Sting Ray Robb ended his third Indy NXT by Firestone season in September with a race win at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Admittedly, he didn’t know what was next for his motorsports career, as there weren’t going to be many NTT INDYCAR SERIES seats available for 2023 and returning to INDY NXT didn’t seem in his best interest.
Amid the uncertainty, he decided to focus forward in open-wheel racing.
“I would call it making a leap of faith,” he said of making the all-or-nothing decision to pursue an NTT INDYCAR SERIES ride.
With the management help of Pieter Rossi, the father of NTT INDYCAR SERIES driver Alexander Rossi, Robb and his family went to work on acquiring the sponsorship it would take to land a ride if an opportunity became available. After all, he figured his stock would never be higher after finishing second in last year’s INDY NXT point standings.
Robb’s on-track success and off-track persistence led him to Dale Coyne, whose NTT INDYCAR SERIES team granted a test Jan. 4 at Sebring International Raceway. Robb feared a three-month layoff from competitive driving might not be favorable for him, but it was an opportunity to show his skills.
Within 10 laps, Robb felt he was on his way. He finished within a blink of posting the fastest laps of the four rookie drivers participating, and the other three were in cars prepared by Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing.
“To be up to speed that quickly after being out of the car so long, that was sweet … (and) optimal,” he said.
The audition led to an offer, and earlier this week Robb was confirmed to drive for Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing in the No. 51 Honda that Takuma Sato piloted in 2022. Robb will drive alongside another former INDY NXT runner-up, David Malukas, in a program that will be an interesting watch.
Malukas showed flashes last year, the highest-finishing rookie driver in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. He battled Team Penske standouts Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin in the late stages of the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway, finishing .4708 of a second behind Newgarden in the 260-lap race to place second. Malukas led four laps in the race that produced his first podium finish in the series.
Malukas fell just short of winning the Rookie of the Year Award, trailing Christian Lundgaard of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing by 18 points at year’s end. But he showed an Indy Lights driver who didn’t win that series’ championship can succeed in the sport’s highest category.
Robb, 21, will be one of three full-time rookies in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES this season, joining fellow Indy Lights product Benjamin Pedersen of AJ Foyt Racing and Argentine touring car veteran Agustin Canapino of Juncos Hollinger Racing. Marcus Armstrong, a four-time race winner in the FIA’s Formula 2 championship, will spend his first season in this series competing only on the road courses and street circuits for Chip Ganassi Racing as Sato pilots the No. 11 Honda in the five oval races.
Robb is a native of Payette, Idaho, attending the same high school as Hall of Fame baseball player Harmon Killebrew. Robb won the USF Pro 2000 season championship in 2020 with seven wins in 17 races.
Malukas and Robb were born 24 days apart in September 2001, making them the youngest driver pairing for the upcoming season. Regardless of age, Robb expects Malukas to be an invaluable resource as he reaches the top of the sport’s ladder, and together he thinks they can continue Dale Coyne Racing’s tradition of making noise in an environment dominated by much larger teams.
Robb said a friend at Andretti Autosport made an observation about Dale Coyne’s team that resonated.
“They’re one of those teams that’s annoying,” Robb recalled his friend saying. “They’re the ‘little guys’ who show up and are often two-tenths (of a second) quicker than (big teams). It comes down to the guys there know their place and their jobs, and they don’t stray from them. You know (the phrase) KISS – Keep it simple, stupid – that’s what they do, and they do it really well.
“They’re a small team that can hit, and they hit often.”
Robb hopes to add to the team’s hit brigade as he works with engineer Don Bricker, who was Sato’s engineer last year and has worked in the sport since the mid-1990s with teams such as Tasman, Forsythe, Sigma, KV, Conquest and Panther. Sato and Bricker combined to lead four races last year, capped by a fifth-place finish at World Wide Technology Raceway.
If Robb and Bricker can similarly succeed, it will have proven to be a leap worth taking for Robb.
Robb will make his NTT INDYCAR SERIES debut March 3-5 in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding, which will air live on NBC. The year’s 17-race schedule is highlighted by the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on Sunday, May 28, one of 13 races airing on NBC.