Ganassi’s Karam looks to make his mark after five-year journey to IndyCar


He only just turned 20, but Sage Karam has already been part of the IndyCar fabric for the last five years.

Now, he fully gets his chance to shine in the Verizon IndyCar Series as the youngest driver in Chip Ganassi Racing’s illustrious history.

Karam first emerged in the Mazda Road to Indy ladder as a 15-year-old rookie in the USF2000 Championship in 2010. He promptly won nine of the 12 races en route to the title, and moved up to Star Mazda (now Pro Mazda), where he won races in consecutive seasons.

By 2013, he inked a last-minute deal to join the powerhouse Sam Schmidt Motorsports team in Indy Lights. He won three more races and the series championship over teammate Gabby Chaves. Two races – wins at Iowa and Houston – stuck out as huge moments for him in the title campaign.

“I’d say my best race Indy Lights was at Iowa,” Karam told MotorSportsTalk in the run-up to St. Petersburg this weekend. “I started fifth and things didn’t look great, but I went fifth to second on first lap. We won that race. If I don’t win that race, I wouldn’t have won the championship. It was my best performance coming up.”

While Karam won the title, Jack Hawksworth and Carlos Munoz, who also finished behind him in that year’s championship, advanced into IndyCar full-time last year.

Karam didn’t, instead having been brought on by Ganassi as a development driver for a mix-and-match part-time schedule that focused on learning.

“I can’t believe it moves so fast,” Karam said. “I feel like it was just the other day when I was at St. Pete for the first time in USF2000, and now I’m about to make my first road course start in an IndyCar at St. Pete.

“With how fast it moves, the whole journey is pretty incredible. When you look back at the whole ride it took to get here, everyone’s help has been incredible to have.”

Even so, it’s taken more than a year for Karam to be set for a full-time program in IndyCar.

At the moment, he’s only confirmed in the No. 8 GE LED Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet for St. Petersburg with engineer Eric Cowdin, but all indications from the team and driver is that this the first race of an expected full-time campaign. Karam has also enjoyed longtime support from Michael Fux of Comfort Revolution, and recent support from Big Machine Records.

Karam’s opportunity with Ganassi arose over the 2013-2014 offseason, just around Christmas, and he made his team debut in the 2014 Rolex 24 at Daytona.

A handful of further sports car starts followed, with a standout drive in his second start in the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring raising some eyebrows on a bigger stage.

Karam described how those couple starts helped prepare him for his biggest moment of 2014, his debut in the Indianapolis 500 in a Ganassi-supported entry fielded by Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and Kingdom Racing that was easily worthy of race rookie-of-the-year honors.

“Daytona and Sebring, those were my first really ever professional debut races,” Karam explained. “People knew of me a bit from Indy Lights, but not yet on a professional stage. It was really good for me to have the performances I did and show that we could compete. It helped me get to this spot right now with the IndyCar guys.”

The Nazareth, Pa. native has been like a sponge in soaking up information from teammates Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Charlie Kimball.

But the driver who stands out most to him is Dario Franchitti, the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner and four-time series champion, who is coaching Karam.

“When you have Dario Franchitti helping you out, that’s a pretty big deal right there,” Karam said. “I take everything he says and listen in 100 percent to apply it.

“That helps eliminate the rookie mistakes that I can make and make it as smooth as possible. I’m a rookie and will make mistakes, like what happened at Barber (had a testing accident, but since has returned). If I didn’t have Dario, I’d have made a lot more mistakes.”

Karam praised Dixon’s fuel saving ability in particular as something he’s trying to absorb.

“I think one of the biggest things I learned is that Scott Dixon is absolutely amazing,” Karam said. “Out of any data trace I’ve ever seen, he’s unbelievable.

“The biggest thing I’m learning right now is how to save fuel. He’s the best in the game right now at that.”

Karam expects Chaves to be his toughest contender in the rookie-of-the-year battle, with Stefano Coletti and Luca Filippi also figuring in on the road and street courses.

As he heads to St. Petersburg this weekend, Karam reflected on the journey, the Ganassi opportunity and his presence as a young standout American driver who could emerge as a future star.

“It’s definitely an honor,” he said. “Driving for Chip Ganassi is incredible, and it shows how they’ve taken notice of me at this stage. After coming up through the ranks, I can’t thank everyone enough. It’s been a long journey.

“I love this country and representing it is definitely a great feeling. I’ll do my best. I know this series has needed some young American talent. You’ll start to see a bit of young Americans coming through, including hopefully my good friend Zach Veach.

“I’m hoping to succeed. Driving for Chip, he can have any driver in the paddock he wants. It’s an honor. It can be short-lived. So I have to give it my all.”

Eli Tomac wins Tampa Supercross, takes red plate home

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With his third win of the season, Eli Tomac took the red plate from Ken Roczen at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. Entering with a one-point deficit, Tomac left with a four-point advantage in the 2020 Monster Energy Supercross championship hunt.

Tomac has struggled with starts so far this season. Saturday, he was part of a four-rider separation on the opening lap. He slotted in behind Adam Cianciarulo and went to school on his teammate.

“Our starts were better,” Tomac told NBCSN after the race. “That was the key. We put ourselves in a position early so that we could go to battle and ride the way we’re supposed to ride.”

Tomac claimed his 30th career win as the riders behind swapped positions. Cianciarulo and Malcolm Stewart started out with top-five runs. Both had the podium in site before they faded and gave last year’s Big Three free reign at the front of the pack.

“Early on I was just following Adam,” Tomac said. “With these short lap times I knew we had a lot of laps under our belt tonight. So I kind of just settled tonight and then made the push just before halfway.

