Photo: Dreyer & Reinbold Racing

Karam: A relaxed mindset coming back to Indy 500 with DRR

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Editor’s note: Sage Karam, 3GT Racing Lexus driver in IMSA, a past Indy Lights and USF2000 champion and Verizon IndyCar Series podium finisher, will file a series of blogs for NBCSports.com this month for a second straight year (2016 archive here). Here’s his first entry, following his shop visit and 2017 seat fit. He’ll run the No. 24 Mecum Auctions Chevrolet for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. 

Hi everyone, this is Sage Karam, driver of the No. 24 Mecum Auctions Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Chevrolet Indy Car. It’s great to be back with NBCSports.com for the month of May.

I can’t tell you how excited I am about returning to the Indy 500. It’s always tough to sit around and wait for 11 months before you return to the greatest racing facility in the world, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Last week, I was in Indy and was at the DRR shop for my annual seat fitting in the Dallara race car. It’s refreshing to see everyone back in the shop. Every year I come into the shop and see how the crew guys are preparing a strong car for the 500. The seat fitting part was pretty easy. I have the same seat from last year and we just needed to adjust the pedals, steering rack and the steering wheel. I felt very comfortable in the car immediately.

And this year, the No. 24 really looks great. The DRR guys really work hard to get their 500 prepared properly.

I was talking to Dennis (Reinbold, team owner) and Chase (Selman, team manager) this week and saying that I wish I didn’t have to wait a full year to get back to the 500. You think about this race a lot.

Especially when you know you had a fast car last year and we were running up front. We could have had a good result. It just makes you wanting to get your revenge back the next year.

I think seeing the specs for this year and they are similar to 2016. So that is very encouraging since we went from 23rd to fourth, just before the halfway mark. That gives me a lot of confidence coming into this year’s race with a similar DRR setup.

I feel great coming into the 101st Indy 500. If I have a car as good as last year’s race car, I feel I can be in position to win the race. That’s very exciting for me, the sponsors and the whole team.

Photo courtesy of IMSA

Plus, I have been racing sports cars this year in the IMSA series with the 3GT Racing team and the Lexus program. Last year, I was with the Lexus road racing team but we didn’t race the car. So, the Indy 500 was my first race of 2016.

It feels good to have some races under my belt with Lexus this year including the Daytona 24, Sebring, Long Beach and COTA this weekend. I feel that doing those races has made me more relaxed behind the wheel coming to Indy.

Last year, without some racing before, I thought I got too anxious in the 500 when I was towards the front of the field. I really wanted to lead the race. Now, I know you don’t really need to get to the lead so soon. You need to be aggressive, but let the race play out more. It’s 200 laps.

I know I’ll be more relaxed this year coming to the 500. It will be my fourth Indy 500 and I have matured more than the previous years.

Photo: Dreyer & Reinbold Racing

I’m so excited to be back with Mecum Auto Auctions at the 2017 Indy 500. It’s funny. I haven’t actually been to one of the Mecum Auctions because of other conflicts. But I watch the show on NBC Sports regularly. I’m a car guy like most people in the Indy 500 garage area.

They do some really cool stuff at those auctions and I plan to go to the one in Indy this month. It looks like a blast. The Indy Mecum show is at the Indiana State Fairgrounds from May 16-20.

A lot of drivers have to work with some sponsors that aren’t too exciting for them. But I can tell you that the Mecum sponsorship gets me very pumped up because of my interest in their cars.

To work with a sponsor which has some very historic and amazing machinery is very cool for me. We want to make sure that our No. 24 Mecum Auctions Chevrolet looks good all month for them too.

People always ask me why we don’t run the Indy Grand Prix (May 12-13) with DRR. And I would like to do it again. But our total concentration is on the Indy 500. Dennis’ family has been a fixture at Indy since the 1920s and 1930s. This race means so much to he and his family. Plus it does to me too. It’s the biggest auto race in the world. So we want to be primed for a good program for the 500.

We want to give the crew a full week of massaging on the car. Plus we could damage the car in the Grand Prix too. I get a little antsy not being in the GP, but I know it’s for the best sitting it out.

As a rookie, I was able to finish but I really didn’t know what I was doing from a racecraft standpoint. I was just driving the car as fast as I could. I look back at it and still shake my head. It’s interesting to see behind the scenes now after three years and going into my fourth this month. I have made mistakes at Indy. I’ve crashed on the first lap. I’ve crashed at the halfway point. I think I know where I need to be and when I need to be there in the race. I want to complete all 200 laps again, and be in position to fight for the win.

This is the most confident I have felt in my time coming to the 500. Because I know we can run up front now. I know the team is capable of winning this race.

I feel we have everything we need to put the No. 24 Mecum Auctions Chevy in victory lane. That would be my dream.



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.