Money debut from Sage Karam, 31st to 9th, leads six traditional Indy 500 rookies

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On Friday, 19-year-old Sage Karam dazzled the Indianapolis Motor Speedway crowd over a few feet on pit lane during the Carb Day Pit Stop Competition.

On Sunday, he did so in a dynamic charge through the field over 200 laps, 500 miles and 800 left-hand turns.

Karam, the 2013 Indy Lights champion of Nazareth, Pa., made his Verizon IndyCar Series debut in the series’ biggest race – the 98th Indianapolis 500 – from the final row of the field, in 31st place on the grid and ended ninth when all was said and done.

Throughout the race, despite his pit stop sequence seeing him pit anywhere from three to four laps sooner than the leaders, Karam began a methodical charge through the field of five spots into the 20s, then into the teens, and ultimately into the top-10.

“I knew qualifying wasn’t showing our true speed,” he said post-race. “I wanted to come to the front so badly. I came up to about eighth or ninth, then I caught the yellow at worst spot. Went a lap down and had to do it all over again.

“We ran out of time. But the car was on fire. It was awesome. I’m so blessed and honored. I hope this isn’t my last IndyCar race this year.”

One of Karam’s moves during the field was only for 18th place, but it was a move that even some of Indy’s legends wouldn’t have dared.

He tried, and succeeded, passing fellow rookie Mikhail Aleshin, the first Russian to race the Indianapolis 500, on the outside of Turn 1. Going into the race, I’d have expected Aleshin to try that move, not necessarily Karam.

But that’s the beauty of being a confident, but not cocky, 19-year-old fearless rookie. And he pulled it off in style.

“Dario (Franchitti) told me before the race that these cars, they could go on outside, two-wide. So I just went for it,” Karam said. “Maybe it was a little too aggressive too early, but I was on a mission to get to the front. And the car stuck.”

Karam is optimistic his performance today will lead to future IndyCar opportunities the rest of the year. He admitted this was the hardest race he’s driven.

He also impressed his boss for this race, Dennis Reinbold. Karam’s car was sponsored by Comfort Revolution, Big Machine Records and Brantley Gilbert, and entered by Dreyer & Reinbold Kingdom Racing in partnership with Chip Ganassi Racing.

“He was great to work with from Day 1,” Reinbold said post-race. “I’ve never seen a 19-year-old with his maturity level. He got faster and faster every lap, and yet he was so calm … I don’t think his heart rate got above a resting pulse. Outside, he’s a fun-loving 19-year-old, but he gets behind the wheel and starts doing big things.”

While Karam’s next race is the proverbial to-be-determined, and the top finishing rookie in the field was Kurt Busch, P6 in a one-off, here’s how the rest of the rookies fared:

  • KV Racing Technology’s James Davison ended P16, up from P28 on the grid, in the Always Evolving Racing-backed No. 33 Chevrolet. Davison admitted he lost ground to Alex Tagliani, Jacques Villeneuve and Sebastian Saavedra on the last restart but was otherwise pleased after a trouble-free run.
  • Same story for Dale Coyne’s Carlos Huertas, who in his first ever oval race was impressively anonymous – P17 from 21st on the grid, best of Coyne’s three cars, and completed all 200 laps.
  • Early season revelations Jack Hawksworth (BHA/BBM with Curb-Agajanian) and Aleshin (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports) ended 20th and 21st. Hawksworth fought understeer while Aleshin lost ground on a pit stop, but led a lap during a pit sequence (Lap 32), his first in IndyCar competition.
  • It was a tough day at the office for A.J. Foyt Enterprises’ Martin Plowman, but in 23rd he made it seven rookie finishers after seven rookies started. Plowman finished four laps down and made contact with Josef Newgarden under a caution that took the young American out of the race.

IMSA: Sebring Day 2 of two-day test notebook

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Testing across several IMSA sanctioned series continued at Sebring International Raceway on Tuesday as preparations continue for next month’s events during the weekend of the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.

Below are highlights from Day 2 of testing around the 3.74-mile road course.

Eurosport Racing Continues Work with Mazda Prototype Challenge Chassis

Teams in the Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda championship completed their second day of testing on Tuesday. Among them, Eurosport Racing continued their work with the only Mazda Prototype Challenge (MPC) entries in the field, in the hands of drivers Dr. Tim George (in the No. 24 entry) and Jon Brownson (in the No. 34).

