Friday, May 5, 2023

INDYCAR: Engine issues make Sting Ray Robb lone retiree at Barber

PHOTO: Dale Coyne Racing

by William Soquet Staff Writer

Sting Ray Robb picked up the 1st last-place finish of his NTT IndyCar Series career during Sunday’s Children’s of Alabama Grand Prix at Barber Motorsports Park when his #51 Biohaven Honda dropped an engine after 36 of the event’s 90 laps.

The finish came in Robb’s fourth career series start. In IndyCar Series history, it was the 41st due to engine problems, the 215th for Honda and the third for the #51.

Sting Ray Robb – named Sting Ray after Stirlingshire, Scotland and his grandfather Ray – was born a mere eight days before the 9/11 terror attacks. Growing up in Idaho, he made it onto the national karting scene by 2010. He reached the pinnacle of karting after five years, winning a Rotax championship in 2015. From karting, Robb first had a brief adventure in stock car racing. He ran three then-K&N Pro Series West races for Patriot Motorsports Group in 2016, scoring a best finish of 14th at his home track, Meridian. From there, he ventured into the then-Pro Mazda Series, signing with World Speed Motorsports in advance of the 2017 season. After a sixth-place finish in the championship, Robb moved to Team Pelfrey for the 2018 season and then Juncos Racing for the 2019 season.

For the first time in his open-wheel career, Robb stuck with the same team for two years, returning to Juncos for the pandemic-delayed 2020 season. He immediately built on a fourth-place points showing the previous year, landing on the podium during the opening weekend at Road America and in victory lane during the Mid-Ohio tripleheader the next time out. Robb then swept a tripleheader at the Indianapolis road course and picked up another win at Mid-Ohio, plus victories at New Jersey Motorsports Park and in St. Petersburg. He dominated the championship, securing the trophy with two races to go and gapping runner-up Devlin DeFrancesco by 97 points.

Bolstered by the scholarship money earned from his championship victory, Robb moved up to what was then known as Indy Lights with Juncos for 2021. He took his lumps during the rookie campaign, as he cracked the Top Five only once and never hit the podium. At the end of the season, Robb found himself eighth in series points, ahead of only one other driver who ran every race. After the season ended, the prospect jumped to Andretti Autosport for 2022, his eyes on a series championship. The podium drought was snapped early, with Robb reeling off a trio of third-place finishes during the early portion of the season. While Linus Lundqvist set the series on fire, Robb was the most consistent driver of the rest of the field en route to a second-place finish in series points. He finished worse than sixth only once during the season and broke through for his only Indy Lights win during the season’s final weekend at Laguna Seca.

At the end of the Lights season, RACER reported that Robb had offers from multiple IndyCar teams for 2023. As silly season progressed, Robb’s name was not in driver announcements for A.J. Foyt Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing nor Juncos Hollinger Racing. However, one of the offers did eventually come to fruition. On January 18, Robb was announced as the driver for Dale Coyne Racing’s second entry, which was vacated by Takuma Sato at the end of 2022. The entry would once again be fielded in a partnership with Rick Ware Racing, donning the number 51 for the season.

Robb’s jump to IndyCar career has proven difficult. He was a late victim of chaos at Long Beach, going off track with four laps to go en route to a 16th-place finish. During the next race at Texas, Robb ran as high as 14th before running in the turn one marbles with 39 laps to go, sliding into the outside wall and causing terminal damage. He finally put a full race together at Long Beach, where a quiet day led to an 18th-place finish.

Robb's car stopped off track following his stall.
PHOTO: William Soquet

With no part-time entries headed to Barber, there were some familiar names at the bottom of the practice speed charts. The A.J. Foyt Racing pair of Benjamin Pedersen and Santino Ferrucci were the only cars to land in the 1:08 range during first practice. Both cars made marginal gains during second practice, working into the mid-1:07s, and both passed Augustin Canapino in the charts. Robb was immediately ahead of the Foyt pair in both practices, clocking in 25th of 27 in first practice and 24th in second practice. In qualifying, Ferrucci had a sensor fail, leaving him unable to complete an at-speed lap. He slotted in 27th, with Marcus Armstrong directly in front in 26th. Armstrong was set to finish seventh in the group but had his two fastest laps deleted for an interference penalty when the stewards decided that he impeded Christian Lundgaard’s progress. Robb qualified 23rd, having finished 12th in group one.

While Ferrucci started last, he did not stay there for long. Felix Rosenqvist, who started eighth, and Josef Newgarden, who started seventh, made contact while battling for position during the opening sequence of turns. Rosenqvist spun into the gravel but managed to keep the car going, not needing a caution to restart the car. The spin dropped Rosenqvist to last, but the gap proved manageable. On the following lap, he passed Armstrong and Jack Harvey, dropping Armstrong to last. Ferrucci was long gone and had worked up to 22nd by the end of Lap 2. The early shuffling continued, as Armstrong got by Harvey on lap three en route to an eventual 11th-place finish.

Harvey, who entered Barber 19th in points, continued to struggle. However, Conor Daly faded from his 20th-place starting spot and Harvey made his way around Daly on Lap 8. Daly was the last-place runner until the cars on a three-stop strategy commenced their first round of pit stops. David Malukas held last for a couple laps before Pedersen took the position for a majority of the next stint. Pedersen took over 27th on Lap 13, and save for momentarily getting by Daly two laps later, held last place until the next round of pit stops. Canapino led off the two-stop strategy round of stops, and he dropped to last following his stop on Lap 27.

Robb settled into 21st during the opening stint of the race and pitted early with his teammate Malukas. The two settled into a rhythm after their stops, generally alone on the track in 23rd and 24th. Robb briefly climbed as high as 13th during the two-stoppers first round of stops, but then hit pit road for a second time on Lap 31. A few laps later, his car stopped on track near Turn 7, and a caution was thrown to tow his car. A team release stated that Robb’s engine began sputtering and then eventually died.

That caution was the only caution of the race, mirroring the 2022 race at Barber. All other cars finished on the lead lap, with Canapino, Daly, Harvey and DeFrancesco rounding out the Bottom Five.

*This is the first last-place finish for the #51 in an IndyCar Series race since Takuma Sato's race lasted two corners at Toronto last year.
*Robb is the first driver with a two-word first name to finish last since Juan Pablo Montoya did so at Iowa on July 18, 2015.
*Rookies have now finished last in two of the first four races. Marcus Armstrong is the only rookie who has yet to finish last this season. 

27) #51-Sting Ray Robb / 36 laps / engine
26) #78-Augustin Canapino / 90 laps / running
25) #20-Conor Daly / 90 laps / running
24) #30-Jack Harvey / 90 laps / running
23) #29-Devlin DeFrancesco / 90 laps / running

1st) Chip Ganassi Racing (2)
2nd) A.J. Foyt Racing, Dale Coyne Racing (1)

1st) Honda (3)
2nd) Chevrolet (1)


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