Drs. Trammell, Olvey discuss Power diagnosis, concussion protocol

Photo: Tony DiZinno
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It’s not very often you get two of the smartest doctoral minds on one conference call, but that was the case today with Dr. Terry Trammell, IndyCar Safety consultant, and Dr. Stephen Olvey, retired former director of the Neurocritical Care Unit at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, both on a call along with Will Power and Penske Racing president Tim Cindric.

Power was cleared to drive earlier Wednesday after he did not actually have a concussion, as he was initially diagnosed. Comments from both Trammell and Olvey – which are full of lucidity and insight – are below:

Q: Dr. Trammell, can you briefly talk us through the weekend in St. Petersburg and specifically how Will’s inner ear infection could have led to the concussion-like symptoms and failing the test at St. Pete?

Dr. Terry Trammell: Okay. He had, as you know, an impact with a turn on the wall on the driver’s right. It compressed the right side of the car pretty low, but at relatively low G’s for that style of racing.

We were in the — the chassis was in the 50 G range. I think his maximum right-sided G’s were 56.9. That’s on the chassis. His ear accelerometer data, without going through all the numbers, the average result was 30 G’s, which is low and below our threshold that I’ll talk to you about in a minute. He was being evaluated at the scene of the crash by the IndyCar medical team with Dr. Billows present, had no symptoms at that point of any kind, and was released from the scene.

Later that evening, he began to develop some neck soreness and stiffness, and Will, correct me if I’m getting this wrong, because I was doing this by remote control, and it wasn’t until later that he developed the symptoms of nausea, headache and dizziness.

Now, what happens next is — the presumption when a driver has had an impact is that anything that’s wrong with him was a result of that impact. And the next step is to go to one of the sports concussion surveys, or what’s called a concussion assessment tool or clinical evaluation tool of which there are several. And we use one called the SCAT test, which is sports concussion assessment test, or sometimes called a sideline concussion assessment test. That test is based on the premise that the cause of your symptoms is a concussion. It therefore quantitates the symptoms and gives a probability that you’ve had a concussion based on the numerical score for the symptoms.

If you have some abnormality to start with, what we would called compounding factors or compounding variables, those are not taken into account. The effect that they have is not taken into account by the test. It simply assumes that all of your symptoms are from a concussion.

Well, if you have an inner ear infection with fluid in the inner ear like Will did, that by itself can cause you to have a sense of balance disturbance, vertigo, can cause you then to be nauseated. It can produce a headache. Anybody that’s had a sinus or inner ear infection knows this, and if you have a headache and you’re nauseated, you don’t concentrate very well. Add to that fact that as the day, Saturday, went on, Will, if I’m correct, your neck stiffness and soreness seemed to get — at least respond badly to loads under braking, and that causes increasing muscle tension, which also causes a headache.

So now you have a driver that’s nauseated, has a balance disturbance, vertigo, headache, can’t concentrate very well, and you have him take the SCAT test, which he’ll now fail. It’s part of our concussion protocol to say that if you fail a concussion assessment test, whatever kind we’re using — and SCAT is the one we’re using now — that you have to be evaluated by a more definitive diagnostic test such as the impact test before you can return to competition. We take the possibility of concussion very seriously and want to err on the side of caution rather than the other way around.

The other side of this is we depend and are increasingly dependent on our actual accelerometer data, both ear and chassis, and we found that they relate very well one to the other and help us determine the forces involved and the probability that those forces can cause injury.

We’ve researched it, actually Dr. Olvey researched it for us, and found that our threshold for concussion is somewhere greater than 50 G’s resultant, and probably closer to 80 G’s or above for a concussion, and has a HIC value that approaches 1,000. HIC is called head injury criteria. Will’s head injury criteria was 44. So he didn’t have — nothing correlated very well. His crash was not sufficient to really cause a concussion under most circumstances, and he had a mix of symptoms for a variety of reasons.

