Karam’s maturation evident heading into second year with CGR

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He’s not officially confirmed yet to the team’s fourth car, but all signs are pointing toward Chip Ganassi Racing’s development driver Sage Karam, 19, joining the Verizon IndyCar Series full-time in 2015.

Before that, though, Karam will take up the role of co-driver of the team’s No. 01 Ford EcoBoost-backed Riley-Ford in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship season opener, the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

The Karam that’s coming into Daytona in 2015 is, if not the completely finished article, certainly an improved specimen over the driver who showed up as an 18-year-old rookie some 12 months ago.

Karam was methodical on his Daytona debut before really showcasing his potential at Sebring with a series of spellbinding moves. He also got further, unexpected chances at Watkins Glen and Indianapolis that helped his growth process.

“Like you said, last year was different coming in,” Karam told MotorSportsTalk at this weekend’s Roar Before the Rolex 24 test. “I’d never even driven anything with a roof. For the team and I, it was different.”

Now this year, he and Charlie Kimball will share the No. 01 with Scott Pruett and Joey Hand. The sports car veterans will run the lion’s share of the race, but nonetheless, the youngsters are expected to play a greater role and drive a greater percentage of the race.

“It’s a cool opportunity,” Karam said. “I came in last year and expected to run only one stint. But I ran a bit more because of the position I was in; we were out of contention and the team wanted to help me learn.

“I know this year it will be more of a team effort. It helps that I had the extra drives, so I have more experience than I was supposed to get.”

If or when Karam gets confirmed for the IndyCar, he’ll be part of something that hasn’t happened on a consistent basis since his youth: specific, new year chassis development.

With IndyCar stuck in something of a spec car rut over the last decade or so, with only minor modifications allowed, Karam would be thrust into the field in the year when aero kits are to be introduced.

“These aero kits will be a big, big change for an IndyCar,” he said. “As a rookie, it could work to my advantage by leveling the playing field.

“It’s honestly crazy how secret it’s been. Honest to god, I haven’t seen or heard anything about the aero kits. But hats off to Chevy and Honda for keeping it pretty tight.”

Karam also had his first proper IndyCar road course test last month at Sebring in December. It came together quickly but he impressed the team on site.

“It came together late, and actually happened really fast,” he said. “I wound up using one of Charlie’s seats, so I wasn’t as fully acclimated to the car as much as I could have been. But it was really good to run and learn; the speed felt there.”

With Karam having impressed in limited opportunities in 2014, it is quite possible he could have the chance to do so on a more regular basis in the New Year.