INDIANAPOLIS – One definition for sage is “having, showing or indicating profound wisdom.” It may be a fitting description this time around for Sage Karam.
At just 22, the driver of the No. 24 DRR Mecum Auctions Chevrolet is preparing for his fourth start in the Indianapolis 500 and third with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. As a fresh-faced 19-year-old rookie in 2014, Karam blazed from the 31st starting position to finish ninth in a DRR entry.
The last two years haven’t been so kind to the native of Nazareth, Pennsylvania, with a pair of 32nd-place finishes. In last year’s epic 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, Karam started 23rd and made his way into the top five before crashing out in Turn 1 on Lap 93.
It’s the last time Karam was in a Verizon IndyCar Series race. He’s driving sports cars fulltime this year, and approaching the Indy one-off with a more relaxed attitude.
“I was coming into last year’s race really anxious and really amped up because I hadn’t been in the car for a long time,” said Karam, the 2013 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires champion. “But at least this year I’ve been driving for Lexus (in sports cars) and doing their GT program. I think that’s been keeping me sharp behind the wheel and keeping me calm.”
Calm and comfortable coming into practice for the 101st Indianapolis 500. Karam completed 47 laps Monday and posted the 14th-best speed at 223.398 mph. The comfort level increased Tuesday, with Karam ending fifth fastest at 223.641 mph after running 69 laps. With today’s windy conditions on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval, the team opted to run only a few slow laps to practice pit stops.
Karam admitted to some hesitation getting up to speed in practice this week, with last year’s crash his freshest memory of driving an Indy car.
“It took me 10 or 15 laps,” Karam said. “I’m sure Dennis (Reinbold, team owner) saw it on video, that I was out there and the first few laps, (the struggle) to go flat through Turn 1 again. Just because the last time I was here, my last lap was hitting the wall at 230 mph, so it’s hard to tell yourself to go flat through Turn 1 after you (crash). … It hurts. Once I (drove flat through Turn 1) once, I could do it again and again and again.
“I was a little freaked out, but once I got my feet back under me, I was going to be the same old Sage again back out there.”
Reinbold disagreed that Karam showed any reluctance to drive the car hard this week. The team owner continues to be impressed with Karam’s talent and drive, and would love nothing more than to secure a full-season program for 2018.
“I would like to be fulltime,” Reinbold said. “I would love to have Sage out fulltime throughout the season. If we can figure out how to do that; it’s all on my end, it’s a financial thing right now.
“I just don’t have the sponsors to be able to pull that off yet, but there’s some ideas that we have that we’re kicking around and working on.”
Meanwhile, Karam works to fulfill his dream of winning the Indianapolis 500 in his only Verizon IndyCar Series race of the season. For his birthday in March, Karam got a tattoo on his right wrist of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway wing-and-wheel logo. It serves to remind and drive him toward his ultimate goal.
“I just wanted to look at it every day and never forget that this is the race I want to win, because this is my obsession, this race,” Karam said. “I want to win this race so bad. I want to go to bed at night and (the tattoo) be the last thing I see and then wake up in the morning and it be the first thing.
“It’s just reminding that everything I’m going to do this day is going to better me or worsen me to win this race, and I want to make every day a positive. That’s why I got it.”
Finally, in typical Karam style, he added that it’s not a matter of if he wins, but when.
“I left some room (underneath the tattoo) so when I win it, I can put the year and the number.”
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