Day 1 of INDYCAR Content Day Tidbits

The opening day of the 2023 NTT INDYCAR Series Content Day was filled with stars. All three Arrow McLaren drivers started us off only to be followed by three of the five Chip Ganassi Racing drivers with Simon Pagenaud and Santino Ferrucci rounded out the morning session.

The afternoon drivers were the youth of the series. 2 rookies (Benjamin Pedersen and Sting Ray Robb) started the session off with a pair of second year drivers (David Malukas and Kyle Kirkwood) ending it. Sandwiched in the middle was 22-year-old Colton Herta.

Tid Bits

  • Arrow McLaren will need nametags for a while. Over 40 new employees were hired this offseason.

“A lot of new faces. A lot, a lot of new faces,” said Pato O’Ward. “I’m still in the process of learning all the names,” he says. “It’s so cool to see, we’re all growing. There’s been big steps each year. I feel like in terms of personnel this year, it has been a very big one. One reason being probably because of the third car, just the team is growing.

“It’s great to see. It’s great to see everybody’s enthusiasm. Everybody’s here for that one goal, right? We all put so much time and sacrifice and energy into making these race cars go quicker.

“I feel like it’s been so hard to find people in all departments I feel like. From talking to not just the people in our team, but from other drivers, other friends, they’re like, Man, it’s hard to find people.

“I trust the team. I think the group of people that are in charge, seeing who joins the team, seeing who comes about, I think they know exactly what we need, and I trust they’re going to make the right decisions.

“Honestly, from what I’ve seen, there’s so much talent. There were already so much talent in the group. I feel like so much more has been added on which is just going to help us to really get us where we want to be.

“We as drivers put it into: how can we maximize it? Just really, really excited to get this season underway.”

One new face is Alexander Rossi. He says those new faces are challenging for him to get acclimated to the new team.

“Honestly, the biggest one is people, just learning who does what and what everyone’s kind of roles are, experience levels, who you need to go to for help on whatever issue you may have. I think that’s the biggest thing,” Rossi told me on the main challenge of changing teams. “I still think it was very difficult. Every day you’re still trying to fill little roles here and there.”

Felix Rosenqvist and Pato O’Ward Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site
  • McLaren drivers expect Rossi’s presence to help them get stronger

Alexander Rossi’s goals this season are unknown. It’s not that he was trying to be a jerk on Tuesday, it’s just the fact that he’s not been in this race car yet and has no idea of what’s in store. He’s used to being with Andretti having spent his first seven years there. By doing so, he’s only driven a Honda. Now, he has new faces to learn, new people in place, a car he’s not been in and going to be driving a new powerplant.

He’s tempered his expectations.

“I hope so,” Rossi said of a potential breakout year this season. “I mean, it’s a fantastic organization whose results speak for themselves. I think what they’ve done the past couple of years is very impressive. They’re a great organization with great partners and great people. Getting to work now with GM and Chevy has been pretty cool as well, to see what they’re doing, how they’re helping push the program forward.”Like I said, it’s been a lot of conversations and things in theory. We don’t really know anything until we get on track. But from where we sit right now, we’re very excited about what’s to come.”

However, Arrow McLaren needed his arrival to help them grow too. They were sort of maxed out on what areas they could grow in and needed that third voice around to help close that gap to the “Big 2” quicker.

“I’ve been positively surprised,” said Rosenqvist of the early addition of Rossi. “I think Alex kind of has that bad-guy role a little bit in INDYCAR. He’s always been that guy, which is cool. I think we need those guys, as well.

“Actually having gotten to know him, it’s been super nice, super kind. I think, as I said before, it fits like a glove in the team. I think it fills a role where me and Pato are kind of like, Pato is kind of like the crazy guy, I’m somewhere in the middle, and Alex is the more engineering guy in the team. I think Alex has more experience, as well. He just feels like a guy who knows what he wants.

“Yeah, good addition to the team and great guy at the same time.”

O’Ward agreed.

“He’s been great to have around,” he said of Rossi. “We’ve all really enjoyed the Content Days, the media that we’ve done with the team. I think Felix hit it spot on; he’s in the middle. I think I’m here, Alex is here.

