Note: This is part of a series of NTT INDYCAR SERIES team previews for the 2023 season.
Starting Lineup: David Malukas (No. 18 HMD Honda), Sting Ray Robb (No. 51 Honda).
2022 in Review: Malukas delivered a strong rookie INDYCAR SERIES season in the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing with HMD entry, the top-finishing rookie in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge (16th) and dueling with Team Penske drivers Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin in the waning laps of the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway to finish second. Malukas led laps in three of the five oval-track races, including three in the XPEL 375 at Texas Motor Speedway, his first such race in the series. Robb finished second in the INDYCAR NXT by Firestone standings in his second season in the category, the top finisher among a strong contingent of Andretti Autosport drivers (Matthew Brabham, Hunter McElrea and Christian Rasmussen were the others). Robb won the season-ending race at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
New for ’23: The addition of Robb, who replaces Takuma Sato in the team’s No. 51 Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing entry, is the big change. It gives Dale Coyne’s organization the two youngest drivers in the series. Robb’s engineer will be Don Bricker, who led Sato’s program last year, while Malukas has a new lead engineer in Alex Athanasiadis, who was an assistant engineer on the car last year.
Keep an Eye on This: This doesn’t just apply to Robb, but drivers advancing from INDY NXT by Firestone, while prepared, still have a ton to learn. As he recently noted, INDY NXT races are essentially sprint races without high-pressure pit stops, and the tire manufacturer through last season was different than the Firestone tires used in the INDYCAR SERIES. Then there’s the fact there are nearly twice as many cars on the track during races, something that becomes heightened when pit road becomes hectic during caution-flag stops. Said Robb: “There’s more to it than just what’s the optimal way around the racetrack. There’s going to be a lot that goes into that.”
Little-Known Fact: Both Malukas and Robb were born in the ninth month of 2001, and Robb is 24 days older than Malukas despite being a year behind him in his career path. Robb made the point the advantage of being young is he and Malukas are “pliable, and (Coyne) can kind of form us into drivers he wants us to be.”