Sage Karam leads Gabby Chaves at Houston (IndyCar)

Indy Lights gets nine cars for season finale

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More will come Wednesday on the championship battle between Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammate Sage Karam and Gabby Chaves for the Firestone Indy Lights Series season finale.

Today, though, a brief look at the entry list for the Lefty’s Kids Club 100 (Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, NBCSN) reveals several other things.

Jack Hawksworth and Carlos Munoz will be eliminated when the race begins. Although they are within a mathematical range (35 and 36 points behind, respectively), they will not be able to gain enough points assuming Karam and Chaves both start the race.

The maximum available points gained this weekend will be 31 with nine cars entered – 53 for a win, pole and leading the most laps, and 22 for ninth place.

Kyle O’Gara returns for the first time since Indianapolis in a fourth SPM entry, with support from Wink Hartman, Hartman Oil and Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing. The silver, blue and black that has adorned Josef Newgarden’s No. 67 IndyCar most of this season will be on O’Gara’s entry.

Giancarlo Serenelli will make his first career oval start in the No. 6 Belardi Auto Racing entry. Team Moore Racing, which ran Peter Dempsey and Conor Daly at Houston, had one potential driver for its No. 22 car this weekend but funding has apparently fallen through for that. Bryan Herta Autosport also won’t race as it did at Houston, with driver Axcil Jefferies.

Of the nine drivers entered, only Munoz and Serenelli’s two Belardi teammates, Jorge Goncalvez and Juan Pablo Garcia, have Fontana experience. Munoz won the race handily last year.

The last driver in the field after Karam, Chaves, Hawksworth, Munoz, O’Gara and the three Belardi drivers is Zach Veach, Munoz’s Andretti Autosport teammate.

This is the last race for Firestone in the series, as it signs off before Cooper Tires takes over next year. Daly and Tristan Vautier have spent time testing the Coopers at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Milwaukee Mile.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Sage Karam

Sage Karam
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series field, driver-by-driver. Ending in 20th was Sage Karam, who generated a lot of headlines despite missing a handful of races in his first full season in the big leagues.

Sage Karam, No. 8 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

  • 2014: 9th place at Indianapolis 500; several starts in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship
  • 2015: 20th place (12 starts), Best Finish 3rd, Best Start 3rd, 1 Podium, 2 Top-5, 2 Top-10, 12 Laps Led, 14.5 Avg. Start, 15.8 Avg. Finish

Few drivers generated as much ink as Karam did during what as an ultimately race-by-race rookie season that saw him active in 12 of 16 races. It was an overall rocky campaign that featured any combination of brilliance, controversy and heartache depending on the weekend.

Karam was on the back foot to begin with anyway with limited preseason testing, following a wrist injury sustained in a crash at Barber Motorsports Park. The fact he was out of a car for Long Beach and the Grand Prix of Indianapolis owed to financial reasons but also served as a wakeup call that he needed to improve off the back of several ragged races to open the season. The speed was there for the Indianapolis 500 but the result wasn’t, with a first-lap crash and the following debacle of a doubleheader weekend at Detroit a week later ultimately Karam’s nadir.

Luckily for the 20-year-old, he had Dario Franchitti as a tutor, mentor and coach, and a post-Detroit “come to Jesus” meeting might have been the biggest impetus for change. Karam then surged in the second half of the year – primarily on ovals – and worked his way into the headlines courtesy of his driving and take-no-prisoners aggressive approach, particularly with Ed Carpenter at Iowa. In a single sentence, he was worth the price of admission almost on his own while also putting himself in contention for series “black hat” status.

Karam was on track for what would have been a dream weekend at home in Pocono, leading with 20 laps to go, when he lost control and crashed out – the debris from the car ultimately striking Justin Wilson’s helmet. It was a tragic end to the race but it was no fault of Karam’s that what happened, happened.

For as much as the community is rallying around Wilson’s family, it needs to do the same for Karam. At 20, he’s a talented driver with a bright future ahead of him, who continued to mature over the course of the season. You just don’t want Pocono to be the race that affects him psychologically, and prevents him from fully realizing his undoubted potential.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Stefano Coletti

Stefano Coletti
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MotorSportsTalk continues its look through the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series driver-by-driver lineup. In 19th place and the second-ranked rookie this season, was KV Racing Technology’s Stefano Coletti.

Stefano Coletti, No. 4 KV Racing Technology Chevrolet

  • 2014: GP2
  • 2015: 19th Place, Best Finish 8th, Best Start 8th, 0 Top-5, 1 Top-10, 0 Laps Led, 18.9 Avg. Start, 18.6 Avg. Finish

Coletti struggled in his rookie season, which was a bit surprising after an impressive preseason testing period that helped him secure the second KV Racing Technology car alongside KVSH Racing lead driver Sebastien Bourdais.

The GP2 graduate produced early season excitement where he was a passing star, but that only seemed to deceive for the rest of the year. The only time he started ahead of Bourdais was at Iowa, when Bourdais crashed in qualifying.

Similar to other drivers KV has had in previous years Coletti was often hard on equipment, with a frequent number of either full-on accidents or less damaging spins, although not all were his fault. A trouble-free weekend for him rarely occurred, and eighth at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis marked his only top-10 result of the year.

It was a year that paled in comparison to Sebastian Saavedra’s difficult 2014, which paled in comparison to Simona de Silvestro in 2013, which… well you get the point. The lack of consistency for the team’s second car probably doesn’t help, but Coletti offered few moments of brilliance in a deep field where he needed to stand out.

Given the resources at his disposal, ending 78 points behind rookie-of-the-year Gabby Chaves seemed a fairly substantial margin. If he returns for 2016, he has a big jump to make.