Abel dominates INDY NXT practice… Elkin and InterMS win twice in USF Juniors and enter championship picture

By Steve Wittich

When we saw the gap that Abel Motorsports veteran Jacob Abel had to his fellow veterans and championship contenders, James Roe and Nolan Siegel, we were pretty sure the 23-year-old from Louisville had set that time on a fresh set of INDY NXT Firestone Racing Tires. 

“It’s fantastic,” said Abel, who finished second in the season opener. “Basically after St. Petersburg, it was the start of another offseason for us. Last year, St. Pete went really well, and Barber not so much. So, this year St. Pete went well, so we’re going to make Barber go well, too. A lot of work in the past six weeks to keep in it.

“No new tires there. So, we’ll see what she does on new tires for qualifying. I’m feeling pretty good about it.”

Jacob Abel loads into the No. 51 prior to INDY NXT by Firestone practice (Photo Courtesy of Penske Entertainment – Chris Owens)

However, that wasn’t the case, with Abel blitzing the Roe and Siegel by 0.5158 and 0.8965 seconds, respectively. 

Andretti Global rookie Bryce Aron led a tight group of six drivers ranked fourth through ninth – Aron, Josh Pierson (HMD Motorsports), Jamie Chadwick (Andretti Global), Reece Gold (HMD Motorsports), Michael d’Orlando (Andretti Cape), and Caio Collet (HMD Motorsports) – covered by less two-tenths of a second. 

The first of two INDY NXT by Firestone practice sessions began at 1:30 p.m., and 20 of the 21 drivers quickly got to work. 

The lone driver not to take to the undulating Barber Motorsports Park was the reigning Formula Regional Americas Championship Powered By Honda champion Callum Hedge (HMD Motorsports), who eventually got on track with only 20 minutes remaining in the Friday practice. 

The early leader was Abel, who led a recent full field test on the 2.3-mile, 17-turn natural terrain road course. 

After 15 minutes of activity, the 23-year-old was the quickest driver, turning a lap at 73.1028 seconds. 

Fellow veterans James Roe (Andretti Global) and Nolan Siegel (HMD Motorsports) were the first drivers to go under 73 seconds but could not break the 72-second mark. 

The only driver to accomplish that impressive feat was Abel, who set the quickest lap on his 20th of 20 laps. 

The sole red flag of the session came out with 13 minutes remaining when Louis Foster’s No. 26 ground to a halt on the racing surface. The AMR INDYCAR Safety Team cleared the Briton, and the green flag returned with seven minutes remaining. 

d’Orlando, coming off an impressive fourth-place finish as the highest-placed rookie at the St. Petersburg season opener, will be getting a bill from Mr. Barber for a mid-session trip through the grass. Don’t laugh; the rumor was that before hosting public events, the former dairy mogul sent bills to series, teams and drivers that defiled his perfectly manicured lawns.

INDY NXT by Firestone Practice #1 Results

151Jacob AbelAbel Motorsports71.9990——20
229James RoeAndretti Global72.5148-0.515823
339Nolan SiegelHMD Motorsports72.8955-0.896520
427Bryce AronAndretti Global73.1150-1.116024
514Josh PiersonHMD Motorsports73.1425-1.143522
628Jamie ChadwickAndretti Global73.2134-1.214421
710Reece GoldHMD Motorsports73.2638-1.264822
83Michael d’OrlandoAndretti Cape73.2696-1.270622
918Caio ColletHMD Motorsports73.2991-1.300118
1022Yuven SundaramoorthyAbel Motorsports73.4250-1.426024
1199Myles RoweHMD Motorsports w/Force Indy73.4268-1.427820
127Christian BogleHMD Motorsports73.5083-1.509319
1323Jonathan BrowneHMD Motorsports73.6087-1.609723
1440Jack William MillerMiller Vinatieri Motorsports73.6539-1.654921
1526Louis FosterAndretti Global73.6736-1.674610
162Salvador de AlbaAndretti Cape73.8135-1.814512
1721Josh MasonAbel Motorsports74.1795-2.180525
1811Nolan AllaerHMD Motorsports74.7450-2.746021
1917Callum HedgeHMD Motorsports74.8313-2.832315
2033Niels KoolenHMD Motorsports75.0196-3.020623
2176Lindsay BrewerJuncos Hollinger Racing76.8078-4.808823

The top-level American open-wheel feeder series is back on track at 10:05 a.m. (Central) for its second practice session and will qualify at 1:35 p.m. 