“At the end of the day, INDYCAR, as much as teammates will help in order to gather data, it doesn’t mean they’re going to specifically help you in what you need because it’s a series where you can really tailor the car to what you want rather than like, for example, in Formula 1, this is the car, you need to learn how to drive this certain car. In INDYCAR it’s very different where you can really tailor and customize it to what you want it to feel like or drive like.

“From past experience, I think Alex likes a car similar to what I do. I know he likes it to be able to point well. From experience, I wasn’t at Andretti seven years like Alex was, but from my experience, it was an extremely strong car in the rear.

“I feel like our car is very different to that. I’m curious to see what he thinks and how he kind of develops where we can find some more time.

“I do think we have a very strong car in certain areas, but I definitely think he’s coming from a car where that other car has been stronger than us in other racetracks. I feel like if we can just find gains where we haven’t quite had a winning car, a podium car, that’s just going to help all of us, right?

“It’s been great. He’s been great to have around. I think he needed a fresh start. I think he’s excited to really work with all of us, create the strongest package.”

Felix Rosenqvist during the Nashville race weekend. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site
  • Rosenqvist, Palou Talk Futures

It’s no secret, Alex Palou is likely headed to Arrow McLaren in 2024. He just has to get through this season. As a result, Felix Rosenqvist is likely the odd man out. How does he enter this season knowing that it could look for him, a lot like last year’s in terms of his future.

“I mean, first of all, I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. That’s a long time until next year,” he noted on Tuesday morning.

“As I said, I think it’s a great opportunity for me. I’m in a good spot. I’m in a well-performing team, not only in Arrow McLaren but my 6 car I think is going to be strong this year. I feel well with everyone around me. I feel like I have a good support from the team to go and perform.

“I don’t really think too much about that stuff. I just try to do what I can do, which is go fast forward and try to win races.”

He said what gives him reason for optimism is on how he responded to this exact situation a year ago.

“I think it went pretty well, to be honest,” Rosenqvist said on how he responded to last year’s uncertainty and adversity in his career. “I think I handled it probably as good as I could. That’s probably a reason why I’m here this year.

“I think it’s a massive opportunity for me to be back for a third year. I feel like I have all the tools I need to perform, feeling very good with everyone at the car. As I said, there’s so many things happening last year on and off the track. I think as a team, we just really learned a lot from that that we can bring into this season.

“I think we’ll be tough this year. We have a lot of things in the bag to try early this season. A couple of things here at Thermal we want to try. Going into the season, we have pinpointed some areas where we feel we were lacking a little bit, like the short ovals, for example.

“I feel like we’ve done the best we can to attack all those areas and bring the best possible package we can going into the season.”

For Palou, he says that the relationship on his side with his current employer is a lot better than it was last year.

“It’s been good since everything was set week after Laguna. The relationship has been back to 100% like it was before from both sides.

“Yeah, I had full access since then. Been at the workshop many, many times before I left for Europe for Christmas, once we’ve been back to prepare all the pre-season and stuff.

“Yeah, I don’t expect anything.

“Then in regards to sharing time between both parties, we set it in the way that will be focused on INDYCAR during the INDYCAR season, then once it’s done and once we try and get to 100%, then I’ll be focused on the other side.”

As far as how hard it was to block out the feelings aspect of this last year?

“Yeah, obviously there’s always some moments where you’re like, Oh, no, my God, this is not going the direction I wanted.

“But there was things that were out of my control obviously. Some things that I could control, as well. But at the end of the day I had all the information from my side, from other sides. I knew that everything could be settled, and it did. So, yeah, I’m just happy it did.

“I mean, I didn’t have another option, so… Either you’re good or not, that’s what you have to do.”

Marcus Ericsson Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site
  • Ericsson budding with intensity and confidence heading into 2023

We’ve not seen this type of Marcus Ericsson before. The usual cool, calm and collective Swede that’s always boasting a smile was more brash and to the point on Tuesday. He said he’s still “pissed off” at how last year ended and that on, “Race day I’m not scared of anyone.”

