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Karam: Preparing for the thrill, challenge of Indy 500 practice

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Editor’s note: Sage Karam, 3GT Racing Lexus driver in IMSA, a past Indy Lights and USF2000 champion and Verizon IndyCar Series podium finisher, will file a series of blogs for NBCSports.com this month for a second straight year (2016 archive here).

Here’s his second entry, as he recaps a number of pre-practice media activities and the mental preparation for practice week. You can read his first blog of 2017 here. He’ll run the No. 24 Mecum Auctions Chevrolet for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, in partnership with Kingdom Racing. 


Hey again, it’s Sage Karam. And I am back in one of my favorite and happiest places now, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

It’s the greatest racing track in the world for many reasons but, as a driver, you get so pumped up when you drive under the South end tunnel for the first time each year. The place is just so massive and you really have to take in the scene when you return every time.

I’m so grateful to be back at IMS and preparing for the 101st Indy 500.

And I’m grateful to Dennis Reinbold and his whole DRR team for giving me the chance to compete in this year’s Indy 500 with the No. 24 Mecum Auctions Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Chevrolet Dallara. And it’s fun to write about my adventures here for the month of May with NBCSports.com.

I remember the first time I drove at IMS. It was in the Indy Lights class at the Chris Griffis Memorial Test and it was thrilling. It was on the road course, but it was so cool to see the big grandstands, the Pagoda, the scoring pylon, Gasoline Alley and the Snake Pit. It was amazing to gaze around the facility and see everything, such as the museum, the golf course, and more.

It’s a different thrill to take the first lap on the big 2.5-mile oval, the most famous oval in the world. You just are so focused on what you are doing and going that crazy speed. You forget about a lot of things in the car. But, after a while, it gets to be normal to me. Well, as normal as going 230 miles per hour can be.

But once you have a relative perception of the speed and the track, you can slow down your mind to relax and enjoy the ride. It’s funny at times. You can actually take a deep breath and see things differently after you have practiced for some time.

Of course, my first laps back at Indy will be on Monday and it does take a little bit of adjustment for the speed factor. When you’re driving the 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3 in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, it’s great. It’s a different kind of speed compared to the IndyCar, because both are so cool and fast in different ways.

The first few days of practice at Indy usually means finding a baseline for the car and yourself and work on the race trip. Conditions change so much at Indy that you have to try a variety of things in practice so you can be ready for them in the race. The heat of the track, the wind, the traffic, the turbulence of the others cars…… they make factors on how to set up the race car.

Last year, we went from 23rd to fourth before I had trouble and hit the wall on lap 93. We had a car to race up front at the Indy 500 and that is all you ask for at this place. Other elements make the difference on winning and losing then, like strategy, luck, quick pit stops. I could go on, but you get the point… it’s more than just having a great car.

This year, though, I would like to qualify better and start closer to the front of the field. That way we wouldn’t have to pass so many cars in the race to get to the front.

Plus, I know I need to be a little more patient throughout the race. But we can discuss that idea as we get closer to May 28 and 200 laps on race day.

Right now, I’m hanging out in the Dreyer & Reinbold Racing garage (B1-3) and watching my fellow competitors compete in the Indy Grand Prix. Sure, I’d like to be out there with them. We know that the bigger prize is the Indy 500 and that is our concentration for the team and myself.

Karam (center) on the Bob and Tom Show. Photo courtesy of Dreyer & Reinbold Racing.

So, I’ll relax little, do some media interviews and sponsor appearances and getting ready for Monday. I’m anxious to get over to the (Indiana State) Fairgrounds on Wednesday to see the Mecum Auction and those awesome cars. Check them out this coming week on NBCSN. It’s worth seeing some amazing machinery for the street too.

Talk to you next week.



IndyCar’s revised schedule gives Tony Kanaan an extra race in 2020

INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski
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Tony Kanaan got a bit of good news when the latest revised NTT IndyCar Series schedule was released Monday.

Kanaan’s “Ironman Streak” of 317 consecutive starts would have concluded with the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 15. That race was postponed, and the races that followed have been canceled or rescheduled later in the year. The season tentatively is scheduled to start June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway.

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is the reason for the tentative nature of this year’s 2020 NTT IndyCar Series schedule.

Kanaan, the 2004 IndyCar Series champion and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner, started the season with a limited schedule for A.J. Foyt Racing in the No. 14 Chevrolet. That schedule included all five oval races, including the 104th Indianapolis 500.

A silver lining for Kanaan is that this year’s trip to Iowa Speedway will be a doubleheader, instead of a single oval contest. His schedule has grown from five to six races for 2020, should the season start on time with the June 6 contest at Texas Motor Speedway and the additional race at Iowa.

“I’m really happy that IndyCar has been very proactive about the schedule and keeping us posted with the plans,” Kanaan told NBCSports.com Tuesday afternoon from his home in Indianapolis. “I’m double happy that now with Iowa being a doubleheader, I’m doing six races instead of five.”

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Kanaan’s “Last Lap” is something that many fans and competitors in IndyCar want to celebrate. He has been a fierce foe on the track but also a valued friend outside the car to many of his fellow racers.

He also has been quite popular with fans and likely is the most popular Indianapolis 500 driver of his generation.

Scott Dixon was Kanaan’s teammate at Chip Ganassi Racing from 2013-17. At one time, they were foes but eventually became friends.

“I hope it’s not T.K.’s last 500,” Dixon told NBCSports.com. “I was hoping T.K. would get a full season. That has changed. His first race of what was going to his regular season was going to be the 500. Hopefully, that plays out.

“You have to look at T.K. for who he is, what he has accomplished and what he has done for the sport. He has been massive for the Indianapolis 500, for the city of Indianapolis to the whole culture of the sport. He is a legend of the sport.

“We had our differences early in our career and had problems in 2002 and 2003 and 2004 when we were battling for championships. We fought for race wins and championships in the 2000s. I’ve been on both sides, where he was fighting against me in a championship or where he was fighting with me to go for a championship. He is a hell of a competitor; a fantastic person.

“I hope it’s not his last, but if it is, I hope it’s an extremely successful one for him this season.”

Even before Kanaan joined Chip Ganassi Racing, Dixon admitted he couldn’t help but be drawn to Kanaan’s personality.

“T.K. is a very likable person,” Dixon said. “You just have to go to dinner with the guy once, and you understand why that is. The ups and downs were a competitive scenario where he was helping you for a win or helping someone else for a win. There was never a dislike or distrust. We always got along very well.

“We are very tight right now and really close. He is a funny-ass dude. He has always been a really good friend for me, that’s for sure.”

Back in 2003 when both had come to the old Indy Racing League after beginning their careers in CART, the two drivers were racing hard for the lead at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan on April 13, 2003. They were involved in a hard crash in Turn 2 that left Kanaan broken up with injuries. IRL officials penalized Dixon for “aggressive driving.” Dixon had to sit out the first three days of practice for the next race – the 2003 Indianapolis 500.

Kanaan recovered in time and did not miss any racing. He started second and finished third in that year’s Indy 500.

“We were racing hard and going for the win,” Dixon recalled of the Motegi race. “It was a crucial part of the season. Everybody has to be aggressive. I respect Tony for that. He was not letting up. That is what I always saw with Tony, how hard the guy will push. He will go to the absolute limit, and that is why he was inspiring and why he was a successful driver.

“Those moments are blips. You might not talk to the guy for a week, but then you are back on track. T.K. is very close with our family and we are with his.”

This season, because of highly unusual circumstances, T.K.’s IndyCar career will last for one more race than previously scheduled.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500