Even more than race winner Ryan Hunter-Reay, Sage Karam was the story in the Verizon IndyCar Series coming out of its most recent round at Iowa Speedway two weeks ago.
Yes, even more than that pesky new Rule 9.3.8 that entered the INDYCAR Rulebook last Tuesday.
Karam’s post-race dustup with Ed Carpenter dominated the headlines, then the two did a series of radio interviews, then Karam addressed a wide range of topics in a 45-plus-minute conference call with assembled reporters.
While my MotorSportsTalk colleague Daniel McFadin noted the maturation of Karam throughout this year – particularly in the last two months – I’ll be very interested to see Karam’s on-track encore post-Iowa at Mid-Ohio, because this is an important weekend for him.
Frankly, Karam and permanent road courses have not gelled well this year.
It all started with Karam’s testing accident at Barber Motorsports Park in the preseason. His wrist injury had two knock-on effects: it left him less than 100 percent for his first ever IndyCar road or street course start at St. Petersburg two weeks later, and, crucially, it cost him valuable testing time.
With so little time to test in modern-day IndyCar racing, losing the multiple days after the Barber crash was a rough setback for the driver of the No. 8 Comfort Revolution/Big Machine Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.
“I was talking to Dario about this in Iowa. He was talking about when he drove he had so much testing as a rookie compared to me,” Karam told me during the conference call.
“He says he’s really impressed with how far I’ve come for the limited testing, especially in my case, crashing in Alabama, I missed the two- or three-day test there. I missed two days after that in NOLA. I missed four or five solid days of testing that everyone got over me. That hurt me so much. I only had I think about two or three, maybe four solid days of testing before St. Pete.
“At the beginning of the season, I don’t think people realize this was almost completely new to me. I was coming into a really great team at such a young age, with almost virtually no testing basically, and hurt.
“I think once we got past the injury, I got a little bit more seat time, thinking now the speed is starting to show, we’re showing that we can run up front.”
Karam has raced at Mid-Ohio before, most recently in 2013 when he qualified ninth and finished eighth in Indy Lights.
That wasn’t his best weekend in his championship-winning season, but Karam is optimistic he’ll do well this time around.
“At this point I’m just kind of taking it race by race because I still have things to prove, still my rookie season. I feel like every time I go out there I need to prove something,” Karam said. “I’m honestly just looking at Mid-Ohio. I haven’t had any discussions yet about 2016.
“Yeah, I raced there in Lights. I was fast. It’s a good track for me. I definitely like it. It’s a track that you have to take risks at. I guess from the past week, people think I take a lot of risks. Hopefully it plays out well.”
Karam will look to improve upon a rough couple opening road course races in his IndyCar career.
He spun twice at NOLA Motorsports Park, starting 19th and finishing 18th. His return to Barber after his testing crash didn’t go much better. He started 12th and ended 18th.
As he missed the Toronto race, it’s been a full two months since Karam last competed on a road or street course, when he raced the double in Detroit.
Karam impressed in qualifying at Detroit but had a ragged weekend in the races, particularly race two, where he received two drive-through penalties for avoidable contact.
From a versatility standpoint, the 20-year-old rookie who is a star in the making on ovals needs a clean, solid, respectable weekend on a road course.
Right now, it’s his last scheduled road race too, with Sebastian Saavedra set to take over the No. 8 car at Sonoma. So a good performance this weekend could help Karam, who currently sits 18th in points and 39 back of top rookie Gabby Chaves, finish the season himself.