Sage Karam focusing on Indy Lights title after first win

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With his first Firestone Indy Lights victory out of the way, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ Sage Karam is now setting his sights on the series championship as the scene shifts to the 7/8-mile Iowa Speedway for tonight’s Sukup 100.

“The first one’s always the toughest,” said Karam, who triumphed last weekend at the Milwaukee Mile. “To get that first one, it almost lifts a thousand pounds off your shoulders. Definitely feeling good and definitely having some good momentum going into Iowa with two poles in a row and a win – definitely good feelings. But we have to put that behind us and just focus on Iowa now. It’s in the past; just hopefully, we can carry that momentum.”

Karam sits 18 points behind Lights points leader Carlos Munoz going into Iowa, the third in a stretch of four consecutive oval races for the series. The American has had great success at the track while progressing through the Mazda Road to Indy, as he won there in USF2000 back in 2010 and then collected back-to-back Pro Mazda victories in 2011 and 2012.

Altogether, he’s very confident of success on the speedways – which, in his eyes, may be the determining factor in who walks away with the Lights title this season.

“I think what’s going to win the championship for us this year is good results on the ovals,” he said. “We got the win at Milwaukee. That was huge for us. I think Iowa can be another good one. We won there the last three years.  Hopefully, we can make it a four-peat. [I’m] definitely comfortable when it comes to the ovals. I love them.”

As a result, good results at this race and the next one at the 2.5-mile Pocono Raceway will be critical to his run toward a title, which he says has to begin immediately.

“I think we were 29 points [behind] going into Milwaukee, now we’re only 18 – [we’ve] definitely made some progress,” said Karam. “We have to start getting some wins here and keep chipping away at [Munoz]. I’d like to go into Pocono almost tied with him. I think that would be a good goal, hopefully come out of Pocono in the lead.”

NBC Sports Network will broadcast tonight’s Lights race (Green Flag – 8:50 p.m. ET) on June 28 at 11 p.m. ET.

Teammates James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens earn top-fives at Barber

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For the first time this season, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammates James Hinchcilffe and Robert Wickens earned top-five finishes in the same race at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala.

Hinchcliffe finished third in the Grand Prix of Alabama; Wickens was one spot behind in fourth.

Wickens had one previous podium at Phoenix with his second-place finish. Hinchcliffe’s best result was a fourth in the season-opener in St Petersburg, Fla., so this marked his first podium of the year.

Both drivers needed a little help from the rain.

As precipitation began to fall in the closing stages of the race, Hinchliffe asked his team on a couple of occasions if it was wet enough to pit for rain tires. He was told twice to stay out and was then called into to the pits at the optimal time.

“Solid weekend for us after coming here before – not a great test,” Hinchcliffe said. “Two cars in the top 10 qualifying; two cars, top five in the race. Pretty proud of these boys, everybody on the Arrow car.”

The rain helped Wickens’ race strategy come together.

“I was having to save a lot of fuel in that second stint,” Wickens said. “So once (Scott) Dixon starting getting close to me I was thinking ‘Oh God, I’m going to actually have to give this one up.’ And then the rain came, so the fuel mileage happened naturally. So, yeah, it saved us a bit.”

And while both were pleased with their top-five finishes, drivers are rarely satisfied unless they are standing on the top step of the podium.

Wickens’ top-five finish was hard-fought. After winning the pole at St Petersburg and starting sixth at Phoenix, he failed to advance to the Fast 6 in back-to-back races at Long Beach and Barber – qualifying 10th both times.

“I was a little gutted that we came out in a big bunch of traffic,” Wickens continued. “It made the race fun, but a little frustrating as well because of people off sequence and whatnot. We lost a lot of track position there. Both of us could have been fighting for higher steps on the podium, but we need to do a little better job in qualifying. “