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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.



Title contenders stumble on the streets of Toronto

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The championship picture of the Verizon IndyCar Series saw a massive shakeup after Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto. While points leader Scott Dixon ended up in victory lane, his third win on the streets of Toronto and his third win of the 2018 season, all of his championship rivals stumbled.

Josef Newgarden, the pole sitter and second-place man in championship – he trailed Dixon by 33 points entering Sunday – led from the pole and looked to be a contender for the win, but a Lap 34 restart saw his day come apart.

Newgarden ran wide exiting the final corner coming to the green flag and smacked the outside wall. He plummeted through the field and pitted under caution – for a Turn 1 pileup involving Graham Rahal, Max Chilton, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Will Power, and Sebastien Bourdais – to allow the No. 1 Hitachi Chevrolet Team Penske group to examine the car for damage.

Newgarden continued on, but was never a contender the rest of the day, ultimately finishing ninth.

“I knew it would be low grip, but not zero grip. I just lost the front end completely,” Newgarden said in describing how the wall contact happened. “I feel terrible, it’s not fun to make a mistake.”

Alexander Rossi, who sits third in the championship, ran a steady sixth in the first stint until Lap 27, when contact with Will Power damaged his front wing. Rossi was then caught up in the melee on the Lap 34 restart, getting airborne over the left-front of his Andretti Autosport teammate Hunter-Reay.

Rossi again pitted for a new front wing – he had six stops in total – and ended up eighth on a day when he felt like a podium beckoned.

“It’s a pretty disappointing result. I don’t think we had the car to beat Scott (Dixon), but for sure with the problems that everyone had, we could’ve finished second. It’s been a difficult string of races,” Rossi said afterward.

Hunter-Reay, too, had a day forget. After going from sixth to third on the start, he spun his No. 28 DHL Honda into the Turn 3 Barrier on Lap 27. And like Rossi, he was caught up in the Lap 34 pileup, falling off the lead lap in the process.

Hunter-Reay languished in 16th at the checkered flag.

“It was a very unfortunate day and a big loss for us in points,” Hunter-Reay lamented. “The DHL Honda was running comfortable in third and pushing hard, but I had too much front brake lock and found the tire barrier – that’s my fault. Then after that, we got caught up in a wreck, which put us a lap down. From there we just fought to stay in front of the leader.”

Power, too, hit his struggles after the first stint, when contact with the Turn 11 wall, an incident similar to the one that his Team Penske teammate Newgarden had, bent the right-rear suspension of his No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet. He also had contact with Rossi later that lap.

Power lost two laps in the pits as the team made repairs, and he took the checkered flag in 18th.

“In the last corner, I brushed the wall and bent a rear toe link, so the car was a little bit out of whack. I didn’t even know that (Alexander) Rossi and I touched. I was just kind of trying to hang on until we got a yellow and could pit,” Power explained. “I’ve never had so many DNFs; not DNF for this race, but like a DNF in a season. Still, it’s kind of how this sport can go.”

All told, their struggles mean that Dixon leads the championship by 62 points over Newgarden. Rossi sits third, 70 points of the lead, followed by Hunter-Reay and Power, who sit 91 and 93 points out of the lead respectively.

And the next race, the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio (July 29 on NBCSN) won’t make it easy for them to make up ground, as Dixon’s record there is astoundingly strong. The four-time IndyCar champion has five wins at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, his most recent triumph coming in 2014, a race in which he famously came from last on the grid (22nd) to win.

Conversely, Newgarden, Rossi, Hunter-Reay, and Power have a combined one win at Mid-Ohio (Newgarden, last year).

However, the likes of Newgarden and Rossi still appear confident that they can make up for their Toronto struggles.

“We have to move on now and try to pick it back up. With the championship battle, we’ve got a long way to go. This doesn’t help but look, we have plenty of racing (left),” said Newgarden. “We need to keep our head up here. We’re going to be just fine, we’ve got fast cars and the best in the business. If we get our mistakes sorted out, we’re going to be just fine.”

Rossi, who finished sixth at Mid-Ohio last year, echoed similar sentiment, and thinks Mid-Ohio presents an opportunity to get back on track.

“We’re very good at Mid-Ohio, we’re kind of circling Toronto and Mid-Ohio as two races we were going to be pretty good at, so we got to reset, man, and just execute,” Rossi explained afterward. “We’re fast. We’re there every weekend. That’s the important thing. It’s a lot harder to be outside the top 10 and looking for answers. We’re fighting for pole every weekend. We’re in the Fast Six virtually every weekend, so you’re putting yourself in position to have a good result, it hasn’t come really since Texas.”

The 2018 championship is far from over – the season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma being a double-points event helps ensure as much. But, if Dixon does claim the 2018 title, Toronto may be the race that serves as the turning point.

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