That’s not the Ericsson we’re accustomed to seeing but one that has his head down and entirely focused on not only winning a second straight Indy 500, but taking home the Astor Cup championship trophy in September too.

“I had a chance going into the final, but I also was leading the championship for a long-time last year. I’m still a bit pissed off about the ending of last year because I felt we were having a really strong year, then the last three races or so we just fell off a little bit. That was disappointing,” he said on Tuesday of INDYCAR content day.

“But it’s given me a lot of motivation to work hard in the off-season to try and be better this year. It’s definitely our goal to try and get that championship this year.

“We’ve been focusing on trying to improve our package for this year. We feel like we have some areas where we could improve from last year, so we’ve been focusing on that, trying to, yeah, become better as a team, as a driver. I’ve been focusing a lot on myself trying to improve my performance for this year.

“We were close to winning both the championship and the 500 last year. We need to keep pushing to try to do that this year.”

The 32-year-olds career trajectory shows that he’ll be back in this position very soon to go for another title. This isn’t the end. Far from it in fact. I expect another season in 2023 like the one he just had in 2022.

The next step of his progression to get there is qualifying.

“I think us as a team, it’s been one of our weaknesses the last couple years in that we’re not qualifying as high as we should,” he said. “Race day I’m not scared of anyone. I think on the 8 car we’re always going forward in the races; we’re always very strong in the races.

“It’s no secret that we need to improve on qualifying day. That is us in the 8 car but also Chip Ganassi Racing as a whole. I think if we can all improve, it’s going to help us. These days as well, INDYCAR is becoming more and more competitive. So many good drivers and teams. If you start mid pack, yeah, it might be long races, but to win a race from mid pack is getting harder and harder.

“It’s been one of the big focus areas in the off-season, to try to find things in the setup, in the way to understand the tires, stuff like that, to mainly improve our qualifying performance. It’s been a big focus for us. It’s going to be interesting this week to see if we have found some things that are going to work, then apply that throughout the season.”

9 times did he started 12th or worse including 5 times in the final 7 races. It’s why he went from 6 top 5’s in the first 10 races this season and was leading the points to 4th. He had no top 5 finishes over the final 7 race stretch. While he had 3 top 10’s, it was the lack of top 5’s that allowed everyone else to catch up.

Consistently coming from behind was the culprit. Imagine if he started closer to the front in those races. It’s not like he wasn’t a hard charger. He went from 14th to 3rd in Texas, 18th to 4th in the GMR Grand Prix, 13th to 6th in Mid-Ohio, 15th to 6th in Iowa 2, 25th to 11th in the Gallagher Grand Prix.

That’s why he didn’t win the title but also why he’s gained so much respect from his peers in seeing him constantly charge through the field on race days.

“Of course it means a lot,” he says of the praise by his peers. “But at the same time, you sort of race for yourself in a way. I think INDYCAR is, if not one of the absolute toughest series in the world, it’s amazing drivers here in the series. I feel like the last couple years I’ve shown that I can be fighting up front, winning races, fighting for championships.

“But, yeah, of course it means a lot to get respected by your competitors.”

As far as when that race craft came about?

“Yeah, I think race craft is something I learned a lot in my Formula 1 years. Planning a race, driving, thinking longer ahead in stints, taking care of my tires, fuel, stuff like that,” he told me. “I think my race craft, I really started to master that in Formula 1. It was one of my big strengths in F1.

“I feel like I brought that to INDYCAR, and it’s been my strength really from year one. I felt like I was pretty good in the races.

“Of course, you always try to become better and better. I try and analyze a lot and work hard with my engineers to understand and be involved in a lot of things. I think that helps me on race day to be prepared.

“It’s the same thing, that’s what we’ve been working on hard now in the off-season to try and improve on the qualifying side, to sort of analyze and understand why we’re lacking a little bit more there comparing to the races.

“It all comes down to hard work, having good people around you, being open to try new things.”