Side gig for Abel

When he wasn’t busy behind the wheel of his Abel Construction-sponsored car, Abel was driver coaching the VRD Racing USF Juniors Presented by Continental Tire team, who had one podium with second-generation racer and Andretti Global junior driver Sebastian Wheldon.

This gives us a good segue to discuss a pair of Friday USF Juniors Presented by Continental Tire races, the fifth and sixth races of the season.

Source: Series PR

Elkin and InterMS Sweep Barber USF Juniors Doubleheader

LEEDS, Ala. – Israel’s Ariel Elkin and the InterMS team proved to be the class of the field during today’s Continental Tire Grand Prix of Alabama. Less than two weeks after celebrating his 17th birthday, Elkin was never headed in the pair of USF Juniors Presented by Continental Tire races at the challenging Barber Motorsports Park road course.

Exclusive Autosport’s Jack Jeffers, from San Antonio, Texas, followed him home this morning, with Elkin’s teammate, Augusto Soto-Schirripa, from Miami, Fla., close behind in third.

Sebastian Wheldon (VRD Racing), from Coral Gables, Fla., pressured Elkin all the way to the checkered flag this afternoon to finish second and extend his championship lead, with Soto-Schirripa once again completing the podium.

Race 1 Results

Race 2 Results

A huge field of 27 cars was split into two separate groups for qualifying on Thursday afternoon. Elkin, in Group Two, was the fastest driver overall, securing his first Continental Tire Pole Award, while Brazilian Bruno Ribeiro set the best time among the first group to ensure he would start on the outside of the front row for DEForce Racing in Race One this morning. Jeffers and Soto-Schirripa were second fastest in their respective groups, and therefore lined up alongside each other on row two. The remainder of the grid followed an identical pattern.

Elkin made an exemplary start to leap into the lead at the start, while behind him Jeffers managed to slip past Ribeiro for second.

After a brief early caution following an incident at Turn 12, the top two soon began to inch away from Ribeiro in third, leaving Soto-Schirripa to fight off the attentions of Briton Liam McNeilly (Jay Howard Driver Development).

Unfortunately, the second half of the race was peppered with incidents, including a nasty crash soon after a restart with 17 laps in the books when Ribeiro, shortly after losing second place to Soto-Schirripa at Turn One, lost control at Turn Four and came to rest broadside in the middle of the track. Most of the field was able to take evasive action, but an unsighted Ava Dobson (Jay Howard Driver Development), from Brookfield, Wis., had absolutely nowhere to go and caromed into the wreckage at high speed. Thankfully, the state-of-the-art safety systems of the Tatuus JR-23 ensured that Dobson was not seriously hurt.

The race was flagged shortly thereafter with 19 of the 20 laps completed and Elkin declared a deserving winner. Jeffers and Soto-Schirripa completed the podium, followed by McNeilly, Evan Cooley (Exclusive Autosport), from Frankfort, Ill., and points leader Wheldon.

Zanella Racing’s Teddy Musella, from Orlando, Fla., made an impressive debut by rising from 18th on the grid to 10th, although it was fellow Floridian Giovanni Cabrera (Exclusive Autosport) who garnered the Tilton Hard Charger Award after working his way from 26th to 16th.

The grid for Race Two was set according to each driver’s second-fastest lap during qualifying yesterday. Elkin once again led the way after securing his second straight Continental Tire Pole Award, this time with Jeffers for company on the front row.

Start of USF Juniors Presented by Continental Tire Race #2 at Barber Motorsports Park Photo credit: Gavin Baker Photography

A couple of incidents split up the early part of the race, albeit with Elkin maintaining his stranglehold at the front. Behind, at the first corner, Wheldon found a way past Jeffers, whose hopes of another podium finish were dashed shortly afterward when he tangled with McNeilly at Turn Five. Jeffers resumed a lap down to finish a disappointed 19th, while McNeilly’s title hopes took a beating when he was forced out of the race immediately.

The final 12 laps of the 20-lap race featured a thrilling battle for the lead. Elkin and Wheldon exchanged fastest laps on several occasions, but there was no way through for Wheldon as Elkin completed his daily double.

Soto-Schirripa similarly triumphed after an exciting back-and-forth battle for third with Leandro Juncos, from Carmel, Ind., as the son of NTT INDYCAR SERIES team principal Ricardo Juncos recorded his best finish to date.

Jay Howard Driver Development’s Aiden Potter, from Brentwood, Tenn., earned the Tilton Hard Charger Award by virtue of climbing from 25th in the starting lineup to 12th at the finish.

Elkin’s double victory moved him to second in the points table, while Soto-Schirripa’s pair of third-place results capped a breakthrough day for InterMS team principal Juan Garavaglia, who claimed both PFC Awards as the winning car owner.

