IndyCar: Karam, Saavedra to split Ganassi’s No. 8 car for season

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File this one under the “we didn’t see this coming” department – past Indy Lights champion and Chip Ganassi Racing development driver Sage Karam and several-year Verizon IndyCar Series veteran Sebastian Saavedra will split the No. 8 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet for the remainder of the season.

Both will race at the Indianapolis 500, with Saavedra in a fifth car “overseen by CGRT,” per a team release, not necessarily under the CGRT banner (essentially, what Karam’s Dreyer & Reinbold/Kingdom Racing entry was last year).

The pair lined up 31st and 32nd in last year’s Indianapolis 500, the only IndyCar race thus far that has featured both of them.

The release is below:

Chip Ganassi Racing Teams (CGRT) unveiled its upcoming plans today for the No. 8 Chevrolet entry in the Verizon IndyCar Series, which includes races for both CGRT development driver Sage Karam and team newcomer Sebastian Saavedra– who will pilot the No. 8 AFS Chevrolet at this weekend’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Saavedra will be backed by AFS Racing/Automatic Fire Sprinklers, Inc., one of the western states largest full service fire sprinkler companies, for the races in Long Beach, the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and Sonoma, with an additional race at the Indianapolis 500 through a fifth entry overseen by CGRT.

After starts in St. Petersburg and New Orleans this season for CGRT, Karam will rejoin the team in the No. 8 Chevrolet for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama and the Indianapolis 500, and is scheduled to run the balance of the season until Sonoma.

“I’m grateful to Chip and the team for their ongoing commitment to me, and I can’t wait to get back in the car at Barber,” Karam said. “I just take things one day at a time and nothing has really changed for me since I started as a development driver here– when Chip calls, I’m ready to go race.”

“It’s good to be back in the Verizon IndyCar Series,” Saavedra said. “This is an amazing opportunity for me with AFS to work with one of the most prestigious teams in all of racing. I’m very grateful to Chip and the team, which have had an incredible history in the sport, and specifically in the Indianapolis 500. I’m looking forward to Long Beach and doing everything I can to help get the No. 8 car to the front.”

“We’ve been committed to Sage and to running the No. 8 car in the full Verizon IndyCar Series season since day one, and this plan reflects our continued investment in the series and in the team,” Ganassi said. “Sage continues to grow his race craft in his development role with us, and we look forward to having both he and Sebastian contribute to the No. 8 team moving forward this season.”

“I’m excited about this coming together quickly with the Ganassi No. 8 entry,” Peterson said. “It looks to be a great alignment between AFS Racing, Chip Ganassi Racing Teams and Sebastian Saavedra. My heart has always been in racing and it will be great to see Sebastian have the chance he deserves with a great team. With the opportunities being limited for AFS, we had planned to sit this season out until this fantastic opportunity!”

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

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Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.