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Karam: ‘We want to qualify better this time around’

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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 third entry, as he recaps practice week and prepares for qualifying. You can read his first and second blogs of 2017 here. He’ll run the No. 24 Mecum Auctions Chevrolet for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, in partnership with Kingdom Racing. 

Hi everyone, Sage Karam again. It’s been a busy week here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

I have been waiting over 11 months to come back and race at the world’s greatest race track.

To be honest, I have been thinking about it almost every day since I left here last May. The Indy 500 is the race I dream about and want to win more than anything in my life.

Since I started racing karts at age four, I knew about the Indy 500. I lived down the street from the Andretti family and my dad, Jody, was Michael’s trainer when Michael was racing. I have always thought of the Indy 500 as THE one race to win.

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So, after waiting through the Grand Prix weekend, my Mecum Auctions Dreyer & Reinbold Racing team was ready to hit the famed Indy racing surface Monday with the pretty black, yellow and red Chevrolet Dallara machine.

Like last year, we worked exclusively on race-trim this week. It’s that chassis and wing setup with more downforce like we would have in the race. We have the Chevrolet bodywork package as well as the wing package for the super speedways.

I was so excited to come back to Indy with this team and group of guys and gals after our performance last year. We came from 23rd to fourth in 93 laps and I have always felt that we had a car to win in 2016. I wanted to lead the Indy 500 so badly and I probably was just too anxious to get to the front.

I know I have learned my lesson from last year’s race. A driver doesn’t have the kind of race car that I had last year very often in his career. It was a race-winning 500 machine. And I knew I could pass other cars almost anywhere on the track. So, I have been thinking about that race for nearly a year.

After looking at the 2017 Indy 500 rules package, we believed we can put together another strong effort in this year’s 101st 500. The rules are similar to last year’s and we know how to set up the car for the race.

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To be honest, we want to qualify better this time around. I’d like to make it easier to move in the May 28 race this time. So, we’ll work harder to have a faster qualifying performance.

Overall this week, I have been very pleased how the car and the team have performed. We have really worked hard on the race setup and I think it shows. People know that our Mecum DDR Chevy can be a factor in the race after last year and this week’s practice rounds.

The wind has been a little tricky at IMS and we sat out Wednesday’s practice due to the heavy winds. We just worked on pit stops that day.

Now, it’s time to prepare for Saturday and Sunday qualifying attempts and I will be honest with you. Those are not always fun. You are on the ragged edge for four straight laps and your mind is a little used up when you get out of the car.

Then you have to do it again on Sunday. It’s not an easy thing to run Saturday and Sunday with the car on a knife edge. Any little mistake, gust of wind or a setup problem can be a disaster and put you in the wall. So, it’s really a team effort in qualifying just like the race. Everyone looks at the downforce numbers, the weight balance and the tire temps for that perfect combination that can get you a fast four-lap average.

But I just want to concentrate on preparing the best qualifying car as possible. If we don’t hit the number just right, it is not the end of the world. Because I’m confident about our race car setup.

Entering Saturday’s qualifying, we have had to trim out the car as best as possible and test the track for the strongest “no tow” laps in practice. Once we test our setup on Saturday morning in practice, we’ll roll the Mecum DDR Chevy into the qualifying line and give it our best shot.

Of course, weather is always an issue at Indy. It has been hot and windy for much of the practice days and now rain storms are predicted for the weekend. That can throw a curveball at a driver and his team after a week of practicing in much different conditions.

But our team engineer, Jeff Britton, and most of our crew are veterans at the Speedway and have been through every scenario here. While I will be the youngest driver in the 33-car field, I know my team is experienced and this year will be fourth appearance in the 500. As I said before, I fell I have matured in the cockpit and can the proper decisions behind the wheel.

We’ll see how qualifying shakes out this weekend and locks down a position in the Indy 500 field. After that, it’s back to the race setup. The key to winning the world’s biggest race.

Talk to you next week.



Attention NASCAR teams: IMSA drivers available for Daytona!

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NASCAR will be making its debut on the Daytona International Speedway road course next month, and there’s a big fan who’d like to join the historic weekend.

This fan actually has impressive credentials, too — a few thousand laps around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile layout that annually plays host to the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January.

In 2014, the winning GTLM team in the sports car endurance classic included IMSA Porsche driver Nick Tandy, who rabidly has followed NASCAR for more than 30 years since growing up in England.

So why not try racing NASCAR? Especially because Tandy has the weekend of Aug. 14-16 free.

He’s not picky, either — offering up his services on Twitter (as well as those of Porsche teammate Earl Bamber) for an ARCA, Xfinity, trucks or Cup ride.

Tandy’s affinity for American stock-car racing runs deep.

His first trip to the World Center of Racing was as a fan attending the 50th running of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 17, 2008. During Rolex testing in January, Tandy, 35, said he hadn’t missed a Cup race on TV in 15 years.

Among his favorite NASCAR drivers: the Earnhardts, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch. When IMSA ran the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in 2014, Tandy stayed a few extra days at the Brickyard and bought Kyle Busch gear for himself and his children.

He briefly took the stage during a NASCAR weekend last October. After IMSA’s season finale at Road Atlanta, Tandy made a few demonstration laps and a burnout in his No. 911 Porsche before the Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.

He also has some experience in stock cars, having raced Modified-type grass-roots series on England’s quarter-mile short tracks.

Couple that with a Daytona road course record that includes two consecutive podium class finishes (including last Saturday) and a sports car resume with 13 IMSA victories and an overall win in the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans … and maybe a NASCAR team should take a look.

And Tandy isn’t the only IMSA driver who likely would be available.

Corvette driver Jordan Taylor, who won the 2017 Rolex 24 overall title with Jeff Gordon as a teammate (and the inspiration for his Rodney Sandstrom persona), also tweeted his availability for the weekend on the high banks.

Sports car veteran Andy Lally, a GTD driver with multiple class wins in the Rolex 24 as well as 38 Cup starts (he was the 2011 rookie of the season in NASCAR’s premier series), also hung out his shingle.

There also is AIM Vasser Sullivan’s Jack Hawksworth (who just won at Daytona last Saturday), the Englishman who teamed with Kyle Busch at the Rolex 24 in January and made an Xfinity start at Mid-Ohio last year with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Many sports car drivers (such as Taylor) already live in Florida, and many are hunkering down in the Sunshine State with IMSA returning to action at Daytona last week and Sebring International Raceway next week. Because of COVID-19-related travel concerns and restrictions, several IMSA stars who live outside the country are riding out the pandemic within a few hours of Daytona with nothing to do.

Why not a weekend at the World Center of Racing?

Over the years, scads of “road-course ringers” (including some Formula One veterans) have tried their hands in stock cars at Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International.

How about considering the many sports car drivers who already have reached victory lane at Daytona by making a few right-hand turns, too?