Dale Coyne Racing might have had a reputation for gambling on drivers with questionable ability over the years, but its recent choices have included a driver who needed one year with the team before becoming series champion, an ex-Formula 1 driver who immediately hit the front and a star rookie now coveted by the series’ top teams.
That means you have to sit up and pay attention for all the right reasons when it signs a driver these days.
Sting Ray Robb might have the feeling of a name of one of Coyne’s more left-field signings from the past, but he has all the ingredients to impress as its more recent crop of drivers has.
The American’s name is an obvious place to start in our interview. Is it Sting for short? Ray? Where does it come from?
“Sting Ray is my full first name, so that’s usually what I go by and that’s usually how people refer to me, but I’ve got plenty of nicknames as well, just from my buddies making fun of me or whatever else,” Robb tells The Race in an exclusive interview shortly after the news he’ll drive the Rick Ware Racing co-owned #51 car for Coyne.
“One of my best friends, he calls me ‘swordfish’, because why not? All of my stepbrothers, they call me ‘Jelly’, short for jellyfish. So it’s just a bit of fun that they’re poking at me, messing around.
“The story goes that my parents were both big Corvette fans, so they decided to name me after the Stingray Corvette.
“But the longer story is that my dad’s side of the family’s heritage is from Stirlingshire, Scotland. So Sting is actually short for Stirling.
“Both of my grandfathers had Ray in their name, one of them, it was their first name, one it was their middle name, and so we took all of that, combined it together.”
Away from the track you’ll find the 21-year-old Idaho driver hunting, skiing and indoor rock-climbing, and while some young drivers struggle for hobbies, it’s clear the amount Robb packs into a day is indicative of a brain that doesn’t stop working or a work ethic that doesn’t falter either. That’ll make him a hit at Coyne.
Trying to predict how he will fare in IndyCar is tough. He follows the likes of Kyle Kirkwood and Rinus VeeKay as Indy Pro 2000 champion – Robb won it in 2020 – but couldn’t win Indy Lights in two attempts which is usually a black mark on the record.
However, don’t judge him too harshly on that. Colton Herta didn’t win Lights in two attempts and he’s constantly linked to an F1 future, and Juncos – where Robb was in his rookie year – was not ready to compete with series leaders HMD and Andretti at that stage.
Plus, the driver Robb will join in 2023, David Malukas also took two seasons in Lights and finished second in his last season with HMD, as Robb did last year after a switch to Andretti, and Malukas has been a huge IndyCar success.
Malukas has already been tapped up by some of IndyCar’s biggest teams for the future, and if anything Robb’s junior single-seater CV is more impressive than Malukas’s.
“With Dale Coyne being a smaller team, I think it allows me to be more involved and see everything that’s happening behind the scenes and get to know the industry a little bit better and more intimately,” says Robb.
“And I think it also allows them to adapt and change directions quicker than someone like a Ganassi or Penske or Andretti where they can kind of get lost in their resources.
“I think that’s why they’re such a strong team.
“I think that’s why David did so well, because they were able to adapt and change and improve weekend-to-weekend and they’re able to hit at the tracks just like anyone else.
“It’s just a matter of how consistently they’re going to hit.
“So it was cool to see David do so well and that gives me hope. It makes sense that that’s how I can do as well.”
Following a recent trend of drivers, Robb really enjoyed driving the IndyCar as it’s basically a more powerful but much more compliant machine than the one used in Indy Lights.
On the plus side, conquering the almost rally-driving style needed for the Indy Lights car is great prep for an IndyCar, but on the downside, it is an extreme style that some drivers struggle to manage in Indy Lights, even though they’d do fine in an IndyCar.
Robb’s really benefited from the experience and impressed in his recent Coyne test.
“I think the Indy Lights car does a good job of preparing us for IndyCar,” he says.
“The first test that I had was at Mid Ohio last July with Andretti, just had a half day there.
“I remember thinking ‘it’s an Indy Lights car that does what you want it to do’.
“In the Lights car, it’s a bit unreasonable to drive at times – like it’s very difficult and it’s quite physical.
“It’s a very good prep car to get you ready for an IndyCar because once you’re in IndyCar, you have so many tools to play with. When it comes to dampers, whatever else that you can make it do what you want it to do.
“So it felt more natural to me to drive the IndyCar than it was in the Indy Lights car and I think that’s why I did so well at the test just because it’s like, ‘oh, yeah, this is where I want to be, this is where I feel comfortable’.
“Obviously the speeds and everything are higher and I’m sure that once I get to the ovals it will be a different story.
“But at least around Sebring, I felt very comfortable and confident with the car. So I would say it fits my driving style.”
Using Malukas as a template makes the prospect of how Robb takes to IndyCar really exciting.
Coyne has evolved into a team that – while it can’t regularly take on the bigger teams – is capable of strong results and allowing young drivers to impress.
Takuma Sato struggled to bed into the team last year, at least when you consider the results, and that he was behind Malukas in the points. Robb getting the chance is certainly a decision with more upside for the team.
It seems Coyne is a great place for new and/or young drivers joining IndyCar, and Robb is the next exciting test of that trend.