Simon Pagenaud last year in Road America. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site
  • Pagenaud talks potential rivalry with former teammate Josef Newgarden

 A potential rivalry is brewing in the INDYCAR paddock and it’s between two drivers that I didn’t see coming. Former teammates at that. Simon Pagenaud poked some fun at Josef Newgarden during last weekend’s Rolex 24 at Daytona which saw Newgarden snap back. Pagenaud was asked about that on Tuesday and didn’t deny he said those things on purpose.

“I just love to press the button with Josef (Newgarden),” Pagenaud said. “I just love it. I’m being very open about it. I think he knows it, too.

“It’s funny to see him unsettled a little bit. I like when he gets aggressive. I don’t know why. It’s funny.”

Pagenaud said that he loves the fact that he can do it more now that they’re not teammates anymore.

“Absolutely, yeah. I couldn’t do that before (laughter). I would get in trouble,” he said.

Yeah, I can be myself. I can say what I want to say. Nobody is upset about it. I love Josef. Don’t get me wrong. I love the guy.

“Do I love the driver? Not always, but… I enjoy pressing the button with him because he seems like such a confident person. Yeah, I like to just go around a little bit, press it.”

Pagenaud and Newgarden did have their fair amount of run-ins while at Penske including a couple of times at the World Wide Technology Raceway. However, they always found ways to put water on the fire. This time, not so much.

“No, I haven’t heard from Josef actually (smiling). I thought of texting him. I thought he would say thank you for giving him attention like that, but…” Pagenaud said if he’s reached out to Newgarden since Daytona.

Pagenaud noted that Newgarden wasn’t wrong in what he said about him last year. He didn’t get to fight him much on track but vowed to do better in that aspect in 2023.

“I got to build my team up, put myself in that situation. We were not there yet. I hope we can be there this year,” he says.

“But certainly not being teammates, you race differently. Now, the driver that he is, I have a huge amount of respect for him. He’s tremendous. I mean, he’s one of the best at what he does. So beating him is even a better reward.

“But I like my résumé better than his.”

Newgarden has more wins than Pagenaud (25-15) and in championships (2-1) but Pagenaud has that Indy 500 win in 2019 while Newgarden is also 0-for-11. Pagenaud also now has two Rolex 24’s to his credit too.

However, Pagenaud is looking to add to these stats in what he expects to be a better 2023 season overall.

It all starts with this week’s test to help them grow.

“We’ve done a lot of work on simulators with the designs, several packages we think might be better for the problems that we had last year,” he notes. “One of the main issue was tire wear, which was my main problem in races.

“We are going to evaluate what we found on the simulator and make sure it translates in real life. I’m hoping it really does because with two days of testing, if it doesn’t work, then I’m going to have the same problem I had last year.”

Pagenaud said that the past preseason tests were at Sebring and that last year’s worked well on the street courses but held them back on natural road courses. This year’s test is on a natural road course but not one that they’ll race on. What’s that mindset coming into this year’s edition then?

“We went to test last year twice. It translated to some tracks but not all the tracks,” said the Frenchman. “It translated to a street course where we were extremely strong, but didn’t translate to the road course.

“We’re going to work with the road course tire here, which is better for us because that’s tire wear, which we’re having a big issue with. I have to remind, Firestone brings a different type of tire for each track. It makes it very difficult for us when we go testing to figure out what the tire really need.

“The tire is the most important thing on the race car, especially when you’re in a series like INDYCAR right now that is so close. We know the car so well that the margin for improvements are very small.

“If you can just extract a little bit more out of the tire, you’re going to have a better advantage. Penske did that last year, they figured out what it was. We didn’t. The goal for us is to figure that out with the little built of testing we get.

“It’s tough. It’s the difference between sports cars and INDYCAR is sports cars you can test as much as you want, like we did this winter. You kind of know what you have going into the first race.

“INDYCAR you get two days. What you got is what you got. That makes it very difficult and very reliant on the development that has been done by the engineers.”

One thing that helps Pagenaud’s mindset coming into this season too is his Rolex win last weekend. That’s a high note that can’t be taken away from him. Does seeing the ball go into the net that soon though, make for an advantage? Sometimes just seeing that trophy on the mantle or in this case, a watch on your wrist can be a good reminder of what can happen.

