended up third in practice Friday with a top lap of 1:06.4386 in the No. 10 HMD Motorsports with DCR car. Lindh returns to INDY NXT for a full season after last competing in the series in a partial campaign in 2021.

Series veteran Danial Frost was fourth at 1:06.5038 in the No. 68 HMD Motorsports with DCR car. Another series veteran, Kyffin Simpson, rounded out the top five at 1:06.5232 in the No. 21 HMD Motorsports with CGR car.

Less than one second separated the top 15 drivers in the session, setting the stage for a tight chase for the pole in qualifying Saturday.

Today’s practice started in choppy fashion due to two early crashes by leading returning drivers in the series.

Christian Rasmussen, who finished sixth in the standings last season, saw his session end when his No. 6 HMD Motorsports with DCR car crashed into the barrier in Turn 4 just five minutes into the session.

“I just kind of lost the rear into Turn 4 and don’t have a complete answer on what happened yet,” Rasmussen said. “We’ll get the car back out there, and hopefully we’ll get some more laps in the next practice.”

Just two minutes after the track reopened following Rasmussen’s crash, Hunter McElrea made hard contact with the barrier in Turn 3 in his No. 27 Smart Motors car fielded by Andretti Autosport. McElrea, the series’ 2022 Rookie of the Year after finishing fourth in points last season, was done for the session.

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