“Right now, I’m driving by myself so we’re trying to make the car comfortable enough to last an hour and 45 minutes with just me in the car,” George said of their preparation efforts. “We’re trying to set up the car where it’s quick, yet it and can last, both the car and for me to make sure we don’t tire out, get fatigued and make mistakes.”

The 1 hour 45 minute window that George referenced represents the race times for the 2018 season, up considerably from last year’s sprint format that featured a pair of 45-minute races across a race weekend.

Though that change represents a drastic shift in driving philosophy, it is one that George welcomes.

“The new rules for the endurance races are great, I enjoy it a lot,” said George. “It gives you a chance to think through things differently with strategy. It also gives you a chance if you blow it…in a sprint race if you make a mistake you don’t get a chance to come back.”

Florida Drivers in Continental Tire Challenge Eager for Hometown Race at Sebring

A strong contingent of drivers from Florida are represented in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, and next month’s 12 Hours of Sebring weekend will see them compete on home soil.

“I grew up in Tallahassee and I live in Orlando now, so Sebring has been my home track since day one,” said Paul Holton, driver of the No. 76 Compass Racing McLaren GT4, which finished 14th at the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway. “I’ve spent a lot of time down here and really enjoy the place. It’s a nice, quaint little town not far from Orlando so it’s a quick, easy drive down for me.”

Fellow Floridian Ramin Abdolvahabi, a native of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida and driver of the No. 09 Automatic Racing Aston Martin Vantage, revealed that, even though Sebring is only two hours from his hometown, this week’s test was his first time at the track in two years.

“I haven’t been here for two years, so coming back is like coming home,” he said. “It’s a fantastic track and it’s one of the iconic tracks in the world so being at Sebring – a small town, my hometown, welcoming – it’s fantastic. I went on the track a couple of times yesterday and it’s just like wearing an old shoe, it just fits and it’s fantastic. Hopefully, the race will go well and the weather will hold, so anyone who’s out there, come and see us!”

Frank Raso Trades in Airplanes for Porsches at Sebring

Several IMSA drivers boast “day jobs” outside of their racing gigs. Among them, Frank Raso’s work falls outside of ordinary jobs like doctor or lawyer. Rather, Raso flies airplanes for a living.

“I’m an airline pilot for a major airline,” said Raso, who tested the No. 10 Topp Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car at Sebring. “I’ve been flying for almost 30 years, and it’s allowed me, with all my time off and things like that to do this and fall back into racing again. I messed with it a little bit when I was younger, but it was, of course, expensive, so I got away from it for a while. I decided I wanted to get back into it in kind of my last couple of years before I get too old.”

Raso explained that the skills he practices while flying planes are more than transferable to his driving duties in a Porsche GT3 Cup car.

“Flying an airliner or flying any airplane, we have checklists, but everything is kind of done in order. It’s almost in a robot fashion type of a thing where you do this, you do this, you do this and you have to make sure you hit all your marks and fly the airplane with precision.

“So, when you get in these Cup cars, with no anti-lock brakes, no traction control, and no driver assist items, you have to make sure you hit your marks, when you’re accelerating, when you’re turning in. You have to be alert. It keeps your wits about you. The car can step out at any time. They’re a very difficult car to drive, but they’re a lot of fun.”
The 54-year-old Raso posted a best finish of fourth, on four separate occasions, in a part-time schedule during the 2017 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama season as a competitor in the Gold Cup class.
Newcomers Get Taste of Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge
A number of new drivers got to sample Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge cars during the two days of testing at Sebring. Among them was amateur racer Scott Welham, who got his first taste of professional racing during the two-day outing at Sebring.
And he had a strong support system backing him up in the Kelly-Moss Road and Race team, the defending Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge champions with driver Jake Eidson.
“Here, you’ve got somebody that actually does coaching, data acquisition, track management – these are all separate people – plant manager, owner, a car-setup guy, you’ve got someone that bills you – which isn’t always a good thing, but you know, you just have that huge, huge support group that enables you to focus on driving,” Welham said of the team’s influence on his development over the two days.
IMSA’s next visit to Sebring will be for the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring on March 17.