So that’s how he could have a positive SCAT test and trigger the concussion evaluation that he subsequently had.

Q: Dr. Olvey, in addition to your experience as a neurosurgeon and teaching neurosurgery and neurology at the University of Miami School of Medicine, you’re also recognized as one of the leading medical professionals in motorsports. Can you give us an overview of the testing that Will underwent this week and how you and the other doctors ultimately came to the final conclusion?

Dr. Stephen Olvey: Sure, first I’m not a neurosurgeon. I’m a neurocritical care physician, but no neurosurgery. Terry explained the preliminary information really well. Concussion without loss of consciousness or amnesia can often be very difficult to diagnose. And the reason is, as Terry explained, the patient can be symptomatic, the kind of symptoms you’d have with a concussion, but there are several other things that can cause those same kind of symptoms.

But you have to err on being conservative, and Will was sent to our Concussion Center at UM, and we’ve had a lot of experience with high-end athletes as well as some motorsports. Felipe Massa was there and Dario Franchitti, of course. And we have a whole battery of tests that can be done. In fact, it’s quite extensive, involves three different departments, the Department of Neurology, Radiology, and Ear, Nose and Throat, and it was quite a feat because this was — we did this on a Monday, and of course all the clinics are booked and the CAT scanner is booked. So it was a busy day at the University, but we were able to get all of this done over about an eight-hour period.

So we looked at every conceivable area of detecting concussion and occult concussion. And Terry mentioned the impact test, we did that first. What was really important was that his impact test on Monday was actually a bit better than his baseline test that he had back in January of 2015.

Following that, we looked at balance and coordination, which is all a part of your vestibular function, which can be affected by concussion, and then in the course of the day, we had him undergo a sophisticated type of MRI. It’s not just a routine MRI, it’s called diffusion tensor MRI, and I won’t go into all the physics of that. I don’t even understand it. But it delineates areas of the brain that are white matter areas that are affected with concussion and with, actually, repeated concussions, and also other white matter diseases like multiple sclerosis and so on.

But the long and short of it is that we were unable to detect any evidence for acute concussion, and in fact, his DTI was perfectly normal, indicating that there was no residual effects from any past concussions that showed up on that.

We did, however — we were aware of his ear infection, which had been adequately treated and was much improved, but we also found that he had pretty marked cervical muscle tension, which again Terry referred to, but this can cause pretty debilitating type of headache. It’s usually bi-frontal, goes down the back of your neck, and you get into a vicious cycle with this unless you break it. So he is on some medication to relax the muscles of his neck and to get the cycle broken so that when he steps back into the car — I think he’s scheduled to do a test next Tuesday — if he steps back into the car the whole thing may repeat itself as far as his neck muscle spasm goes.

So we’d like him to sit out this week, but it’s related to the cervical muscle tension problem, not a concussion, and be able to go back in the car on Tuesday and should have no further problem.

Q. Dr. Olvey, Brad Keselowski tweeted while this was all going on that it’s not IndyCar or NASCAR’s fault that doctors don’t understand concussions and/or can’t agree on them to diagnose. I’m curious, is that statement accurate, and do you know how much question or how much — I guess how much difference is there with doctors as far as whether a driver is able to drive or not?

Dr. Olvey: That’s really a very good question. The problem — as you all know, 12, 15 years ago, we used to say if a driver had a particularly bad crash and maybe he was unconscious for a minute or two and then felt fine or it was getting better, we’d say, oh, good, he just had a concussion. Well, as you all know now, we understand the concussion is very serious. Too many concussions can be really bad, and too many too soon can lead to CTE and all of that stuff that everyone has read about in papers.

The problem is the medical profession has lagged behind this. I went to a neurology conference two years ago, and there were a couple of neurologists that were rather well-known who were kind of scoffing at the idea of chronic traumatic encephalopathy and having too many concussions.