Next on the docket for the USF Juniors Presented by Continental Tire contingent is an open test at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on May 15-16, followed by a tripleheader race event at VIRginia International Raceway on June 14-16.

Ariel Elkin (#25 Monaco Friends of Israel/Swift Garage/Mossad/IDF-InterMS Tatuus JR-23): “An absolutely great week – super amazing, super excited. We did pole positions for both races, broke the track record in qualifying and led each lap of both races from start to finish. We just swept the event. Super glad, super happy. A big thanks to InterMS and the entire Israeli nation all over the world. I am here to support everyone during these difficult times and I am willing to do it in the future and win as much as I can.”

Jack Jeffers (#92 Corpay Cross Border Solutions-Exclusive Autosport Tatuus JR-23) – After Race One: “We were putting the pressure on but as you know, Barber is a tough track to pass on and it is also known to bring out a lot of yellows. That’s one thing I had on my mind. After the start he had a little bit of a gap, I was trying to chip away at that and trying to run him down. It was about trying to make a move and, unfortunately, we couldn’t make the move. A lot of yellows at the end prevented me from having another shot. P2 is a good result considering our first weekend was not ideal. It’s a good way to start momentum and keep building on it. Considering we had to do a car change – P2 for how hard the team has worked and how late they had to stay last night, I am grateful and hopefully I can repay them with a win in the afternoon.”

Sebastian Wheldon (#98 Gainbridge Andretti-VRD Racing Tatuus JR-23) – After Race Two: “Overall, I feel like the race went pretty well. I felt like I had the pace advantage over Ariel and I tried my best with the dirty air. I felt it was a good race after struggling a little bit in practice.”

Augusto Soto-Schirripa (#24 InterMS Tatuus JR-23): “I came into this weekend a lot more comfortable than NOLA. I think because I was more comfortable with the car and we learned a lot at NOLA. It was super important for us to score points, especially me, because I lost out in Race One at NOLA with electrical issues. In summary, it was a super positive week for the team – a super, super positive week. We scored important points and now we will carry that momentum to VIR, keep our heads down and work hard. We are always trying to find a way to be faster, in and out of the car.”

USF Juniors Presented by Continental Tire notebook

By Steve Wittich

What a start for InterMS

Rebranded team InterMS (formerly known as International Motorsports) has had quite a start to their USF Pro Championships sojourn. They impressed at the season-opening event at NOLA Motorsports Park but took an even more significant step this weekend at Barber Motorsports Park. 

The Juan Garavaglia-run Miami, Fla. team had its pair of drivers stand on four of the six possible podiums this weekend. Ariel Elkin and Augusto Soto-Schirripa both have interesting backstories that we plan on highlighting later. 

TSO just happened to be walking by the team on pit road as Elkin’s crossed the line to win the first race of the weekend, and we captured this great video of them celebrating. 

(Photo by TSO – Steve Wittich)


I was staunchly against the introduction of the halo in open-wheel racing at one point. Boy, was that a stupid opinion. Once again, the safety device likely saved a driver from injury.

The first USF Juniors Presented by Continental Tire race ended with a scary crash involving several drivers at the crest of the hill at Turn 4. 

Jay Howard Driver Development’s Ava Dobson, who was unsighted, plowed into another car, with the series posting this scary onboard video. 

There were no injuries in the scary incident and Dobson later posted the following on Instagram:

Link to Instagram post

New Wheels

After many years of faithful service, the old USF Pro Championships pace car was retired, and replaced with this brand new Honda Civic Type R. Does anybody else think the Honda H might look good on the front of the USF Juniors Presented by Continental Tire, USF2000 Championship Presented By Continental Tires and USF Pro 2000 Presented By Continental Tire cars?

(TSO Photo By Steve Wittich)

Points situation

With the top ten on the points table separated by 83 points after five of 16 rounds, the chase for the USF Juniors Presented by Continental Tire scholarship is just starting. However, the youngest drivers on the way to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES will now get a month and a half to concentrate on the end of the school year, hitting the Virginia International Raceway track from June 14-16. 

Top ten in points

198Sebastian WheldonVRD Racing130 
225Ariel ElkinInterMS123-7
39Liam McNeillyJay Howard Driver Development101-29
433Max TaylorVRD Racing92-38
524Augusto Soto-SchirripaInterMS78-52
692Jack JeffersExclusive Autosport74-56
717Leandro JuncosDEForce Racing58-72
87Ayden IngrattaJay Howard Driver Development48-82
991Evan CooleyExclusive Autosport47-83
1090Joao VergaraExclusive Autosport47-83