Sage Karam confirmed for Indianapolis 500; CGR with DRR/Kingdom Racing

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The 2013 Indy Lights champion, Sage Karam, will make his Indianapolis 500 debut this year after formal confirmation of a new multi-year driver development deal with Chip Ganassi Racing.

Karam, rather than be entered in a fifth sole CGR entry, will be entered in a CGR-supported No. 22 Chevrolet, entered by Dreyer & Reinbold Kingdom Racing.

“I couldn’t be happier to join Chip Ganassi Racing’s Verizon IndyCar Series program,” Karam said in a team release. “It is honestly a dream come true for me and my racing career. I’ve been very fortunate to participate in a few IMSA races for Chip with the team, and I can’t wait for my first experience in the Indianapolis 500. Chip has created a fantastic organization that judges success by just one thing – WINNING, both races and championships. This is a very big day for me.”

The Nazareth, Pa. 19-year-old, a senior in high school, has competed in the first two TUDOR United SportsCar Championship races of 2014 in CGR’s Ford EcoBoost Riley Daytona Prototype. He led at Sebring and was one of that race’s stars.

Said Ganassi of his newest development driver, “Sage is a unique talent that we believe is a future star of the sport. Even at a young age, he has been successful at every level that he has raced at. It is nice to see his poise and tenacity on the race track as I think that will translate well to his driving at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the 500. He reminds me of the two other recent young drivers that we have in our program, Kyle Larson and Dylan Kwasniewski.”

Karam is CGR’s first open-wheel developmental driver since Alex Lloyd; Lloyd made his Indianapolis 500 debut under similar conditions, in a CGR-supported second car for Rahal Letterman Racing in 2008. However with Dario Franchitti’s return to open-wheel racing ahead of the 2009 season, future opportunities for Lloyd at CGR were limited.

Meanwhile DRR, led by Dennis Reinbold, temporarily suspended their efforts after last year’s Indianapolis 500. Kingdom Racing has worked with Davey Hamilton previously, and although Hamilton was not named in today’s release, it’s anticipated he’ll be part of the leadership structure of this program. Hamilton has been working on putting together an entry for this year’s Indianapolis 500.

This brings the number of confirmed driver/car combinations to 30, with two more cars already expected for 32, and a 33rd to come.

James Hinchcliffe on Andretti: ‘It’s certainly the place I want to be’

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Since before the start of the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series season, James Hinchcliffe tirelessly has worked to ensure the future would include a full-time return in 2021.

And with an opportunity to run the final three races this season with Andretti Autosport, there seems a surefire (albeit unlikely) path.

“If I go out and win all three,” Hinchcliffe joked with IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview Friday (watch the video above), “it would be hard for them to say no, right?”

Regardless of whether he can go unbeaten at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course next weekend or the Oct. 25 season finale at St. Petersburg, Florida (where he earned his first career win in 2013), Hinchcliffe will have the chance to improve his stock with the team that he knows well and now has an opening among its five cars for 2021.

All three of Hinchcliffe’s starts this season — the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, July 4 at the IMS road course and the Indianapolis 500 — were with Andretti, where he ran full time in IndyCar from 2012-14.

“Obviously, the plan from January 2020 was already working on ’21 and trying to be in a full-time program,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed being reunited with Andretti Autosport, and everybody there has been so supportive. It’s been a very fun year for me on track. It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air in a lot of ways.

“It’s certainly the place I want to be moving forward. We’ve been working on that, working on those conversations. Genesys has been an incredible partner in my three races. We’ll be representing Gainbridge primarily, but Genesys will still have a position on our car in the last three.”

Gainbridge is the primary sponsor of the No. 26 Dallara-Honda that was vacated by Zach Veach, who left the team after it was determined he wouldn’t return in 2021. Hinchcliffe can empathize having lost his ride with Arrow McLaren SP after last season with a year left on his deal.

“You never want to earn a ride at the expense of somebody else in the sense that has happened here with Zach,” Hinchcliffe said. “I feel bad that he’s not able to see out the last three races of his season. I’ve got a lot of respect for him off track. He’s been a teammate this year, a colleague for years before that and honestly a friend for years before that. I’ve got a lot of time for him and his family. I understand a little bit of what it’s like in that position and what he’s going through.”

Hinchcliffe is ready to seize the moment, though, starting with the Oct. 2-3 doubleheader race weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He had been hoping to add the Harvest Indy Grand Prix to his schedule and had been working out for the possibility.

“Then last week I had given up hope (and) was resigned that wasn’t happening,” he said. “I told my trainer, ‘I think we’re done for this year.’ Three days later, this call comes. I’m glad we didn’t make that decision too early. I feel great physically.

“I look at it as a great opportunity to continue to show I’ve still got what it takes and should be there hopefully full time next year on the grid.”

Watch Hinchliffe’s video with Leigh Diffey above or by clicking here.