Avid sim racer Sage Karam previews IndyCar’s iRacing Challenge

Leave a comment

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.

‘His Mona Lisa’: Roger Penske adds his golden touch to iconic Indy

AP Photo/Jenna Fryer
3 Comments

INDIANAPOLIS — The purists can relax: Roger Penske did not remove troughs from the men’s bathrooms at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

He replaced them, of course, with the shiniest, sleekest basins on the urinal market, thus preserving one of the speedway’s treasured if unusual features while still insisting every inch of the facility be brought up to Penske code. It’s been six months since Penske completed his purchase of the 111-year-old national landmark, a fixer-upper that he already has lavished with some $15 million worth of improvements.

“It’s like you just bought a Ferrari,” said Penske, “but it was rained on.”

Penske gave The Associated Press a two-hour tour of the speedway this week, showing off with dizzying detail the new landscaping, paved lots, planted trees, picnic tables, widened pedestrian paths, hand dryers in every bathroom, improved sight lines, pressure-washed buildings, freshly painted signs and LED monitors everywhere.

There is not a lone pièce de résistance; Penske is equally proud of every change, including a 104-by-20-foot video board on the Pagoda, a lift in the winner’s circle to raise the winning car and, of course. those old-school troughs.

Two days before the speedway opened for a historic NASCAR-IndyCar doubleheader race weekend, the 83-year-old Penske was pushing a car onto the lift as he quadruple-checked its functionality. He went through another dry run of the lift, ensuring it lined up perfectly for postrace celebrations and alerting an employee to some manufacturer stickers he wanted removed lest the public seem anything short of Penske perfect.

“This is his life’s work,” said Chip Ganassi, a longtime rival car owner. “The way he talks about the place, the energy in his voice over every element. This is his Mona Lisa.”

A car drives past the 16th Street entrance to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which has been refurbished by Roger Penske over the past six months (AP Photo/Darron Cummings).

Penske, for the record, is a billionaire transportation titan with a record 18 Indianapolis 500 victories.

He has powerhouse teams in both NASCAR and IndyCar, but the latter is now even more of a beloved project. When Tony George approached him last September to inform him the Hulman family was looking to sell the famous speedway, Penske pounced on the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

The deal was finalized in six weeks and he got the keys – he literally has a set of keys that opens doors inside the speedway – the first week of January. He quickly was climbing through the grandstands in a freezing Indiana rain as he personally inspected his sprawling new property, one of the most famous sports venues in history.

Penske is meticulous and every element of his operations reflects an immaculate and organized culture. When “The Captain” talks about sprucing up the speedway, he often references Augusta National, home of the Masters and a gold standard among golf tournaments in terms of resources, presentation and hospitality.

It is Penske’s expectation that fans will view Indianapolis Motor Speedway with the same level of admiration, awe and respect that Augusta receives.

“It’s my job. I’m not looking for a gold star or a blue ribbon, I just want to be sure the guests, the fans that come, ultimately when they can come, will have the experience that I hope they will,” Penske said. “I want to take Indianapolis Motor Speedway to the next level.”

He envisions three IndyCar races a season, a return of Formula One, a crown jewel sports car race and an improved NASCAR weekend that potentially could see the Cup Series shift to the road course and away from the 2.5-mile oval.


The updated rear facade of the Pagoda at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (AP Photo/Darron Cummings).

The platform above the new Pagoda video board is wide enough to fit 18 Indy cars – or a musical act for a concert in the plaza. The monitor itself could be used for a movie night, and Penske said eventually IndyCar races in other cities will be aired on the screen for watch parties.

He knows off the top of his head that 25,000 linear square feet of fencing – almost two laps around the oval – has been erected on the grounds. Penske said 4,000 cans of paint and counting have been used and can point out areas that have been updated. He marvels at the 400,000 square feet of asphalt that has been paved, particularly in lots once notorious for being muddy messes.

He can spot the new trees on the property and notes that 3 acres of sod were put down. Penske marveled at the immaculate grounds of the Brickyard Crossing golf course on the property, so he put the groundskeeper in charge of the entire place.

They temporarily closed the Crossing so energy could be focused on the rest of the grounds in time for this weekend’s race. Ganassi said as he flew into Indy, the green grass was what most struck him from his aerial view.

The place looks brand new and yet the work won’t stop any time soon.

Penske hopes to host 175,000 fans – half of capacity – for the rescheduled Indianapolis 500 on Aug. 23, and he wants them to be wowed. There will be no fans this weekend, and even race teams are highly restricted on where they can go.

Mark Miles, the day-to-day head of the speedway, recalled that Penske executive Tim Cindric said “the place looks 25 years younger,” which Miles said is an understatement.

“It’s not just fresher and younger. There are areas that are just better,” Miles said. “The scale of the improvements, the comprehensiveness of the improvements, is remarkable. But the one thing that is really going to blow people away is the new big board on the back of the Pagoda. The mayor’s office downtown can hear the audio system on that. We’re looking forward to being able to show these things off.”

A new sign at Indianapolis Motor Speedway greets visitors as they enter the north entrance (AP Photo/Darron Cummings).