The situation is still present where a lot of — especially at lower levels, lower than IndyCar, NASCAR, Formula 1 and all, where you have, maybe, physicians at the racetrack, but they’re not really tuned in on diagnosing the concussion. There’s still people that think you have to be knocked out. There’s still people that think you had to have hit your head. None of that’s true. You can have a very significant concussion and not hit your head at all.

So until more physicians are tuned into that — and imagine what it’s like in Pee Wee football leagues and things like that where you may have no physician there at all or no medical person at all — and the coach says, oh, you know, you’re all right, kid, you’re awake, you’re talking, and put them back in the game, and they get into trouble.

We’re trying to spread the word to different organizations in motorsports as well as to sports medicine, and the American College of Sports Medicine has a task force on this. We’ve got special education in south Florida with all the high schools and grade schools, and it’s recognizing concussion. It has to be a conscious thing and a conscious awareness around team members. I mean, even in motorsports. If a crew member or the car owner or the chief principal thinks the driver is not acting quite right after an incident or is just a little bit strange, as Terry said, you need to err on the side of being conservative, and they need to be brought in and given an exam. And if it leads to what happened with Will, even though the symptoms were due to something other than a concussion, you still have to go through that process because concussion is very serious.

Dr. Trammell: Let me interject something briefly here if I may. Your comment about the variance in physician behavior, part of that, if not all of it, is addressed by using the standardized instruments like the SCAT test, because that doesn’t have much room for the bias of an individual examiner. And that’s been the drift, to try and get doctors to buy into these various sideline tests or acute concussion inventories that you can do on the spot. And that is, first of all, something that we’ve mandated with IndyCar, and since we have the same physicians available at the racetrack all the time, they’re able to do that consistently and do away with any personal bias that might come into it if you’re just doing a, well, you look okay, kind of exam.

Q. Dr. Trammell, when you say that you need to err on the side of caution or being conservative, how much of that is for the driver’s own benefit, and how much is a driver who you believe may have had a concussion considered a safety risk to other drivers?

Dr. Trammell: Well, first and foremost, it’s for the driver’s own benefit so that he doesn’t end up with a chronic condition or a worsened injury, having a second concussion before the first one is resolved. And then, of course, when you’re in the middle of 22-plus other drivers, you certainly don’t want to not be performing at your peak where you endanger all of them.

Our goal is to protect all of our drivers, both from themselves and others.

Q. For either Dr. Trammell or Dr. Olvey and considering both of your experience, is it harder to diagnose concussions now compared to say maybe the late 1990s, early 2000s when there were always a lot of — head protection and the like wasn’t the same? And how much more important is it to diagnose concussions now given how things have evolved the last few years?

Dr. Olvey: It’s actually harder now than it used to be, but it’s harder because what we thought was concussion — now we know that you can have a significant concussion without, as I said before, loss of consciousness or suffering amnesia, and you don’t have to be hit in your head. The findings of concussion can be quite subtle. And the scary thing is sometimes they don’t turn up for 24 to 48 hours following the concussion. So it’s becoming more difficult because you have to be more aware of that, and there has to be more education of those who are responsible for determining whether a participant has had a concussion or not.

It’s actually become a little more difficult, but we didn’t know what we were doing in previous years when we thought it was easy to diagnose a concussion. Now it’s become kind of a — it’s a pretty big deal. There is a lot of education that goes into understanding when a concussion may have occurred.

Dr. Trammell: Part of my job is to follow up with any driver that’s been in a crash 24 to 48 hours after that for the purposes of seeing if they’ve had delayed onset of symptoms, particularly if it happened on a Saturday or a Sunday, and they take off immediately after the race on Sunday and would not normally be seen for two weeks until they show up at the next track. So part of my reason for being is to follow up with each one of these guys for any injury that they might have had.

Q. For the doctors, did this episode reveal any need for changes or adjustments to the at-track medical evaluation program, or were there so many extenuating circumstances, it’s tough to get a gauge on what might need to be adjusted, if anything?

