INDIANAPOLIS – Dreyer & Reinbold Racing officially unveiled on Thursday morning that they will have Sage Karam as the driver in one of their two cars for May’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500. Karam, will pilot the No. 24 Chevrolet for the fourth time in the last five years with the team. DRR are the one that gave him his first opportunity in 2014 as a high school senior. The Pennsylvania native started 31st and came all the way through the field to finish an impressive ninth.
He’d come back in 2015, this time with Chip Ganassi Racing, where he started 22nd but was caught up in an opening lap crash with Takuma Sato and would finish 32nd. Unfortunately, his time CGR was short lived. The funding dried up following the season and so did his seat. He’d return as a one-off for Indy the next two years with DRR.
2016, started like 2015, he’d come from the back and even lead laps, but was crashed out while trying to pass for third place on Lap 93. He’d finish 32nd again. In 2017, he started 21st, but a mechanical problem relegated him to a 28th place result.
Now, he’s back and hoping to use his speed to his advantage but also temper it and try to get to the end of 500 miles as well. He had that mentality last year and if not for an electrical gremlin, it would have worked.
“I think I’ve just got to go in there now with just the mentality of needing to finish the race but also finishing well, and in order to finish well, you’ve got to first finish,” Karam said of where his mindset is for this year’s race. “I had that mentality last year, and I think if people saw what I was doing last year was I was really not taking the risk I would usually take, and I was just kind of cruising around and staying out of trouble and things were going really, really well, so I think I was running a really good race last year. I’m going to go in with that similar mindset this year. I’ve learned a lot over the years, not really having to put your car in positions you don’t need to early on in the race. I want to just get it to the last 20 laps, and then from there it turns into a sprint race. I did a lot of sports car racing last year, endurance racing, so I’ve learned a lot about taking care of equipment and getting it to the end of the race, and I didn’t have any on-track — I didn’t have any crashes last year in races, so I think that’s going to parlay into Indy, as well. I’ve learned to be smarter behind the wheel and more focused.
“But yeah, I think I just went in a few times to the 500 just with a lot of pressure on myself and just thinking, oh, I can win this, I’ve got to win this. I know I have a team, I know I have a car that can win this race, but first I’ve just got to get it to those last few laps, and then once I’m there, then the gloves will come off.
“But I think when I was younger, I think I felt the gloves came off from the start of the race, unfortunately. I’ve learned a lot, and ready to apply it all. I think when I was 18, 19, 20, in that race, I think I was walking around with a little too much swagger, stuff like that, and I’ve really toned things down. I’ve really gotten a lot more focused, a lot more serious about everything. Yeah, I think this is the most prepared and most serious that I’m approaching a race.
Karam, has a good support system behind him in DRR and is going all-in on Indy as this is the only race he has scheduled to run for 2018. He’s hoping this year will earn him more opportunities in the future.
“It does in a way, yeah, because a lot of people say you’re remembered by your last performance, and for me, this is my only race on the schedule this year so far,” Karam said of the importance of the ‘500 this year on earning him a future ride. “So for me, I come into this race thinking that I need to do well to show everybody that I belong. 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.
With a new car, what are his expectations though? The team likely won’t test before opening day on May 13. Will he realistically contend?
“Yeah, I really do think we can do well. I’ve come in — this will be my fourth time with the team. I’ve done it three times already as a single-car effort, and we’ve run up front, we’ve run with Penske, we’ve run with Ganassi, we’ve run alongside the Andrettis. For a one-car effort with no teammates and everything, that’s been huge for us. It shows a lot of what car Dennis Reinbold puts together and team. They put a car together that can compete with the very best, and I’m just truly thankful that they’ve put me to the car to pilot it.
“Yeah, I really believe that we’ll be towards the front. I think we go in — being it’s my only race, we go in with a different mindset than other teams and drivers. The approach we do is a bit different. We go through our check plans and everything a lot more slow than other teams because I’ve got to get comfortable with the car, and now we’ve got to learn the car, and it takes a little bit more time, and especially only just having one car. So you know, it takes time to get comfortable, but I think after like the second day of testing I’m back in my rhythm and the team is feeling good, and then we start working with traffic and figuring out our race car. That’s the thing I really love about this team is we focus a lot on our car for Sunday. We don’t really put a lot of effort into going out and just setting the raw speed for qualifying. We spend most of our month just focusing on what our car is going to be for Sunday. I think that pays dividends for the end of the month for us and shows every year how we can qualify 20th or 30th, whatever we’ve qualified in those three years, and we’re always inside the top 10 at some point in the race, and it’s pretty early on.
“Just really excited to get back.”