As Verizon IndyCar teams have been getting a feel for the new universal aero kit this month at Sebring International Raceway, Sage Karam was wheeling his way around the famed road course as well.
On a simulator at his home in Nazareth, Pennsylvania.
That’s what you do when you’ve got the talent and desire to race with the big boys, but not the opportunity. You try to keep the skills fresh on a virtual racetrack when you can’t be there in reality.
Karam has driven in 15 Verizon IndyCar Series races since 2014, including the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil each of the past four years, but he doesn’t have a ride yet for 2018. That plight hasn’t stopped the 22-year-old from driving himself hard to get one, even if his only real hope is to race in the Indy 500 on May 27 and no other events.
“I’m working some angles right now,” Karam said.
Karam has talked with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing about a return in May with the Indianapolis-based team, whose cars he drove on the iconic 2.5-mile oval in 2014, ‘16 and ‘17. He drove for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2015.
“The best shot for me to come back in May is with Dreyer & Reinbold,” Karam said. “I’d like to be back with those guys. They’ve become more of a family for me. I know all of the guys over there and I work well with (team owner) Dennis Reinbold.
“I’ve been in talks with them, so hopefully we can get something wrapped up pretty soon. That’s probably my best shot. Other than that, I don’t think I have anything else.”
If an Indy 500 ride comes together for Karam, he likely will step into a race car for the first time this year in May. Unlike last year when he had a full-time sports car ride in addition to the Indy 500 one-off, Karam is currently unemployed.
“I’m low on funding and that’s the biggest issue in why I’m rideless,” he said. “Racing now has just been hard. You’ve got to bring money. It’s unfortunate but that’s just the nature of the business now. I've never brought much money and, if I did, it was a very small amount. This might be a bit more of a rough year for me as far as (driving) full time is concerned.”
Karam knows the challenge of getting his first laps of any kind in 2018 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It’s one reason he believes returning to Dreyer & Reinbold would ease the transition.
“They’re not going to be pushing me to go fast right away,” he said. “I felt like I came with the approach last year where I wanted to get comfortable before I wanted to go fast. Where in the past when I was a little younger and less mature about things, I wanted to go fast all of the time instead of figuring out the comfort of the car. I think every year I get a little bit smarter with it and more mature about it.”
The new universal aero kit introduced this year to INDYCAR competition will offer another challenge. Karam has paid close attention to driver reactions and spoke with good friend Zach Veach of Andretti Autosport about his feel for the car. The consensus is that the cars are more of a handful in the road-course configuration with lower downforce and less drag than the previous aero package.
“I see where they’re coming from, from a road course perspective, but an oval is so different,” Karam said. “You won’t be able to know much until you see how the cars perform on an oval. And even then, you won’t actually know until you get in the car yourself.”
It’s yet another challenge, but it won’t deter Karam from trying to realize the dream he has had since he first visited IMS as an 8-year-old in 2003.
“I remember walking through the tunnel and seeing the track for the first time, seeing the pagoda and the scoring pylon,” he said. “I said to my dad, ‘I’m going to win this race one day.’ That’s been my goal ever since I can remember, to win the Indianapolis 500.
“The great thing about Indianapolis is the history there, who has raced there and who has won there. You’re racing on asphalt that amazing legends have raced on.
“You learn something new every year when you go there. A lot of drivers have said that Indy picks who it wants to win every single year, and I’m hoping every year I go there that Indy picks me.”