Dr. Olvey: I think they did a terrific job, really, because as I stated, there’s really subtle findings now with concussion, and the symptomatology is one of them. He had an accident and he had symptoms. Even though the accident was relatively minor, the symptoms were there. We did a recognized test that is commonly used to detect a concussion, and it was positive because of the symptoms that he was having, and so they sent him to have a definitive evaluation. Erring on the side of being cautious, if you miss it and all kinds of catastrophic things can occur from it, then you’d really feel bad.

IndyCar has a terrific protocol in place for uncovering these occult kinds of concussions, and every once in a while there’s going to be false positive tests, and they need to be worked out and resolved as has been done here.

So I think the system worked quite well, actually.

Q. If I understand it correctly, drivers don’t have to go to the Med Center if it’s not a crash on an oval. Would that help at all? Would that alleviate any sort of mystery or provide more information that could help everything?

Dr. Trammell: We have discussed that briefly about when to make a driver come into the Med Center on a road course or street course. And as our knowledge of how to use our data increases in a driver that says he has no symptoms, we probably — suppose Will had been 50 G’s in his ears, we would have probably had him come back Friday end of day and gone over him again.

The other potential option would be to have them all come in, but his symptoms would not have been present in that first 15 minutes or so that we make people stay at the center at an oval.

The other thing we could have done and have done in the past is to administer the impact test when they fail the sideline concussion test, or the sports concussion test. And that really wouldn’t have helped because he would have still had all the same symptoms even if he passed the impact test.

So then the question is, okay, he hasn’t had a concussion, but he still doesn’t perform well enough that he should be in a race car. So all you say is you can’t get in a race car because your symptoms are bad enough to prevent it, but we’re not sure what’s causing that.

So I don’t know that we would have done anything any different than what happened.

Q. Dr. Trammell, it seems like about four or five decades ago, injuries and fatalities in motorsports were far more common. What do you consider the most significant safety advance, say in the last decade or so, that have helped prevent these injuries?

Dr. Trammell: Well, the big things — first of all, there’s no single entity. It’s been an evolution of safety over the last 20 years or more. You know, the combination of the better chassis, better driver fit into the chassis, the design of the seat becoming the back half of the restraint system, so to speak, the improved quality of the helmets, and their resistance to impact.

In the IndyCars we have a very sophisticated head surround that is reactive to the loads that are applied to it so that it’s protective both at very low G’s and very high G’s, and probably the head surround in the IndyCars is one of the most advanced features to protect against head injury because it, by itself, absorbs head impact into the head surround very well, and better now than it did even two years ago because of the evolution of what we’ve built into it.

IndyCar carries out an ongoing R&D program, testing and evaluation, and that’s where this head surround has come from, and it’s still an evolution. We’re planning some additional changes to it to make it even more protective.

So that whole system complex of what goes on inside the chassis, inside the tub around the driver, we package them much better now than we did — certainly much better now than 20 years ago, and really better than we did 10 years ago. So that’s what I think is the most advanced feature of the car is the ability to contain the driver and to control his movements and dissipate the energy that those movements generate.

Q. I’ve been fortunate to interview a lot of sports figures, NFL players, and motorsports drivers at the top, and I’ve noticed that there’s a certain level of intelligence. It just seems like it takes a fast brain to make fast decisions when you’re dealing with speed. Am I the only one just thinking that, or is it something that almost comes with the territory?

Dr. Trammell: My hair is turning gray and falling out a whole lot faster than it did when you just took a five-pound mallet to everything to fix it. Yeah, they’re certainly brighter, more inquisitive. They find out a lot of information on their own that you have to help them sort out. The whole job has gotten more difficult. It’s not so black and white anymore.

