By: Ashley McCubbin
After scoring a couple podiums in Indy Pro 2000 Presented by Cooper Tires last season, Jacob Abel is ready to take the family team to the next level, set to compete in Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires. The Kentuckian recently spoke with NEWS FROM THE PITS about his ambitions.
ASHLEY MCCUBBIN: What are your thoughts going into the upcoming season?
JACOB ABEL: I’m really excited. I think it’s going to be an exciting season. It’s defiantly going to be a big step for me personally, and for the teams as a whole jumping up to Indy lights. But I think we’re ready for it. I’ve been surrounded by really strong people as they have experience in Indy Lights with Belardi Auto Racing from the past years.
So I’m really excited to be surrounded from the experience and take the step up and really learn a lot this year. I haven’t really jumped up in series in open-wheel for the last couple years, as I’ve been in that F3 / Indy Pro 2000 level for the last three years. So I’m really excited to make the step up to Indy Lights. It’s been much anticipated.
ASHLEY: And what are the goals going into this year, knowing this is your rookie campaign?
JACOB: It’s kind of hard to determine those before we see where we’re going to sit in the field. I don’t think we have results associated with anything, probably top-five’s. Realistically, it would be really, really good. Obviously getting on the podium would be ideal and that would be a really big goal, and we’d be really happy about that if we could get on the podium sometime this year.
But we’re keeping our expectations reasonable, as consistent results and improving throughout the year; we’d consider that a successful season.
ASHLEY: What track are you most excited to get to?
JACOB: The track that most excites me, and it does every year, is Mid-Ohio. It’s my home track. I’ve had a lot of success in the past years in open-wheel racing and the Road to Indy and other rides. I’m really excited to get there. It’s sort of a homecoming for me each year.
ASHLEY: You mentioned this, but you’re making that step up for the first time in a couple years. What does it mean for you to be able to do that with the family team? It’s been interesting in watching you make the mark against the big teams. Does it give you extra, motivation or extra pride?
JACOB: Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s made the highs a little bit higher, right? Getting wins, getting podiums, getting those good results because it’s not just for me as a driver personally, but it’s for the team. Obviously, I’ve been with this team my whole career, ever since I started in car racing. So obviously my dad plays a big role in it in the team, so it’s nice to get those results as it’s for the both of us. I think I’m a little bit more invested in the team than drivers normally are, being that it’s a family team.
It does make those results sweeter, but at the same time, it makes the lows a little bit lower. Like I said, I am more invested in this personally, emotionally, than most drivers are with their teams. So I spend a lot more time in the shop than other drivers and do spend a lot more time involved behind the scenes with their teams than other drivers. So it definitely makes those highs higher, and those lows lower for sure.
ASHLEY: As a driver, looking back on this past season in Indy Pro 2000, what do you feel that you could improve to be even better?
JACOB: That’s a great question. One of my struggles in the past is qualifying and being able to maximize those new tires for one lap. We’ve always good pace throughout the races, but with Indy Pro 2000, Indy Lights especially, with the dirty air and all that; it makes it more difficult to pass. It has become qualifying is very important, starting upfront is important, and I think that’s something all drivers are working on as one of the hardest things to do is maximize those new tires and a light fuel load for one lap.
So that’s the biggest thing I have been working on, especially during testing, learning a lot bigger of a tire, a lot more grip in the Indy Lights car just makes it that much more important to do that – because there’s even more to maximize.
ASHLEY: What would it mean to you if you were able to win the Indy Lights Championship and get the opportunity to run in the IndyCar Series?
JACOB: I think that’s the goal of every single driver on the Road to Indy is to make it to IndyCar – and obviously winning Indy Lights will do that for you, and it’s kind of the easiest way to get to IndyCar by winning the Indy Lights Series. It’d be really be a dream come true. I know every driver says it, but that’s why we do it. We’re trying to make it to the top and I’m sure once you get to IndyCar, your goals quickly change and you want to win races in IndyCar and championships in IndyCar.
Right now, I think for me, it’s just getting there. I think that’s the same for every driver.
ASHLEY: Is there anything outside of the open-wheel realm of motorsports that you’d like to give a try?
JACOB: So I have been quite diverse in my career up to this point. I’ve done a lot of SportsCar stuff with Acura, and I’m a Honda Racing HPD Junior Factory Driver so I’ve got a lot of opportunities with that in the NSX GT3 Evo. In the past year, I raced GT World Challenge America with SRO; I was able to get a win in that series and a few podiums. At the end of the year, we ran the Indianapolis 8 Hour because obviously, endurance race at Indy, that was my first true endurance race and I really enjoyed it.
So anything like the 24 Horus of Daytona, 12 Hours of Sebring, 24 Hours of LeMans, any of those would be a dream. But I’m really open to driving anything and I’ve really showed that through my career. This past year alone, I raced two Stadium Super Truck races. I didn’t think that I would be ever doing that in my career so that was super fun, too. I’m kind of a guy that likes to do everything and experience it, whether it’s life or racing in general. So I’m never going to pass up an opportunity in anything.
ASHLEY: I was just going to say – watching the Stadium Super Trucks, it seems crazy to a degree from flying through the air to the contact. What was that experience like for you?
JACOB: It was wild. It was very last minute how it happened. I just kind of got the call to drive down to Nashville for the Nashville street race, the first race of its kind. To really be a part of that was really cool. Obviously, I’d like to racing an IndyCar or something like that, but the Stadium Super Trucks were awesome, too. That was probably the most attention that I got from fans in a race weekend, which is crazy. I did get on the podium there in the Super Truck and it was wild.
That was probably the most involved that I’ve been with the fans in a race weekend, just because they love seeing it. They love seeing the trucks jump, they love seeing the trucks crash – they love all that stuff. I think it’s a great outlet to build my personal brand and it’s just fun, too. You never really get to race like that in everything else. You can actually bump into each other and get into each other without really getting in trouble or damaging the cars – it’s almost encouraged in that series. That’s something that’s definitely unique, but it’s make it super fun.
ASHLEY: Who would you consider your racing hero?
JACOB: That’s a great question. I’ve always through my young career been inspired my dad. I grew up watching his racing; that’s what got me into racing. So it’s been really cool watching him and wanting to be like him in my young career, and then in the older years, I’ve started to be surrounded by people who are now in IndyCar, and now in the upper series – guys like Colton Herta and Oliver Askew. Those are guys that I’m good friends with that I’ve started being fans of theirs as I want to see them succeed just because I know them on a personal level, too.
ASHLEY: Given the road that your career has taken, what is one piece of advice that you’d want to offer someone getting started?
JACOB: I think the biggest thing is taking every opportunity presented to you and not having a one-path mind. I think that a lot of guys have those attitudes going through their racing careers, but the biggest thing is taking every opportunity handed to you, whether it’s a Stadium Super Truck race, or the Indianapolis 8 Hour, or any sort of SportsCar race. I think it’s very important to keep options open if something doesn’t work in the future, but it also helps you as a driver to be very diverse in that sense.
That way when you’re driving an Indy Lights car for the first time, I’ve driven a car this heavy with a SportsCar in GT3. I’ve also driven a car with a turbo with an F3 car, so you’re able to pull from all of those cars and be able to pull from your resources and helps you a lot when you’re moving up through the ranks or driving a new car.