MILLER: IndyCar owes a lot to Juncos University

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MILLER: IndyCar owes a lot to Juncos University

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MILLER: IndyCar owes a lot to Juncos University

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I don’t know Sting Ray Robb, but I love his name and the fact he captured the 2020 Indy Pro 2000 championship.

I do know his car owner, Ricardo Juncos, and I’m a big admirer of his spirit, determination and track record to keep bringing up young drivers and operating regardless of the obstacles.

If you hadn’t noticed, Juncos Racing has become quite a successful pipeline for IndyCar through its feeder system. Conor Daly earned a Star Mazda championship in 2010, Spencer Pigot won the Pro Mazda and Indy Lights titles before moving up to the big leagues, Kyle Kaiser was crowned Lights’ titlist in 2017, the same season as Victor Franzoni was No.1 in Pro Mazda,  and Rinus Veekay was an Indy Pro 2000 champ and race winner in Lights before taking the IndyCar series by storm in 2020.

Robb racked up seven victories and nine pole positions to earn a $609,245 scholarship package and will take the next step up the ladder into Indy Lights next year.

But the best part of his resplendent run was the fact Juncos worked on his car and that of teammate Artem Petrov after the pandemic decimated the Indianapolis-based team.

“I did a little bit of everything because COVID hit us hard, and we had two cars but only five people,” said Juncos, who hadn’t engineered a car since 2017. “So I did some engineering with my main guy Kevin Eichler, built my own gearboxes and recruited my two brothers to help.

“The fundamentals, principles and coaching side I’m OK, but it was a very challenging season since we squeezed 17 races into four months.”

The 45-year-old native of Argentina came to America with $400 and some big dreams and is the classic example of ‘head down, elbows out and damn the torpedoes’ mentality. It’s taken him from a go-kart mechanic to a competitor in the Indianapolis 500 in 18 years with no trust fund or rich backers – just desire and hard work.

Juncos fielded cars for Sebastian Saavedra and Pigot at Indy in 2017 and then came back in 2019 with Kaiser, when they scored big headlines for bumping Fernando Alonso and McLaren.

Ricardo Juncos’s look of disbelief is about to give way to joy as it sinks in that Kyle Kaiser has made it into the 2019 Indy 500 at Fernando Alonso’s expense. The team is working to have a regular presence on the IndyCar grid. Levitt/Motorsport Images

His little team, located off Main Street in Speedway, has been a fixture in the Road to Indy for more than a decade and he’s fired up about Roger Penske and getting back to IMS next May.

“We’re all better off with Roger running the show and I feel like he’s going to grow the Road to Indy,” said Juncos. “I’ve always been convinced that IndyCar needs the junior series’ and it’s working. Look at what (Colta) Herta, Pato (O’Ward), Rinus (Veekay), Oliver (Askew) and Spencer have done and I’m so happy Lights is coming back.

“I want to get back in Lights and hopefully have Sting Ray with us to continue our relationship, and I’m also talking to four or five other drivers.”

As for returning to the Indy 500?

“We put on an aero screen a couple weeks ago and the car is ready to go,” he says. “I’m pushing for sponsors – nothing confirmed yet, but I’m pushing. I want to find my way to IndyCar on a full-time basis and continue doing it.”

Juncos is still waiting to see how good the 19-year-old Robb can be as he climbs the ladder, but Veekay’s impressive rookie season didn’t surprise him.

“Oh no surprise,” he says. “I knew Rinus was really fast. He was just a teenager with me and needed to learn the tech side, but he was always super fast everywhere we went. I’m so proud of him.

“It’s tough to say where Sting Ray ranks with all these guys. He’s growing and has good car control, and he’s super smart on the mental side. He keeps improving, and I like that he keeps getting better. He’s a good kid from a great family, and I hope we can keep moving up together.”

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