“Big. Massive,” he says. “It gave me confidence that my training was good, that mentally speaking I’m working on the right things, that my influence within the team is going in the right direction.

Helio and myself are closer than ever, helping the team in many ways. It’s good because it’s showing Mike and Jim that our input is also helping putting us on the map.

“Everything is going according to plan, even better. Yeah, I’m full of confidence, full of happiness because of the work I’ve done is paying off.

“I think I’m extremely proud for myself, which is very important as a driver, especially at this point of your career. You just want to be proud about what you’ve done. I’ve got many more years to go and more races I want to clinch. I have a list of things I want to do, that’s for sure.

“So proud of myself for the achievement, but also proud of the team. We talked about it in press conference, but this team is just incredible. The calm and the way they run this race is the best I’ve ever seen. They are able to be a relaxed team with having everything in control. I’m really proud to be part of it. I’m really proud to bring my experience to the team. Seeing them go like this is spectacular. All the success that we’re having is just incredible.

“Yeah, I’m just blessed and excited to be here at this time.

“I’ve built on that work all last year. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to show it to you as much as I wanted with results. But in the background, I feel like, yeah, there’s something there. The potential is amazing.

“It’s going to take a little bit of time. You’ve got to be patient. But you have to know how good you are inside and you have to believe in it.

“Certainly when results start showing, then all of a sudden the rise is even stronger and it makes you feel really good. So that is a big positive. Certainly I feel on top of the world right now. I’m riding the wave and I’m going to use it to my advantage.

“It’s a perfect timing because with my preparation, it’s coming at a perfect time.”

Pagenaud enters his 12th full-time season in the sport. Another thing going for Pagenaud is history. He’s proven that in a second season with a team, he’s on an elite level. That first year is tough. It’s about getting to know each other and learning what works and maybe what doesn’t. That second year, the puzzle is already there, it’s just putting those pieces from the first year that you had learned together.

No one better than Pagenaud at that.

His second full-time season came in 2013 with the then Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team. He went from 5th in points as a rookie in 2012 to third in 2013 which included his first career win (he had 2 in total). After another strong year in 2014, it led him to Team Penske starting in 2015.

That first year was a struggle. He finished 11th in points. The second season with Penske?

5 wins and a championship.

Colton Herta at the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Toronto. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site
  • Herta brushes off leadership role with Andretti Autosport

Andretti Autosport boasts one of the more inexperienced lineups in the paddock. Yes, they have 4 drivers, but combined, 3 of them have 1 full-time season under their belts. Romain Grosjean was part-time in 2021 but moved to his first full-time foray in INDYCAR with Andretti in 2022. He has made 30 career starts.

Devlin DeFrancesco was a rookie last year. Same for Kyle Kirkwood, except he spent his rookie year at Foyt. Each have 17 total INDYCAR starts.

Colton Herta is now the lead man of the group. Is he ready for that? Herta has made more starts himself (65) than the other three (64) combined. He’s also only 22 and the youngest of the grouping as well. As the highest paid driver in the paddock, is he ready for this type of role?

“It’s not much of a difference for me,” Herta said. “Maybe they’ll rely a little bit more on my feedback and I might have to do a little bit more, but for me, it’s kind of business as usual.”

His teammates very much see his data and feedback as a positive and even if Herta isn’t vocal, it’s that aspect to what they consider him the leader of the team.

“I’d say it’s a little bit different with Andretti. I think Colton’s way of saying that he’s like kind of brushed off his leadership role is in a sense that he’s not beating on his chest, like I’m a driver; everyone kind of bows down to me. He’s trying to brush that away,” said Kirkwood.

“But at the end of the day, he’s the one with the most experience, and if he does something, we’re kind of going to ask him the questions, be like, hey, Colton, when you tried this, what exactly happened, because he’s the one with the most experience, and he’s been the most successful driver on the team that we’ve had. It’s a sure thing that we’re going to reference off of him, which in a sense makes him kind of the lead driver, yeah.

