Karam’s homecoming: Sage set to race in front of family, friends at Pocono

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It’s not that racing there two years ago in Indy Lights wasn’t a big deal, but for Sage Karam, this Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 is the first real “home race” he’ll get at Pocono Raceway.

The 20-year-old is set to close out his rookie season in the Verizon IndyCar Series in front of an onslaught of family, friends and supporters.

And hopefully, his dog Max.

“I’ll try to bring him up one of the days,” Karam says of the dog that got an unexpected amount of publicity thanks to a now-infamous, since deleted Instagram post of the two together. “Only problem would be where to keep him when I’m on track. If I can figure it out, I’ll bring Max along. Get some funny photos out of it.”

The lighthearted tone to end our chat on Monday comes in the midst of a serious reality facing Karam: unlike the rest of the field, he won’t be going onto Sonoma next weekend with a chance at truly ending his season on a high, or even with a shot at usurping past Indy Lights title rival Gabby Chaves for the season-long rookie-of-the-year honors.

LIKELY LAST SHOT OF 2015

Karam has been on a sponsor-dependent first-year program at Chip Ganassi Racing, the team’s first rookie in ages, but will have missed four out of 16 races this season.

Pocono, his home race, is his last shot this season in the No. 8 Comfort Revolution/Big Machine Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, barring a last-minute opportunity of a fifth car being assembled or being farmed out to another team.

It’s all of those factors that have Karam laser-focused on doing the best job possible in his final 2015 audition before 2016, which isn’t guaranteed yet.

“There’s a little added pressure,” Karam said. “It’s people that have been there my whole life. Besides Indianapolis, this would be the next biggest one I want to win.

“It’s the hype of it. This is the one race, where I had a lot of people come out to Indianapolis and wasn’t able to show them much of a good race. But this one, this is an opportunity. Hopefully I get through Turn 1 this time. I just need to put my head down, and bring home a good result.”

Karam’s Indianapolis 500 misstep was arguably his biggest blemish of the year. The first lap, first turn contact with Takuma Sato to his outside and Ryan Hunter-Reay on the inside wiped out a month’s worth of great speed and great hopes for a good result.

Detroit a week later was the nadir of his season. Several penalties followed in a disastrous second race of the weekend, and also earned him a stern talking to from Ganassi driver coach and adviser Dario Franchitti.

POST-DETROIT TURNAROUND

Since then, Karam has embarked on a significant turnaround. Texas was improved, Fontana was his first top-five finish, Milwaukee his best start of third, and Iowa a month ago his first podium, even though the latter race earned him a number of headlines for his aggressive style and battle with Ed Carpenter.

Karam’s oval skills have never been in doubt throughout his development in the Mazda Road to Indy, or in his first IndyCar season. So it’s with that in mind he thinks Pocono can produce another podium result, if not his first career victory to follow the trend of “firsts.”

“I’ve done better this year on the ovals and super speedways,” Karam said. “Super speedways gel well with me. This one’s tricky. Turn 1 gets a lot tighter than you think it is. I know in the Indy Lights car, every time you went in there, you prayed it would stick. I can’t imagine it with an extra 20-30 mph. I talked to my teammates and it’s one of the hardest turns on the schedule. The extra hour for us on Saturday will help get me up to speed quicker.”

Karam also admitted that he can’t expect to get away with too loose a race car at Pocono, as he could at Iowa.

“This year has been really tough because you lose the rear end … you don’t want to set it up to understeer,” he said. “If you set it up too free, it’ll be too loose. Going 220-230, if car gets loose, things happen at a quicker rate.

“I got away with driving a looser car there, but I probably wouldn’t at a track like Pocono. It’ll come down to who’s got the best car in 1 and 3. If you have a solid car and you can stay flat, you’ll be able to make passes.”

MOVING FORWARD AFTER IOWA, MID-OHIO

Karam has also done his best Taylor Swift imitation in acknowledging while the haters may hate, he’s shaken off the controversy that’s followed his name the last two races – at Iowa when he raced hard, and at Mid-Ohio when some competitors drew conclusions about his spin at Turn 5.

“As far as what’s happened in the past, that’s all in the past,” he said. “I don’t think other drivers are gonna be like, ‘Oh, he did this, so I’ll go out and block him, or even put me off the track, or even talk to me.’ It’s just another weekend. Move forward.”

THE REALITY OF BEING 20

It’s easy to forget given how long he’s been in the open-wheel ladder, and now in IndyCar, that at 20, Karam hasn’t enjoyed the typical life of a teenager to early-20-year-old. Seeing friends before they go off to a college is a reminder of what he’s not experiencing, while his friends get to see something they don’t do on a regular basis.

“I spent some time with family and friends the last few weeks,” says Karam, who’s been in his hometown of Nazareth since Mid-Ohio. ‘They’re all headed off to college, and I probably won’t see them again ’til Thanksgiving.

“I always tell my dad (Jody), ‘Ah man, I wish I could go to college, miss the college experience.’ I think about what it would be like if I went to college. But then I bet they wonder what it’s like to go 230 mph in an IndyCar.”

