Photo: IndyCar

Sage Karam looking to reignite IndyCar career

Leave a comment

Sage Karam has endured a stop-start racing career ever since winning a championship in what is now called the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship in 2013.

Karam only competed in one Verizon IndyCar Series event in 2014 – the Indianapolis 500 with Dreyer and Reinbold Racing – where he finished an impressive ninth after starting 31st. He contested 12 of 16 races in 2015 with Chip Ganassi Racing, highlighted by a third-place finish at Iowa Speedway, but he and the Chip Ganassi squad parted ways at the end of the year.

He was contracted to the new 3GT Racing Lexus program in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2016, but with their new Lexus RC F GT3 machines not ready for competition that year, Karam’s only race in 2016 was again at the Indianapolis 500, back with Dreyer and Reinbold Racing, where he charged forward after starting 24th only to crash just after he entered the top five on lap 93.

He was able to have a full season of racing in IMSA in 2017 in the aforementioned 3GT Lexus program and returned to the Indy 500, again with Dreyer and Reinbold, but a battery failure saw him retire on lap 125 and he finished in 28th.

After parting ways with 3GT, Karam again finds himself without a full-time racing seat, though he has announced another Indy 500 effort with Dreyer and Reinbold, the fourth time driver and team will run together.

Though he is still quite young – Karam turns 23 on Monday – he is acutely aware that he needs to prove his worth in order to once again become a full-time driver.

Sage Karam and Dreyer and Reinbold Racing will team up for their fourth Indy 500 effort in 2018. Photo: IndyCar

“This is my only race on the schedule this year so far. So for me, I come into this race thinking that I need to do well to show everybody that I belong,” Karam revealed in a teleconference last week. “IndyCar is where my heart is. It’s where I really do believe I belong, and in order for me to show that to everybody, I need to perform well.”

Consequently, Karam says finishing well at the Indy 500 has his full attention at the moment, with the goal of using it as a springboard to run other races in 2018.

“I’m just going into Indy right now 100 percent focused and just trying to get the best result there, and then hopefully after that, if that goes the way we think it’s going to go, that will parlay into maybe something else down the road and maybe later this year,” said the Nazareth, Pennsylvania native.

And while he admits IndyCar remains his main goal, Karam is also keen to impress teams from other series as well.

“I’d obviously really like to maybe do some more IndyCar races, or if different opportunities in other series open up, of course I’d jump on it. I’m a racer; I’ll race anything any time,” he asserted.

Dennis Reinbold, co-owner of Dreyer and Reinbold Racing, is also keen to become a full-time IndyCar entrant again, having been an Indy-only entrant since 2014 (the team ran the first five races of 2013 with Oriol Servia, but stopped after that year’s Indy 500 as a result of sponsorship issues).

“We’ve had these discussions (about going full-time), and that is definitely something that we’ve talked about with very great interest is trying to get back to full-time or even, to start off, a little bit part-time to get back into it,” Reinbold explained. “But we’re working on things. We’ve got some opportunities out there that we’re exploring and trying to see where they go.”

Reinbold added that running two cars at this year’s 500, which he confirmed in the announcement of Karam’s effort, is a part of that plan, as he believes it will give them an improved infrastructure to do so.

“To get to two cars this year for the 500 is on purpose, because that sets us up to have equipment, so we have extra wheel guns, we have extra tires, we have extra radios, all these things, spares,” he detailed. “So that puts us in position to be able to try to expand in the future. And you would need all those pieces to be able to be a full-time team.”

Karam echoed Reinbold’s sentiments, adding that a full-time effort with Dreyer and Reinbold is something he would like to see happen, but he also asserted that Indy is currently the main focus for both driver and team.

“You know, I would love to be in a full-time seat with Dennis (Reinbold),” Karam added. “I think if we can have a strong showing here and hopefully we can get more partners to come on board, maybe that’s something that will be discussed down the road. But as for now, I think he’s just focused on doing the best job he can, I’m focused on doing the best job I can, and we’ll let the rest just fall into place after that.”

Follow@KyleMLavigne

F1 Preview – 2018 French Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
Leave a comment

It’s hard to believe that the French Grand Prix, the oldest grand prix event on the planet, as it dates back to June of 1906, was ever removed from the Formula 1 calendar.

Alas, not since 2008 at Magny-Cours has Formula 1 held a race on French soil. Yet, that all changes this weekend, as Formula 1 visits the Circuit Paul Ricard for its first French race in a decade.

Formula 1 teams are not strangers to Paul Ricard. It has been a popular testing facility for years, as evidenced by the below photo from 2016, featuring Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari in a wet tire test.

LE CASTELLET, FRANCE – JANUARY 26: Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Scuderia Ferrari drives during wet weather tire testing at Circuit Paul Ricard on January 26, 2016 in Le Castellet, France. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

However, in terms of racing, Paul Ricard has also been absent from the calendar for quite a long time – the last time Formula 1 race at Paul Ricard was in 1990. Alain Prost won for Ferrari that day.