“It’s definitely a unique situation, but at the end of the day he’s the one with the most experience. He has a right to be kind of in that position. It’s not a — I’ll say it again, it’s not a position that we’re all expecting him to lead us on track or expecting him to lead us off track and lead us with car development. He’s ultimately our main source of contact really.”

DeFrancesco views Herta as a leader to him and one that benefitted his rookie year greatly.

“Very fast. Very, very fast last year, just looking at his data, some of the qualifying laps he was able to put in were very, very impressive, and definitely someone I’ve been able to lean on and learn from for sure in many different ways, and I’m looking forward to putting that to use this year and making a big step forward.”

Consistency though, is the biggest key to living up to those lofty expectations for the youngster entering his fifth season.

“Yeah, it’s no secret that last year was not a good one for us,” said Herta. “We need to do better on all fronts. That’s what the main part of the off-season has been. It’s been looking at everything and just trying to improve everything.

“We just need mistake-free weekends, and that’s the goal, one by one.”

Herta had 2 wins and 2 podiums each in 2019. That landed him 7th in the final standings. He followed that up with 1 win and 2 more podiums in 2020. That put him 3rd in points. A year later, it grew to 3 and 5 but he wasn’t consistent elsewhere which is why he was down to 5th in points in 2021. Last year was a down year further, in having 1 win and 2 podiums in 17 races. He finished 10th in points as a result.

Herta had 10 Top-5 finishes in his first 32 starts to his career. The problem was, he only had four podiums among those 10 Top-5 finishes.

2021 was supposed to be that breakout though with 7 Top-5 finishes and 5 of which being on the podium. That gave him more podiums in 16 races that season than in the 32 starts prior. Last year he took a step back in scoring just 4 Top-5 finishes, all podiums. However, he failed to score a single one though in the final seven events.

As he enters 2023 on a backslide from 2022, can he get back to the 2021 level but be more consistent in the process? If he wants to be a champion he better.

Since 2016, all but one champion had a podium finish in 50% or more of their starts throughout a season. Josef Newgarden had a 41% podium rate in 2019. Other than that, everyone else has been around the 50% mark. Will Power was 9-for-17 in that category last season.

That’s entirely what Herta is missing.

The thing is, it’s not like he hasn’t been capable. It’s just turning solid days into podiums and he’s fine.

The No. 51 ride that Takuma Sato raced last year goes to Sting Ray Robb this year. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site
  • How a workout let Robb to Dale Coyne Racing

Sting Ray Robb was never focused on Dale Coyne Racing as a potential landing spot for 2023 because he always just assumed that the second seat within the organization would go to Linus Lundqvist. I mean, he heard the same thing that we long heard in the sense that Takuma Sato’s budget wouldn’t be enough to land him a full season seat. The No. 51 Dallara-Honda was open. However, Robb felt like DCR/HMD Indy NXT driver Linus Lundqvist would be the preferred target to replace Sato.

Unfortunately for Lundqvist, yes he had scholarship money, but like Sato, it wasn’t enough to land that seat on a full season basis. Robb only learned of that fact while talking with Lundqvist during a workout.

“It was a busy off-season,” Robb admitted during Tuesday’s Media Day session. “I’ll say that right now. Lots of talks between different teams. Obviously I didn’t know what I was going to be doing at the end of the year. We took a leap of faith when I stepped into the role of not having a ride and not committing to the Indy Next Series and just committing to going to INDYCAR.

There was a few teams that we were talking to, and Dale’s team was not the one that was at the top of the list because we thought they already had a driver. Obviously with Linus winning the Indy Next Championship, we assumed with the HMD association there that there would be a straight shoe-in for him.

“I assumed Linus was locked into the seat. Obviously he had a good year. With the HMD association, I just assumed that was a perfect shoe-in, like I said. But Dale and us, we were talking but we were also still talking to another team.

“But I actually was at PitFit Training one day with Linus and discovered that was not the case. That created an opportunity for us that allowed me to call up my manager, Peter Rossi, and get him on the phone, and he immediately called Dale and said, hey, we’re available.