IndyCar Preseason, Day 1: Simon Pagenaud on why he likes teasing Josef Newgarden

Newgarden Pagenaud feud
Joe Skibinski/Penske Entertainment

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — A roundup of nuggets from the opening day of preseason IndyCar Content Days for media that lead into two days of preseason testing Thursday and Friday at The Thermal Club, starting with a playful “feud” between former teammates Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud:

After making a point to needle Newgarden during the Rolex 24 at Daytona (when he was warned for being deemed to have caused a spin by the car driven by Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), Pagenaud laughed about why he likes poking at his ex-teammate at Team Penske.

“I just love to press the button with Josef,” Pagenaud said. “I just love it. I’m being very open about it. I think he knows it, too. It’s funny to see him unsettled a little bit. I like when he gets aggressive. I don’t know why. It’s funny.”

They scrapped a few times as Penske teammates. Pagenaud notably was hot after a 2017 incident at Gateway during Newgarden’s first season with the team, but he later backtracked and blamed it on his French blood.

Pagenaud says all is good between now – though he also admits with a devilish grin that he’s taking advantage of the freedom from leaving Penske last year.

“Absolutely, yeah. I couldn’t do that before,” he said with a laugh about teasing Newgarden. “I would get in trouble.

“Yeah, I can be myself. I can say what I want to say. Nobody is upset about it. I love Josef. Don’t get me wrong. I love the guy.

“Do I love the driver? Not always, but I enjoy pressing the button with him because he seems like such a confident person. Yeah, I like to just go press it a little bit.”

When he was informed of the sardonic comments (Pagenaud asked reporters to make sure they relayed that he enjoyed passing Newgarden in the race) after his first stint at Daytona last weekend, Newgarden took a shot back.

“He doesn’t get many opportunities these days, so I’m sure he enjoyed that,” Newgarden said. “Take them when you can get them. There’s so much happening I don’t even remember half the stuff that happened when I was out there. Hey, he’s a big note-keeper, that guy.”

Pagenaud, who is winless since 2020, conceded that point Tuesday at IndyCar’s media session.

“I will do better this year,” he said. “But I got to build my team up, put myself in that situation. We were not there yet. I hope we can be there this year.

“But certainly not being teammates, you race differently. Now, the driver that he is, I have a huge amount of respect for him. He’s tremendous. I mean, he’s one of the best at what he does. So beating him is even a better reward. But I like my résumé better than his.”

For the record, Newgarden has one more IndyCar championship than Pagenaud but is empty in the Indy 500 win column compared to the 2019 winner at the Brickyard.

During his Rolex 24 availability, Pagenaud also took playful aim at the “Bus Bros,” the branded social and digital content that Newgarden and teammate and buddy Scott McLaughlin have been producing for nearly a year.

“Apparently they hang out together all the time,” Pagenaud cracked. “They’re ‘Bus Bros.’ Do you guys know what this is, the ‘Bus Bros’ thing? Have you watched it? I should start watching it.”

Newgarden and McLaughlin are scheduled to appear together on the second day of the preseason media event at the Palm Springs Convention Center, so stay tuned for the next round of snark.

Pagenaud is among many drivers enthused to get acclimated to The Thermal Club, which is a $275 million motorsports country club of sorts.

But for the Frenchman, Thermal represents more than just a chance to tune up for the 2023 season. Pagenaud, who made his first visit to the desert track three years ago after winning the Indy 500, is thinking about his long-term future.

“It’s actually something I’m really interested in for my future but in another life,” he said. “I love the concept. Actually before my IndyCar career, I was on a project like that myself in France. I was going to build something similar. I had the backing, I had everything going on, but my career took off. I had to give up on the project.

“But it is something I’ve always been interested in. My dad used to run my home racetrack. I had access to it, so I could see how that was going.