1990: Alain Prost of France punches the air in celebration after passing the chequered flag in his Scuderia Ferrari to win the French Grand Prix at the Paul Ricard circuit in Le Beausset, France. Mandatory Credit: Pascal Rondeau/Allsport

As such, despite being a known quantity as a testing facility, how a race weekend will shake out is anybody’s guess.

And what’s more, it marks the beginning of three consecutive race weekends – The French Grand Prix, The Austrian Grand Prix, and The British Grand Prix – which F1 teams and drivers are calling “the triple header.”

Talking points ahead of the French Grand Prix are below.

A Journey Into the Unknown?

Like all new venues, or resurrected and refurbished ones in this case, the Circuit Paul Ricard represents somewhat of an unknown, as there’s no available race data to make predictions off of.

And the 3.61-mile, 15-turn track itself represents a range of challenges. It has fast corners, like Turns 1 and 2 (S de la Verrerie), a technical section between Turns 3 and 7 (Virage de l’Hotel through the Mistral Straight Start), and a 1.1-mile straightaway in the Mistral Straight, though it is separated by a chicane (Turns 8 and 9).

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff discussed the challenge of the circuit, highlighting the lack of data to build off of as well the tough three-race stretch ahead as especially challenging, in a preview on Formula 1’s website.

“France should be an interesting race. We don’t often get to race on a track where we have little to no historical data. It makes preparing for the weekend a bit trickier than usual, but that element of the unknown also adds to the challenge. The French Grand Prix marks the first race of the triple header, which will test all F1 teams to their limits, but also offers the chance to score a lot of points over the course of three weeks – which is precisely what we’re setting out to do,” said Wolff.

That element of the unknown makes Paul Ricard one of the biggest wildcards on the 2018 F1 calendar, and a championship shake up could be in the cards as a result.

Ferrari, Mercedes Continue Their Back and Forth

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 25: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H leads Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 on track during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 25, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Ferrari and Mercedes have traded jabs throughout the 2018 season, with neither able to pull away from the other so far through seven races.

Sebastian Vettel enters the French Grand Prix with a one-point lead over Lewis Hamilton, and holds a slight edge in victories – three to Hamilton’s two – and comes off a thorough domination of the Canadian Grand Prix.

Vettel led every lap at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on his way to victory, while Valtteri Bottas had to carry the Mercedes flag in finishing second. Hamilton languished in fifth, a surprising and disappointing result given his previous success there.

The aforementioned Toto Wolff described it as a “wake up call,” though Mercedes will roll out a power unit upgrade this weekend – Ferrari and Renault, which also powers Red Bull Racing, rolled out upgrades of their own in Canada.

With four long straightaways present at Paul Ricard, power will certainly be at a premium, so such upgrades will be vital in giving Mercedes a chance to make amends after Canada’s disappointment.

Trio of French Drivers Look to Impress on Home Soil

It comes hardly as a surprise that the three French drivers – Romain Grosjean, Pierre Gasly, and Esteban Ocon – are keen to make an impression at their home race.

And all three could certainly use a boost. Gasly has only one finish inside the points (seventh in the Monaco Grand Prix) since his stellar fourth place effort in the Bahrain Grand Prix. Ocon is coming off back-to-back points finishes (sixth in Monaco, ninth in Canada), but he has only one other finish inside the points this year (tenth, in Bahrain). And Grosjean, despite showing the speed to finish in the points, is yet to score any in 2018.

As such, all three are hoping for big things in their home race this weekend.

“I want to get a good weekend, have some luck, get my first points of the season, and get a lot of support from the fans,” said Grosjean. “I think we should be in a nice place at Paul Ricard. I’m always looking forward to jumping back in the car. I just love driving an F1 car.”

Ocon, who has raced and won at Paul Ricard in the past, expects his prior experience could be a big help.

“I did race at Paul Ricard early in my career – it was actually where I had my first victory in single seaters in 2013 so I have some fantastic memories of the place,” Ocon described. “I hope we can add some more success this weekend. Having been there in the junior categories makes getting used to a new track in a Formula One car much easier. I think I will find my rhythm quite quickly.”

Gasly’s excitement level obviously matches that of his French compatriots, with the added bonus that the return coincides with his rookie F1 effort.

“For me it will be absolutely incredible that my first full season of Formula 1 coincides with the return of a French Grand Prix to the calendar for the first time in 10 years,” said Gasly. “That has to be a reason for me to be very happy and I’m really excited to be racing in my home country. I can tell it will be a special feeling going out on track and actually, I have spoken to Jean Alesi and Alain Prost about it and they both told me that it will feel really special and something that you really have to experience as a Frenchman racing in France.”

Qualifying for The French Grand Prix begins at 9:55 a.m. ET on Saturday, with Sunday’s race at 9:30 a.m. ET.

Follow@KyleMLavigne