“I think there was a mutual understanding of what availability was for either one of us. That’s when conversations began with testing options, et cetera, because at that point he had already committed to testing Marcus in the car and Daniel in the car at the Sebring test in the late off-season last year in 2022.

“Then we had a really good test in 2023 right at the beginning of January, and I think that was kind of the one that set the tone that allowed me to get in the seat.”

While it sounds somewhat harsh that Robb went behind Lundqvist to land that seat, that’s just the nature of this business model that racing operates in.

Lundqvist won a championship head-to-head over Robb but it was Robb instead in a seat that was destined for Lundqvist and it all comes down to money.

“Well, I believe that I deserve a seat and he beat me, so there’s your answer,” Robb said on the situation Lundqvist was facing in the fact that the scholarship money was diminished in 2022.

“So Linus does deserve a seat. His on-track performance was incredible. But it takes more than just a driver to get into INDYCAR. You’ve got to have village around you that supports you, and so I think that that is where my group made a difference. It wasn’t just in my performance, but it was the people around me.

“I feel bad for Linus because as a driver I can feel that way towards him because I could be in that seat if I didn’t have those same people around me.”

Robb’s teammate and Lundqvist’s Indy NXT teammate in 2021, David Malukas, feels horribly for the Swede too.

“Very much,” Malukas said if Lundqvist was deserving of an INDYCAR seat. “I have so much respect for Linus. Such a good teammate, a good friend. Honestly, I’m so gutted that he didn’t get a seat.

“But it’s all, I think, just with timing with how everything was. He really just came at a bad time. I feel like it would be the same for anybody.

“It’s really unfortunate, but I definitely think he’ll be with us in the future for sure. Like once ’24 comes up and there will be seats open, I do see him there, and I really hope he does because he definitely, definitely deserves an INDYCAR seat. He is an amazing driver. He helped me so much through my Indy Lights season, and I just feel like me and Kyle had a bit of a jump on him. I think we had a little bit more seat time in Indy Lights than him, so he kind of needed that second year because Indy Lights is a very specific car to learn.

“But he would be very impressive in the INDYCAR paddock.”

Some may then say, well why not go back to Indy NXT if you’re Lundqvist and just win another title or at least stay in front of these teams. Robb says that unfortunately, you can’t. The risk is too large in doing so.

“Yeah, staying another year in Indy Next would have been a bigger risk than reward because there was a tire compound change that didn’t allow for any teams to have any data from the past,” he noted.

“Driving for Andretti last year I was able to lean on the data from past champions that they had run, as well as have past knowledge of where to brake, where to shift, all the stuff that we can go back and review and then over time find out what the best way is to grow in those areas, et cetera.

“With the new tire compound you don’t know who’s going to be the best team, who’s going to be the quickest. We saw at the Homestead test recently that the teams that were on top were not the teams that have been there in the past. They’re new. The Andretti guys were not the ones that were at the top. That’s not to say that they won’t figure it out, but it’s a risk that you take.

“Let’s say that I finish third or fourth in the championship rather than second or first. That lowers my stock value, so it creates an opportunity that’s not as welcoming for me to step into INDYCAR because I don’t have that high of a value after that.

“There’s been drivers in the past. To name one, I think is Santi Urrutia. He was a driver that did really well in his rookie season and from there he just didn’t win the championship, but the only place he could have gone was higher.

“So to not finish as well as he did or even finish the same, it doesn’t show that he’s got the ability to move up to the next level.”

Top Quote

“Yeah, the off-season is very long. I’ve forgotten how to drive,” second year driver David Malukas joked.” I mean, I haven’t touched anything — I’ve only been able to hug my car at the shop but that’s it. I did a seat fit and everything felt so fresh and new. I don’t know, I’m really excited for Thermal to come because I’ve been overthinking, I’ve been having nightmares I don’t know how to drive anymore, like really funny nightmares where we go out and I don’t know how to turn left or right, and it’s pretty funny dreams.

“I think once I get in the seat, I think everything will come back, but I cannot wait to go back to racing. When the season ended, I was like, that was so much so quick, and I was like, finally I can get a break, and one week later I was already like, I want to get back into a car.”

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