“I always had a passion for it because it’s a way to allow the fans to get closer to the car, allow the sport to be more known to the general public. There’s so many things that you can do with a racetrack, not only for races, but so many people that can come to bicycle races, you can have runners do a marathon. It doesn’t have to be just racing. It can be events. I’m into that. I’ve always been. Certainly when it’s time to stop driving, it will be something that I’m interested in, yes. That’s maybe 20 years from now.”

Felix Rosenqvist returns for his third consecutive season at McLaren, the longest stint with one team for the Swede since 2014 in F3.

But he finds himself somewhat in a similar position to last season when his return was uncertain for months during the Alex Palou-Chip Ganassi Racing saga. Palou is back with Ganassi but still expected to join the team in 2024, and with Rossi and O’Ward on long-term deals, Rosenqvist would be unable to stay unless the team added a fourth car.

He is taking it all in stride with the same grace in which he managed last season’s uncertainty.

“I think I handled it probably as good as I could,” Rosenqvist said of last year. “That’s probably a reason why I’m here this year. I think it’s a massive opportunity for me to be back for a third year. I feel like I have all the tools I need to perform, feeling very good with everyone at the car. As I said, there’s so many things happening last year on and off the track. I think as a team, we just really learned a lot from that that we can bring into this season.

“I think we’ll be tough this year. We have a lot of things in the bag to try early this season. A couple of things here at Thermal we want to try. Going into the season, we have pinpointed some areas where we feel we were lacking a little bit, like the short ovals, for example. I feel like we’ve done the best we can to attack all those areas and bring the best possible package we can.”

Rosenqvist is winless since his breakthrough victory over O’Ward at Road America in 2020. Ending that skid certainly would improve his prospects, but he isn’t worried.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future,” he said. “That’s a long time until next year. I think it’s a great opportunity for me. I’m in a good spot. I’m in a well-performing team. I feel well with everyone around me. I feel like I have a good support from the team. I don’t really think too much about that stuff. I just try to do what I can do, which is go fast forward and try to win races.”

After being frozen out of remote access to team data last year, Palou said his working relationship at Ganassi is “back to 100% like it was before from both sides.” The 2021 series champion said he had full privileges restored after he closed the season by winning the finale at Laguna Seca Raceway and then settled on staying with Ganassi a day later.

He is allowed to continue his F1 testing with McLaren, too, though IndyCar will be the priority in-season.

“It was a tough year,” said Palou, whose contract dispute lasted for two months. “Could have been a lot worse, for sure, than what we had but also could have been a little bit better if we didn’t have anything around in our minds. It’s a part of racing.

“I’m just happy that now we know that even with things in our minds, we were able to be successful. Hopefully, we can be back to 2021 things during this season. Yeah, obviously there’s always some moments (in 2022) where you’re like, ‘Oh, no, my God, this is not going the direction I wanted.’ But there was things that were out of my control, obviously. Some things that I could control, as well. But at the end of the day I had all the information from my side, from other sides. I knew that everything could be settled, and it did.”

Pato O’Ward unplugged from the racing world for six weeks during the offseason, ensuring he was fully recharged when the new year arrived.

“I haven’t had the opportunity to do it in the past few years,” said O’Ward, who tested an F1 car in 2021 and then went right into preparing and racing (then winning) the 2022 Rolex 24 at Daytona. “I said, ‘I want at least six weeks. Don’t talk to me, don’t text me, I don’t want to hear anything.’ It’s healing. It’s very healing.

“As much as you love what you do, you need to find a balance of just doing something else. I always tell people, there’s a huge difference between relaxing and recharging. How I recharge is doing things I don’t normally do during the year. Just being at the beach to me is my favorite thing to do after driving race cars. I made sure that I had that kind of time to just enjoy my loved ones. After I was finished with that, I was like, ‘OK, race cars now.’ ”

Marcus Ericsson is planning on a long future with Chip Ganassi Racing, and the 2022 Indy 500 winner seems well-positioned to become the team’s anchor driver if he can maintain last season’s consistency.