Karam will be able to prep for this weekend’s race from the comforts of his own home – he lives in nearby Nazareth, just 20 minutes from the track.

“The hype is having so many family and friends, a lot of support, with a whole Sage Karam section up in the bleachers. They’ll be cheering.

“It’s a cool thing in front of my natural home. These are the people that will be behind me, both in the race car and as a person off the track. There will be a lot of my wrestling teammates, a lot of first-time race attendees. It’s important to show them a good result.

“It’s only about 20 minutes away. So I won’t have to stay in a hotel room, I’ll be in my own Comfort Revolution bed, and can get some good nights sleep. That’s always good.

“If we win, we’ll have a team party at my house.”

Indianapolis Motor Speedway can have 10,000 fans for IndyCar races

Indianapolis Motor Speedway fans
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Indianapolis Motor Speedway will have crowds for its NTT IndyCar Series race weekend next month, the first time fans are allowed at the track this year.

The track announced Friday that up to 10,000 fans will be allowed in the grandstands daily from Oct. 1-4. The IndyCar Harvest GP race doubleheader will be held on the track’s road course Oct. 2-3.

IMS has played host to several events this year without fans, including the 104th Indianapolis 500 on Aug. 23 and a NASCAR-IndyCar weekend July 4-5 that included the Brickyard 400. Plans originally were made to have fans at the Indy 500 before reversing course a few weeks ahead of the race. In a letter last month, Roger Penske vowed that fans would return for the 2021 Indy 500.

“We can’t wait to see fans come through our gates for the first time in 2020,” IMS president Doug Boles said in a release. “They’ll be greeted by a vastly improved facility, featuring significant upgrades to the spectator experience. We’re also extremely grateful to have a presenting sponsor with the expertise and resources of GMR as we look to implement our detailed and comprehensive health and safety plan.”

Fans will undergo temperature screenings upon entry and also be required to wear face coverings at all times on property. The track said each attendee will receive a mask and bottle of hand sanitizer.

The Friday, Oct. 2 race will be shown at 3:30 p.m. ET on USA, and NBC will broadcast the Saturday, Oct. 3 race at 2:30 p.m. ET.

Here’s the release from Indianapolis Motor Speedway:

INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020 – For the first time in 2020, Indianapolis Motor Speedway will welcome fans to the Racing Capital of the World for the INDYCAR Harvest GP presented by GMR weekend. Up to 10,000 spectators can be in the grandstands each day of racing action Oct. 1-4, per approval from the Marion County Public Health Department.

Tickets are available now via IMS.com and will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis.

The massive facility, which holds more than 300,000 people, will provide two spectator zones with up to 5,000 fans in each. The zones will be located in Turns 1 and 4 of the oval, offering strong sightlines of the road course. Strict health and safety rules will be in place, including the following:

  • Face coverings must be worn throughout the property at all times;
  • All fans will receive temperature screenings before gate entry;
  • Grandstand seats will be marked for distancing;
  • Attendees must use pre-assigned gates and remain in their designated zones.

Global Medical Response, the world leader in compassionate, quality emergency medical and patient relocation services, will be the presenting sponsor of the penultimate weekend of INDYCAR racing this season.

“We can’t wait to see fans come through our gates for the first time in 2020,” IMS President J. Douglas Boles said. “They’ll be greeted by a vastly improved facility, featuring significant upgrades to the spectator experience. We’re also extremely grateful to have a presenting sponsor with the expertise and resources of GMR as we look to implement our detailed and comprehensive health and safety plan.”

The plan, which includes each attendee receiving a mask and a bottle of hand sanitizer upon entering the track, was developed in consultation with state and local health officials.

This event weekend is highlighted by an NTT INDYCAR SERIES doubleheader, with races Friday, Oct. 2 and Saturday, Oct. 3. It will be the penultimate event of the series’ season as the field pursues the champion’s prestigious Astor Challenge Cup to be awarded Sunday, Oct. 25 at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The INDYCAR Harvest GP will pay tribute to a storied IMS event, the Harvest Classic in September 1916. The Harvest Classic was the only racing event held outside of May at IMS from 1911 through 1993. The event featured three races, all won by legendary driver Johnny Aitken.

Fans also will see a host of facility improvements during the event weekend, including more than 30 new LED video boards, refreshed concession stands and restrooms, and 5G wireless connectivity throughout the facility.

The first race will air at 3:30 p.m. (ET) Friday, Oct. 2 on the USA Network. NBC will broadcast the second race at 2:30 p.m. (ET) Saturday, Oct. 3, with WTHR-13 airing the action live in Central Indiana.

Also racing that weekend will be the first pairing of two major sports car series — the Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli and its North American counterpart, GT World Challenge America Powered by AWS. Former Indianapolis 500 pole winner Ryan Briscoe is among the drivers in the Indianapolis 8 Hour event held Sunday, Oct. 4.

The event also will showcase drivers in SRO America’s Pirelli GT4 America, GT Sports Club America and the TC America series.

The full on-track schedule is available at IMS.com.