Sting Ray Robb’s family are gearheads. That’s why he’s “Sting Ray” Robb. Named after the Corvette model. However, he’s making his NTT INDYCAR Series debut rivaling Chevrolet. The rookie driver will race a Honda. The thing is, Robb expected to be a Chevrolet driver. He was after that open seat with Juncos Hollinger Racing and 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.”
Robb is only 21, but he’s been in the Road to Indy ranks since 2017. He spent four seasons in the Indy Pro 2000 Series, two in Indy Lights and now makes the jump to INDYCAR. He’s improved every year which leads me to believe that if he’s given multiple seasons, he can eventually excel.
He was 6th in points in 2017, gained his first podium in 2018, had 6 podiums and a fourth place finish in the standings in 2019 and won his first race and championship in 2020. He then moved up to Indy Lights in 2021 and finished 8th in points. A year later, he improved six spots in the standings to 2nd including a win and eight podiums.
While 2023 could be a learning curve, 2024 could be a season to where he shines.