By Steve Wittich
Hurry up – go fast in qualifying – and wait – watch the field try and bump you from the top 30 – is the title of the ultimate underdog story that RC Enerson and Abel Motorsports wrote on the first day of qualifying for the 107th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.
The 26-year-old driver, on the wrong end of a stressful bump day in 2021, and the INDY NXT by Firestone team located less than a half mile south of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway set an early four-lap average of 231.182mph (2:35.7574), which ended up being good enough for the 29th best speed of the day and less than five-hundredths of a second better than the 31st quickest four laps turned by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Christian Lundgaard.
Enerson spent most of the five hours & 41 minutes and 68 qualifying efforts between his qualifying attempt and the gun sounding at 5:50 pm, sitting on a bench alone, in his firesuit, in the corner of garage 6B in Gasoline Alley. He couldn’t take his eyes off timing and scoring on his phone until loading into the No. 50 Abel Motorsports Chevrolet with 20 minutes remaining on the first day of qualifying.
“Just the stress levels the last three hours; I feel like I’ve aged three years,” said Enerson after getting out of the car when the gun sounded. “It’s crazy.
“This team put in so much work, and to do it on just one qualifying run that we felt was pretty conservative, was awesome. I know we had this thing set up to go faster, but why risk eight when we didn’t need to; it worked out for us.
“I must thank John Brunner, Bill Abel, my family and this entire crew. They busted their ass for the past three months getting this thing ready to have this speed.
“It’s just fantastic for a one-off effort. This team has been an NTT INDYCAR SERIES team for four days. We’re in the (Indy) 500 over some people we shouldn’t be, so it’s awesome.”
“It’s just insane. I’m so excited!”
Abel Motorsports, founded in Louisville, Ky., as a vehicle for Bill Abel’s vintage sportscar
exploits. In 2017, they pivoted to the American open-wheel junior formula categories in 2017, winning over 20 races and the inaugural Formula Regional Americas driver’s championship with Kyle Kirkwood.
2021 was a busy year for the family-oriented team. The team began competing in the INDY NXT by Firestone series, opened a state-of-the-art race shop in Speedway, Ind., and hired former Forsythe Racing and Belardi Auto Racing team manager John Brunner.
Two years later, they qualified for their first Indianapolis 500, which was beginning to sink in for Abel when we talked to him soon after the gun sounded.
“It’s just starting to sink in,” replied Bill Abel when TSO asked him about making the Indianapolis 500. “I have not allowed myself to even think about the possibility of us getting into the Indianapolis 500 until about 10 minutes ago, and it still hasn’t sunk in. No, it has not. But it’s beginning to, and I am continuously being overcome with the need to cry. And so I’ve cried a lot in the last 10 minutes.”
Abel went on to talk about his crew and their leader, saying:
“John Brunner is responsible for all of this. And he’s assembled what we can now say is a world-class team because that’s the only way you get here. So to have some of the teams finish behind us that did is impressive. And it’s a pretty good scorecard at the end of the day about where we’re at what John put together.”
In the past decade, only one other new team – DragonSpeed in 2019 – survived bumping to start in the Indianapolis 500,
Abel Motorsports team manager Brunner, who has been a part of many Indianapolis 500 programs, started working on this project in January, mainly utilizing his INDY NXT by Firestone crew.
“It’s a great group of guys,” said Brunner to TSO. “My INDY NXT team built this car. We had assembled a veteran crew to come in and take this thing over, and we couldn’t do that. So, all my INDY NXT guys are here. They’re a big part of this and will also be a big part of this next Sunday. “
The Abel Motorsports entry, the 34th filed for the 107th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, came down to a meeting between Brunner and Chevrolet at the Texas Motor Speedway six weeks ago. That valuable partner relationship was one of the first things that Enerson, Abel and Brunner mentioned.
“The Chevy (V6) was awesome. From the first start-up, we went through ROP with no problems the entire time.”
The help that Chevrolet has provided, not only a superior product and power unit but the support that we’ve gotten, starting with Jack or engineer, all the way up to Rob (Buckner – INDYCAR Program Manager. From day one, we knew that we would fit in well there, and the support just kept improving the further along we went. And even this morning (Saturday), they were helping us. They were confident that they could get us in the show today. And here we are. Thanks!
“Chevy gave me such a great motor.”
We’ll end with one more comment from Brunner, who said the following about his driver.
“RC is hilarious. He hasn’t been in a car since 2021 and hasn’t missed a beat. You know, it’s a shame. He should be in a car in this series every weekend. For him to climb in the car and do his job every single time we went out for a run. He’s such a professional. It’s wonderful to give him his first Indy 500 start.”
- While waiting to interview the principals in this underdog story, many team owners, team managers, Chevrolet officials and INDYCAR officials came by to congratulate Enerson, Brunner and Abel. The rookie driver and team conducted themselves with incredible professionalism all week.
- Always thinking ahead, Brunner immediately began focusing his attention on getting his crew ready for pit stops.
- Qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 has been a long journey for Floridian Enerson. So, it was great to see his family – dad Neil, mom Carla and sister Rachel – in Gasoline celebrating with him. Racing families make a lot of sacrifices, and it’s heart-warming to see them rewarded.
- Enerson spent most of the three days of practice working on finding the speed needed to qualify, so they will now have to switch their focus on race running across the four hours of practice on Monday and Friday.
- It will be Enerson’s first oval start in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, but he does have an excellent record on the turn left-only tracks in INDY NXT by Firestone. In 2015, he led the oval points, including a fourth-place finish in the Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He has three podiums and four top-fives in five INDY NXT oval starts.
This quote is a great way to end this underdog tale. If you’ve been around the various racing paddocks that Brunner has worked in, you’ll know he’s not the emotional type. That wasn’t the case at 6 pm on Saturday night.
“This one was crazy, said a slightly choked-up Brunner when we first ran into him. I’ve never had emotion here (at Indianapolis Motor Speedway) before. They (other Indianapolis 500 programs) didn’t mean as much as this one. This one caught me off guard after we qualified. I had a moment; it’s like, holy cow. Honestly, I didn’t think I could get that much emotion at the racetrack.”