INDIANAPOLIS — Story, audio and photo by Race Chaser Online Open Wheel Correspondent Ryan Kent Jr. —
Most 19-year-olds are worrying about their next college class, or getting homework done.
Sage Karam, on the other hand, is more concerned about which helmet design to choose for the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season.
The Nazareth, Pennsylvania native announced Tuesday at Indycar Media Day that he would be on the grid for the season opening race at St. Petersburg. Still trying to find funding for the entire season, Sage is very optimistic about his 2015 plans.
“We’re looking forward to it,” Karam said on Tuesday. “The whole team is working really hard. We’re still trying to get the deal 100% confirmed for the whole season, but to know we’ll be on the grid for the first race is a positive.”
Before the announcement though, Karam had a very busy offseason. Part of the 19 year old’s winter consisted of driving in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, where he and his co-drivers were running third for a majority of the race before clutch problems sidelined the Target/Ford Ecoboost No. 01 Riley.
“It was fun,” Karam smiled. “It’s always cool when Chip calls you up and wants you to run that race.”
Sage helped pilot the No. 01 in the headline Prototype class alongside fellow IndyCar driver Charlie Kimball, Ganassi newcomer Joey Hand and sports car veteran and seven-time IMSA champion Scott Pruett.
“You get to be on the team one time in the season with the NASCAR guys (and) the sports car guys so it’s one big family,” said Karam. “We had a really good race…running in second at the 22-hour mark and then the car broke down. Didn’t want our race to end that way but our teammates got the win so (we) couldn’t be happier for the other guys.”
“Hopefully get to go back and get another shot at winning the Rolex.”
Karam has also relished the time — even if in sports cars as well as IndyCars — working with his teammates in advance of the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
“It’s been great working with these guys so far…especially Scott, Tony and Charlie…just trying to pick their brains,” Karam said. “We’ve done some offseason testing…went to Sebring (and) went to NOLA and things have been going really really well.”
Entering the 2015 Rolex 24 Sage was no new kid on the block to the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship. After running four races in the 2014 season, Karam earned a runner-up result in the Brickyard Grand Prix and running all but 85 laps in his inaugural run in the Rolex 24.
The Chip Ganassi development driver won’t come into St. Pete with any inexperience either. The youngster drove the No. 22 Dreyer and Reinbold/Kingdom Racing entry as a satellite Chip Ganassi ride to a ninth place finish after starting 31st. As the youngest driver in the field, and in his first start ever in the Verizon IndyCar Series, Karam proved his worth, coming up second in the running for prestigious Indy 500 Rookie of the Year award to NASCAR star Kurt Busch.
“I don’t think you’ll ever forget your first Indy 500,” said Karam. “Things went right the whole month. I was in partnership with Dreyer & Reinbold and Chip Ganassi Racing, so it was a really busy month for me. We had some issues in qualifying, and I had to start farther back than what I would have liked to. We definitely weren’t showing the pace in qualifying that we actually had. It just made the race more fun for me. We had to go back there and you can really only go forward from there.”
Now with the potential of his second start in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing on the horizon, Karam has a much simpler goal in mind this year.
“We’re not looking to set the world on fire, but we’re also not looking to destroy some cars” laughed Karam on Tuesday at the thought of a full season venture.
Karam says shedding the nerves last year was easier than he expected as well, and doesn’t anticipate any heading into this year’s race should he get the shot to return for the Month of May.
“I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I was going to be for my first Indy 500,” Karam said. “I went to bed and slept straight through the night the night before. It was good. I came to the track. I was happy — I actually got a police escort instead of having to wait outside for three or four hours to get in. It’s got its perks.”
For now though, one of the brightest stars in motorsports is just sitting back and enjoying the ride. Struggling for sponsorship and funding, the youngster hasn’t had the ideal last 18 months en route to a full season ride after a deal for 2014 fell through.
However, Karam isn’t letting the critics get him down about his 2015 hopes — especially since he has been able to keep the rust knocked off by racing wherever he can.
“It’s always good to get behind the wheel of anything whether it’s a go kart, an Indycar, Indy Lights, a sports car — anything just to stay sharp and keep the reflexes up to date,” said Karam. “Hopefully we can get the deal worked out. (Right now we know) that we’ll be on the grid at St. Pete with Chip Ganassi Racing in the #8 GE LED car. That’s a new sponsor for me that’s climbing on board and they’ve been within the team for a little bit now but it’s really big news and it’s a step in the right direction.”
With one step in the right direction, Karam will look to continue down the path to a full season in the Verizon IndyCar Series with a strong run in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 29.
But right now, that full season run is still a work in progress.
Listen in to an extended cut of our Ryan Kent’s interview with Sage Karam during IndyCar Media Day on Tuesday below: