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John Brunner Q&A: Abel pushing for IndyCar future sooner than later

After making its debut in the Indianapolis 500 last May, Abel Motorsports has accelerated plans to be in the IndyCar Series.

John Brunner, Abel Motorsports Chevrolet

Abel Motorsports built a respectable reputation in the junior formula categories across the United States and has pound-for-pound quickly become one of the stronger outfits in Indy NXT since joining in 2022.

In an exclusive interview with Motorsport.com, Team Manager John Brunner shares the how the effort to be part of the “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” with driver R.C. Enerson has affected the program’s gameplan to have an increased presence in North America’s premier open-wheel championship.

How has making the Indy 500 changed the mindset of the organization?

“Yeah, it's changed. It's changed a lot. I think everybody has a little more hop in their step. It was a big accomplishment for this team and everybody felt it; ownership really felt it. (Indy NXT driver) Jacob Abel, he's looking at like, 'Holy shit, they pulled that off.' The individual crew guys are funny because I have some guys that was their first ever Indy experience. There's some veteran guys on this team, Vince Bass and Greg Senerius that have done Indy multiple times that, myself included, were kind of over it. You know, it's like been there, done that, and it gave you kind of a different view of it and fresh life almost. It was exciting. We're still getting the benefit from it. Obviously, the press really paid attention. They liked the little team and we had a lot of support from everyone. It was really good for our team morale. I mean, it was really good."

RC Enerson, Abel Motorsports Chevrolet

Photo by: Brett Farmer / Motorsport Images

RC Enerson, Abel Motorsports Chevrolet

Did it accelerate plans on doing more within IndyCar, on a bigger capacity?

“Yeah, that's always been there. I always knew that coming to work for Abel, that was mentioned Day One. That was the goal. We accelerated that probably by a year. I think that our original plan would've been probably maybe trying something in '24, but I think our biggest focus has always been on '25. By doing Indy in '23 it did kind of speed up the process. I don't think our overall plan has changed a lot except for now it's like we're gathering assets where I probably wouldn't have started this this early before, but now it's like, 'Okay, we just did in it '23.' Our plan is to do it again in '24, but I want to be in a better situation where I'm not relying so much on this IndyCar paddock for the help. I want to own as much equipment as we can. Abel wants to own as much as we can, so we're in that process now, just gathering the things that we need.

“You know, we're already having discussions on whether we should buy an Indy car now, a second car, to just be a little more comfortable in case of any issues or whatever. Our work with Chevrolet is so much easier and more open this year already; great conversations with them. Last year, that was the piece that was hard to get: trying to get an engine. And this year they're like, 'What can we do to help? What do you need?'

“The whole series, in general. All those things are already in motion. Last year, I think it took me until April really to get things tidied up. And here we were still in the season, beginning of September and all the partners that you need in IndyCar are all having great conversations with us.”

Have you ordered any parts or started the process with that?

“I've got gearboxes on order. I've got exhaust systems on order, clutch systems on order. We're committed to updating the car. As those parts become available, we are in the process of updating our car and moving forward.”

RC Enerson, Abel Motorsports Chevrolet

Photo by: Brett Farmer / Motorsport Images

RC Enerson, Abel Motorsports Chevrolet

Was any of this activated by the incoming hybrid system or was that not really a factor?

“No, the hybrid really didn't have any big decision. Obviously, quite the investment had to be made last year to update the car that we ran in Indy 500 and we're going to have to do that again and then some. So, that part's not wonderful having to do two years in a row with that much update, but that part is what it is. We have the pricing. We know what it's going to take and we're ordering everything that we need to order to update the car.”

How many employees do you have right now?

“12.”

How many are you looking to have to bolster that number to make the plan to be more involved in IndyCar work?

“You know, we are actively looking for that person to come in to help me with the IndyCar program. Obviously, it's a little different when you're right now an Indy-only team, as we intend to be for 2024. But we do realize we need to start getting the personnel onboard to be thinking about '25. So, what we'll do differently for '24 is that we'll probably start hiring dedicated Indy-type of people, whether that's for management, all the way down. That's probably the biggest difference. I have an Indy NXT team to run, and I do not want to take anything away from that. Things are looking so good for '24 for our Indy NXT team. There's lots of things happening there and I don't want to take anything away from that program. We've just worked too hard to get that program ready for the next step.”

Just so I have my timeline right: even though the situation with the 500 moved you up a year, you're not thinking of running like a partial season with two cars in 2024. You're looking at partial season 2025 but hiring the people in ’24; whereas maybe the other plan was hiring people in ‘25 to build for ‘26. Is that right?

“Yes. I think our goal right now is my eyes on 2025 to do more than the Indy 500. Is it a full season? I don't know that yet. There's a lot of things being worked out in IndyCar with teams and so we're having to pay attention to that as well.”

Could two cars for the Indy 500 next year be a thing, though?

“If the right opportunities were there, it would be a thing.”

RC Enerson, Abel Motorsports Chevrolet

Photo by: Motorsport Images

RC Enerson, Abel Motorsports Chevrolet

What about doing more beyond the Indy 500 with R.C. Enerson next year?

“If we had the proper backing and the proper personnel, we would not be opposed to doing more races with R.C. in '24.”

Nearly everybody you had on the Indy 500 entry were former 500 veterans. I’m guessing all those team members probably wouldn't be interested in returning for a full season slate and would rather remain Indy-only again?

“Yeah, I think that's probably true with the majority of them. You know, that was one of the great things at the end of that run there at Indy, our last night in the garage I think every single one of them came to me and said, 'If you want to do this again next year, we're in.' We had a good group. Those guys, all but probably one or two, we'd probably only want to do an Indy-only thing. It's the reason that we're gonna start trying to bring in some personnel sooner than later. We got our eyes set on some veteran-type guys. We've had some discussions. We want to do it right. We don't want to do it anyway but right. That first hire is going to be very important for us.”

And that first hire would be a team manager to oversee the IndyCar program, correct?

“Yeah.”

Is this second car that you're wanting to add to the team an automatic to think that it's meant for Jacob Abel or is this a scenario where there are other options?

“Yeah, we're not in a tough spot, but we're in the spot where Jacob is, Jacob is right there. What do we do? If we could, I don't know, you know, nothing is out of the question and absolutely when we start talking about the second car, it's like, 'Could we do this?' We're relying on a few other people for some knowledge.”

RC Enerson, Abel Motorsports Chevrolet

Photo by: Gavin Baker

RC Enerson, Abel Motorsports Chevrolet

Would that be a partnership with another team for a year to build his development?

“You know, that's probably the best way to go if you can get it. There's so many things happening in IndyCar right now; we're seeing these teams announce partnerships. I feel like that's the best way to go about it, is having some alliance with someone.”

Is that just for Jacob or are we talking the whole team?

“I think it would be with the whole team. We had a lot of support in the paddock for our Indy effort in '23. I don't know how much support, if we were a full-time entrant, a part-time entrant, probably going to lose quite a bit of that support. You also get into, if we're doing it as a bigger entry now, we had support from almost every team in the paddock; didn't matter if it was Chevrolet or Honda. You get into a situation where you're trying to run full time, the engine manufacturers don't like that crossover. So, we're going to cut off half of our help. And then how much help can you still get?

"I feel like we would need a technical partnership. Is that going to be available is a big question with the way these teams are already partnering up. Those are all the questions that we have as well. What's the best way to go about this? That one is just a big question out there. You know, we've had meetings, talking with lots of people trying to figure out our path. We're just not positive yet how we're going to make this next step.”

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