Avid sim racer Sage Karam previews IndyCar’s iRacing Challenge

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The NTT IndyCar Series will return to action, virtually at least, for the first race of the new iRacing Challenge this Saturday at 4 p.m. ET.

Twenty-six cars and drivers will take part in the first of six races.

Dreyer & Rinebold Racing’s Sage Karam also will compete in Saturday’s race. Karam is no stranger to iRacing. The 25-year-old has his own personal iRacing set up on his computer at home, which he practices on almost daily.

IndyCar recently released a Q&A with Karm about what fans should know about iRacing:

How serious are IndyCar drivers about sim racing on their personal computers?

“I’d say about 30 percent are into sim racing and about 15 percent are religious about it. If you’ve jumped in an actual simulator (as professional drivers have) and know how to drive a race car like we do, there’s a pretty decent chance you’re going to be competitive.”

What level of equipment does an IndyCar driver need to be competitive Saturday?

“Honestly, if they’ve got a decent computer that can run the software they should be fine. Anyone who is serious has good stuff. Like, I’ve got a pretty good set of pedals that I can calibrate to my liking. I like it to feel how hard you have to hit the brakes in an Indy car to stop it. But it’s like anything else, it can get expensive. When I started, I had a (combined) pedal and steering wheel unit that cost me $300. Now, my pedals alone cost $1,500, and I have three monitors. It can get pretty crazy, like racing does.”

Is the sensation similar to driving on an actual track?

“You’re feeling the strength it takes to drive an actual car, but you’re not feeling the little details. That feeling in your butt or feeling when the car bottoms out or loses traction or slides. You don’t get those little details. But it’s pretty close in a lot of ways.”

Would you rather virtually race on a road course or an oval?

“I think a road course puts on a better show; it would go a lot smoother and be a better show than an oval. When you’re on a simulator you have no fear of getting hurt, so on an oval, you’re not scared to make a mistake. You can make it three-wide going into a corner where you’d never do that in real life and if you wreck it’s like … ‘OK.’ So, on a road course, there are a lot fewer yellows and that makes for a better show.”

Everyone in this race will have the same car setup, which takes away some of the advantages you might have as an experienced sim racer. Is that the best way?

“Yes. We want this to be a competitive race. With open setups, I would do better, for sure. But for fairness, this is the best thing for everyone and the fans.”

Obviously, large gatherings have been shuttered for the next several weeks. Do you find a simulated race to be a good alternative for the IndyCar Series and its fans?

“We all know why we can’t (gather in large groups). We’re the only sport that can do something like this. It’s a win-win for all of us. It gives us something to compete in, and it’s cool for the fans. It’s a pretty good solution with everything that’s going on.”


Live coverage of Saturday’s race will be streamed through indycar.com for fans to enjoy the action. It also will be available on INDYCAR’s YouTube and Facebook as well as iRacing’s Twitch.

April 9 in Motorsports History: Al Unser Jr. gets sixth Long Beach win

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The list of winners in the Grand Prix of Long Beach is a ‘who’s who’ of open-wheel racing.

Mario Andretti won at the famed street course four times. His son Michael won there twice.

Paul Tracy is also a four-time winner at the beach. Alex Zanardi, Juan Pablo Montoya, Sebastien Bourdais, and Alexander Rossi also have won at the famed course multiple times.

But there is only one “King of the Beach”: Al Unser Jr.

The winningest driver in the race’s history, Unser won at Long Beach four consecutive times from 1988-91. He won again in 1994 and entered the 1995 edition as the race’s defending champion and the defending CART champion as well.

Starting fourth, Unser made slight contact with Gil de Ferran when he passed the Brazilian on Lap 3. He then continued to move up to the front, taking the race lead from Teo Fabi on Lap 30.

Once he had the lead, Unser ran away from the field, winning by more than 23 seconds over Scott Pruett.

Unser’s victory was such a familiar scene that after the race, CART news manager John Procida began the winner’s news conference with the following statement: “Well, we have a very familiar face on the top rung of the podium. As we listed on the prerace press release, this seems to be the Al Unser Invitational.”

Indeed it was. Unser’s victory was his sixth at Long Beach, and the 28th of his career. overall. While it would be his last win there, Unser continued to race at Long Beach through 1998 before missing 1999 with a broken leg and moving to the Indy Racing Leauge in 2000.

In 2009, Unser was inducted into the Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame, which honors significant contributors to the race and California motorsports community.

“It truly is just an honor to be mentioned with the names and the legends that have already been put into the sidewalk,” Unser said during the induction ceremony. “To have Brian (Redman, the inaugural winner of the race) and Parnelli (Jones) is really an honor and just to be in their company is very, very special.”

Also on this date:

1971: Jacques Villeneuve was born in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Canada. The second-generation driver was one of the best in open-wheel racing during the 1990s, winning the Indianapolis 500 and CART championship in ’95 and becoming a Formula One champion two years later.

1989: Rick Mears dominated CART’s Checker Autoworks 200 at Phoenix International Raceway, leading every lap from the pole and lapping the field.

2011: Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas won the Porsche 250 at Barber Motorsports Park, their sixth consecutive victory in Grand Am competition. Their lengthy win streak, which started on Aug. 7, 2010 at Watkins Glen, prompted Grand Am to offer a $25,000 bounty for any Daytona Prototype team that could beat the dominant duo. The Action Express trio of Joao Barbosa, J.C. France, and Terry Borcheller finally unseated Pruett and Rojas in the series’ next round at Virginia International Raceway.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter @michaele1994