IMSA: Sage Karam joins CGR lineup at IMS

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Seven-time and reigning GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series Champions and five-time Rolex 24 At Daytona Winners Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates (CGRFS) announced today that development driver Sage Karam will join Scott Pruett in the driver lineup of the No. 01 Telcel Ford EcoBoost Prototype (P) for the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship (TUSC) Brickyard Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) on July 25.  The driver lineup changes after regular co-driver Memo Rojas couldn’t compete this weekend due to a nagging back issue.

NOTES OF INTEREST:

  • Karam Behind the Wheel:  The reigning Indy Lights Champion, 2011 Star Mazda Rookie of the Year and 2010 USF2000 Champion returns to CGRFS after making his debut with the team in Round 1 of the TUSC in his first start in a sports car at the Rolex 24 At Daytona, again with the team in Round 2 at the 12 Hours of Sebring, and most recently in round 7 at the Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen.  Karam also led the team’s four-car Indianapolis 500 effort in his very first Verizon IndyCar Series start with a ninth-place result at IMS in May.
  • Indianapolis Successes:  The No. 01 car has raced at IMS twice in the team’s 10-year sports car career (2012, 2013) and has placed second both times.  The team has completed 198 out of 198 laps at IMS and led 23 of those laps.
  • Ganassi Driver Development Program:  Karam adds to a growing lineup of CGRT development drivers that includes 21-year-old graduate Kyle Larson (No. 42 Target Chevrolet SS in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series) and 19-year-old Dylan Kwasniewski (No. 31 RockStar Chevrolet Camaro in the NASCAR Nationwide Series).

QUOTEBOARD:

Sage Karam, Driver:  “I couldn’t have been happier to get the call to come drive again with the team in the No. 01 car in Indianapolis.  It’s an unfortunate situation for Memo, and I hope he recovers quickly, but I’m happy to step up and contribute any way I can.  I have such great memories of competing at IMS already in the Indianapolis 500 this year with the team, so it almost feels like going home a bit.  I know it’s a completely different track, but I feel comfortable there, and I’m hoping I can carry that over into a great result this weekend.”

Memo Rojas, Driver:  “I spoke to the team after our last race at Mosport and let them know that I didn’t feel that I was 100%.  I discussed the situation with our managing director Mike Hull and we agreed that it would be best for me to rest my back this weekend.  I know Sage will do a great job filling in and I’m already looking forward to the race at Road America after a few weekends off.”

IndyCar’s 2018 full-field grid nearing completion

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Following Wednesday’s confirmation of the all-Canadian tandem at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, each of the eight full-time teams in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season have announced at least one driver for 2018, leaving very few remaining question marks.

What stands confirmed is below:

CONFIRMED

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (1, Honda): Scott Dixon
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (1, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

There are four additional drivers confirmed for selected races or an month of May program:

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Calmels Sport with SPM (1, Honda): Tristan Gommendy
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser

All told that’s 17 full-season driver and team combinations confirmed and four additional part-time programs, at least, that are set. Several of those driver/team combinations will have engineering and strategist changes, as well.

In a minor note since our last update at Sonoma, Marco Andretti confirmed he won’t run No. 27 next year. Of note, Bryan Herta served as Andretti’s race strategist this year, although the car he was an entrant on was Alexander Rossi’s No. 98 car. Herta will continue his relationship with Andretti Autosport again next season.

WHAT’S LEFT TO SORT? NOT MUCH

Elsewhere, there’s only a handful of remaining question marks as the series hits mid-October, a rarity from past years and an illustration of the urgency to fill seats to get as much preparation time in testing with the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit as possible.

NBC Sports expects 2016 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IndyCar rookie-of-the-year Ed Jones to be confirmed soon as second driver in Dale Coyne Racing’s No. 19 Honda alongside Sebastien Bourdais, with team personnel and Bourdais both having indicated a preference in keeping the Dubai-based Brit for a second year.

NBC Sports also expects Jones’ successor as Indy Lights champion, Kyle Kaiser, to have his future announced shortly in terms of which team he’ll step up to IndyCar with. It would not be a surprise if Kaiser does graduate along with Juncos Racing, although Kaiser is known to have talked to multiple teams. The Mazda Motorsports scholarship nets him $1 million for a three-race program, including the 102nd Indianapolis 500, with the driver then needing to secure additional funding for further races, as Jones and Pigot both have each of the last two years.

The status of Brendon Hartley has now been thrown up as a slight question mark dependent on how his Formula 1 debut with Scuderia Toro Rosso goes at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix, and if Toro Rosso provides him a further race opportunity in one of the remaining three Grands Prix thereafter. Having been all-but-earmarked for Chip Ganassi Racing’s second seat in 2018, if an F1 offer comes, Hartley’s potential IndyCar bow could get delayed.

A McLaren-named entry competing either in the Indianapolis 500 or full-time seems further off than realistic for next year, McLaren’s Zak Brown told reporters on a teleconference this week. McLaren maintains an IndyCar technical presence though, via its McLaren Applied Technologies outfit.

What’s left then are the dominoes of whether Carlin’s IndyCar plans officially come to fruition as the team has gotten closer than it ever has to doing so, and who emerges in the second seats at A.J. Foyt Enterprises and Ed Carpenter Racing (road and street courses), respectively.

A number of young IndyCar veterans – Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball, Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly namely – are yet to land for 2018 and there’s no guarantee all four of them will be back in IndyCar next season.

There’s also a handful of young drivers, namely RC Enerson, Jack Harvey, Esteban Gutierrez, Santiago Urrutia, Zachary Claman DeMelo, Sage Karam and Matthew Brabham among others, who could well emerge in the frame for seats.

Gutierrez’s status seemed dependent on Mexico City being added to the 2018 calendar, and although the race still could be added, the fact neither is in place at this point doesn’t inspire as much confidence about his presence as a regular on the grid as it did earlier this summer.

All told, there’s not nearly that much to sort out as IndyCar’s grid for 2018 is looking very much close to set at this early stage of a long offseason.