Sage Karam leads Gabby Chaves at Pocono (IndyCar photo)

Track the “X-factor” for Indy Lights title rivals Karam, Chaves

Leave a comment

Firestone Indy Lights Series title protagonists Sage Karam and Gabby Chaves are series rookies, but comfortable battling each other. The two fought for the Pro Mazda, then-called Star Mazda title, a year ago before both graduated to Lights with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

Now, the teammates head to a rare unknown for them – a 2.0-mile oval at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. – a type of oval completely different to the short ovals and flat 2.5-milers they’ve run this year.

“I think the biggest thing for me and Gabby right now is the track is the X‑factor,” said Karam, who leads Chaves by 16 points (425-409) entering the weekend. “If he’s nervous, if I’m nervous, it’s because we don’t know about the track. The only thing we’ve ever seen is data and on‑board video.”

Added Chaves, “When you go to a track that you’ve been to, you know what you’re expecting, and you can kind of play your cards based on that. But here none of us have been there, so we don’t know what to expect.  We don’t have very much practice time.  I believe we got one practice and then we go straight into qualifying.  So it’s going to be difficult, obviously, but I have so much confidence in my team.”

Karam has three wins and Chaves one in this 2013 season. It’s been difficult for the title contenders – these two plus presumptive preseason favorites Jack Hawksworth and Carlos Munoz – to be appreciated for their efforts while the series has faced scrutiny over low car counts and been sold to Andersen Promotions during the year.

They’ll each have to put in a strong effort over the 50-lap, 100-mile race. The last race with Firestones will likely see a more substantial dropoff in performance compared to a road or street course race. Karam explained how he thinks he’ll manage it.

“The tire degradation does play a key role in this, so it’s going to be on Friday, figure out how we’re going to plan out our race, if we’re going to go out hard and hope the tires hang on or if we’re going to go out kind of slower and then be faster at the end,” he said. “I guess it all depends really where we’re starting and how our pace is in practice when we’re running race runs.”

Chaves feels the two are evenly matched in terms of experience level for this type of circuit. While he needs to win and have Karam finish lower than fourth to take the title as his best-case, title-winning scenario, he holds his head high heading into the weekend.

“In Indy and Pocono we’re very evenly matched, so I’m expecting a bit more of that into Fontana, and for sure it’s going to be a great showdown until the last lap,” he said.

The Firestone Indy Lights season finale airs at 7 p.m. ET, Saturday, on NBCSN.

Ricciardo set to see Dale Jr.’s final Texas ride in two weeks (VIDEO)

Getty Images
Leave a comment

We’ve written before about Daniel Ricciardo’s love of Dale Earnhardt and his love of the No. 3, which Ricciardo has selected as his permanent number for the duration of his Formula 1 career. And additionally, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has offered up the opportunity that one day Ricciardo could race a JR Motorsports car in NASCAR Xfinity Series competition, and Ricciardo has said he’d be up for it.

And although Earnhardt Jr. has only used the No. 3 on a handful of occasions in his career in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Ricciardo knows how much the number means to the NASCAR veteran as he prepares for his final few starts in the Cup Series the tail-end of this year.

After the Mexican Grand Prix next week, Ricciardo is set to stay in North America for the off-week between the Mexican and Brazilian Grands Prix.

In that break, he said he’ll see Earnhardt Jr. in person at the Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway (Sunday, Nov. 5, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) to ensure he gets to see him before he retires from full-time competition.

Ricciardo explained his planning during Thursday’s pre-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass, speaking to NBCSN’s Will Buxton at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin.

“Well I’ll see him for the first time in Dallas. I’m gonna go to the NASCAR race in two weeks time at Texas Motor Speedway,” Ricciardo told NBCSN.

“Yeah, so, I gotta see him race before he hangs up the helmet.

“The Earnhardt family is a huge name in motorsport, not only in America but all over the world. Yeah I wish him well.”

Ricciardo is also optimistic he’ll get the chance to do a helmet swap with Earnhardt Jr. at the event.

“Hopefully I get to see him perform well in Texas. I’m gonna try to do a helmet swap with him. We’ll see how we go.”

Stay tuned for more on this over the coming weeks.