Jimmie Johnson has been replaced by the Marcus Armstrong-Takuma Sato combination, and Alex Palou is leaving after this year.

Six-time IndyCar champion Scott Dixon, 42, is Ganassi’s unquestioned dean until his retirement, but Ericsson clearly is interested in the mantle after that.

“I’m feeling very much at home in the team,” said Ericsson, the Formula One who is entering his fourth season with CGR. “I’m super happy about that. I wish to stay for a very long time, as well. There is some uncertainty with other places maybe in the future, but Dixon seems to be just getting better and better. He might be here for another 10 years or so, who knows.

“But that’s great. Me and Scott, we work really well together. I can still learn a lot from him. I want to be here for a long time and win races and championships together.”

The Swede had a droll response when asked if no longer being the only Marcus will get confusing in Ganassi debriefs. “Yeah, it is; I’m angry,” Ericsson deadpanned. “I think we’re OK. He seems like a good kid. He has a good name.”

Following in the footsteps of Callum Ilott and Christian Lundgaard from F2 to IndyCar, Armstrong is OK with deferring his F1 dreams to run road and street courses as a rookie in 2023. The New Zealander grew up as an IndyCar fan rooting for Dixon, his boyhood idol and fellow countryman.

“I’ve been watching him on TV since I was a kid,” Armstrong, 22, said. “It’s cool because IndyCar is massive where I’m from because of him. I’ve always been so attracted to this championship. Of course, I spent my entire life chasing F1. You can never say ‘never.’ If I’m honest with you, I’m happy where I am now. It’s a dream come true.”

Armstrong hopes to move to full time in 2024 and believes being aligned with a powerhouse such as Ganassi will give him an opportunity to post strong results immediately (just as Ilott and Lundgaard had flashes as rookies last year).

“I’ve been genuinely impressed by the organization, just the strategic point of view that Chip Ganassi Racing has, it’s really quite remarkable,” he said. “I can understand why they’ve had so much success. I think fundamentally I need to get on it straightaway. I have all the information in the world, really. I just need to hit the ground running, do well immediately.”

In among the wildest stories of the offseason, rookie Sting Ray Robb revealed he landed his ride at Dale Coyne Racing because he ran into Indy Lights champion Linus Lundqvist at PitFit Training, a physical fitness and performance center used by many drivers in Indianapolis.

Lundqvist was the presumptive favorite for the DCR No. 51 Dallara-Honda, which was the last open seat heading into the 2022 season. Because of his Indy Lights title (since rebranded as “IndyNXT”) with HMD Motorsports, Lundqvist had a six-figure sponsorship to bring to an IndyCar team, and DCR is partnered with HMD.

“There was a few teams that we were talking to, and Dale’s team was not the one that was at the top of the list because we thought they already had a driver,” Robb said. “Obviously with Linus winning the championship, we assumed with the HMD association there that there would be a straight shoe-in for him.

“But I actually was at PitFit Training one day with Linus and discovered that was not the case. That created an opportunity for us that allowed me to call up my manager, Pieter Rossi, and get him on the phone, and he immediately called Dale and said, ‘Hey, we’re available.’ I think there was a mutual understanding of what availability was for either one of us. That’s when conversations began. Then we had a really good test in 2023 right at the beginning of January, and I think that was kind of the one that set the tone that allowed me to get in the seat.

“I think there’s been some opportunities that were miraculously created that we couldn’t have done on our own.”

Robb, who finished second in last year’s Indy Lights standings, hasn’t talked to Lundqvist since their PitFit meeting.

“Linus does deserve a seat” in IndyCar, Robb said. “His on-track performance was incredible. But it takes more than just a driver to get into IndyCar. You’ve got to have a village around you that supports you, and so I think that that is where my group made a difference. It wasn’t just in my performance, but it was the people around me.

“I feel bad for Linus because as a driver I can feel that way towards him because I could be in that seat if I didn’t have those same people around me. So there you go.”