“And I thought I’ve go to go if I’m going to go. So I was able to switch up the sand there. That was really cool with the option. A good passing spot.”

Cooper Webb finished second. It is his fifth podium of the year, but he felt he could have challenged Tomac if he had gotten through traffic a little faster. Roosters from the sand section blinded him and forced a more cautious approach from on top of his KTM.

Roczen minimized his points loss with a third-place finish. It could have been much worse. At about the halfway point, Roczen fell. Luckily for him, Cianciarulo went down on the same lap and took much longer to right his bike, which allowed Roczen to hold onto a top-three spot. Roczen ended the race nearly 11 seconds behind Webb and 18 behind Tomac.

Last year’s Big Three all stood on the podium.

Speed has not been a problem for Cianciarulo. He has been fastest in qualification every week including Tampa, but he is still learning how to get to the finish without making mistakes.

Last week Cianciarulo lost the lead late at San Diego when Webb was able to study his line. This week Cianciarulo had the opportunity to study Tomac, but he refused to simply ride and gain experience.

Earlier this week, Cianciarulo told NBC Sports: “The adversity I’ve faced – the mistakes I’ve made – have all been basically caused because of not settling. Just trying to get the absolute most I can out of every race. I guess in a way you can look at that and say it was inexperience or a rookie being a rookie.”

Cianciarulo went from second at the midway point to ninth at the checkers.

Justin Barcia and Justin Hill rounded out the top five.

Stewart had one of his best runs of the season, but he faded in the closing laps. On the final trip around the track, he nipped Jason Anderson at the line.

Shane McElrath won the opening round of the 250 East division, just as he has done in his last two 250 West openers. Feld Entertainment Inc.

250 EAST: Shane McElrath won the opening rounds of his 2017 and 2018 seasons. Both of those came at Anaheim in the 250 West division. Switching coasts did not make any difference. McElrath drew first blood in the series with a 3-second advantage over last year’s 250 East champion, Chase Sexton.

“Nobody outside of my wife and I really know what went into this year and what a hit we took last year mentally,” McElrath told NBCSN. “It was a struggle. Everybody goes through their down times, and I really had a lot of growing to do last year.”

Sexton got off to a bad start on the first lap. All the news wasn’t bad. After getting mired in the pack at the start, he picked his way through the field and settled into second about halfway through the main event. Sexton made up 8 seconds as the clock ticked but simply ran out of time.

“I didn’t execute my start like I needed to,” Sexton said. “You can’t come from fifth and expect to catch them by the end of the race.”

In his first race back after a year and a half with a broken back, Jeremy Martin stood tall on the last rung of the podium

Garrett Marchbanks and Jordan Smith rounded out the top five.


Heat 1: Eli Tomac is not known for his starts. It’s time to rethink that after Heat 1. Tomac bolted to a big lead on Lap 1. … Malcolm Stewart led the field to the first corner. He slid wide exiting the corner and slipped back several spots before charging back to second. … Cooper Webb backed up his win last week with a third-place finish. … Vince Friese finished ninth to grab the final transfer. | Heat 1 Results

Heat 2: Ken Roczen stalked Adam Cianciarulo until the rookie buried his front wheel in the sand section. That stalled his momentum and allowed Roczen to take the lead. It set up a huge battle for the final battle for the top spot as the two crossed under the checkers nose to tail … Roczen won over Cianciarulo. … Zach Osborne took the final rung of the podium. … Back after a two-year hiatus, Broc Tickle finished fourth. It was like he had never been off the bike. … On Lap 1 Blake Baggett jumped into the back of Jared Lesher. They collected Joshua Cartwright, who got pinned under his bike and limped off the track. Baggett recovered to finfish eighth. … Kyle Chisholm took the final transfer position in ninth. | Heat 2 Results

LCQ: Chad Reed had to go through the LCQ, but he qualified for his 255th 450 Main where he would finish 19th. … Kyle Cunningham provided a lot of drama as time was running off the clock, but missed a corner and settled for second. Ryan Breece finished third. … Making his first Main of the season, Adam Enticknap swapped positions with Daniel Herrlien throughout the race and nipped him at the end.  | LCQ Results


Heat 1: Shane Mcelrath grabbed the lead early and held it throughout the heat. He won by 14 seconds, but much of that was because of mistakes by the second- and third-place riders. … Garrett Marchbanks had a quick off early in the race. He recovered to finish second. … Jordon Smith struggled in the sand. He went down early in the sand section, but he held position for a while. A second mistake in the sand allowed his teammate Marchbanks to pass him. … The final transfer position was a barnburner as Nick Gaines held off a determined charge by Hunter Sayles on the final lap. | Heat 1 Results

Heat 2: Chase Sexton told reporters before the race that he is determined to dominate. So far so good as he let the entire heat in route to the top spot on the podium. … Jeremy Martin settled into a comfortable spot four seconds back as the battle for third heated up. … Jo Shimoda held it for a while, but was eventually overrun by RJ Hampshire, who took the final rung of the podium … Shimoda faded to fifth. … The final transfer spot went to Cedric Soubeyras. … Joey Crown finished a respectable eighth and also transferred. | Heat 2 Results

LCQ: Jimmy Decotis made his move at the right time. With less than a minute on the clock, he caught and passed Curran Thurman. … Jimmy Decotis finished third. … The battle of the night was for the final transfer spot. Jalek Swoll made a dramatic pass in the final turn, but bogged down in the whoops and allowed Isaac Teasdale to catch him at the line in a photo finish. Teasdale took the final spot | LCQ Results

Click here for 450 Main Results | Season Points
Click here for 250 Main Results | Season Points

Next race: February 22, AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

Season passes can be purchased at NBC Sports Gold.

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