At age 23, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing veteran (yes, veteran) Sage Karam is embarking on his fifth month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Three of his four starts have come with the DRR crew, and while some things have changed for the next start this month, a lot has remained the same.
Since Karam vaulted himself to a 9th place finish in the 2014 Indianapolis 500 (from a 31st place starting spot), a string of misfortune has struck the Nazareth, Pennsylvania native resulting in finishing positions of 32nd (2015), 32nd (2016) and 28th (2017) in the past three ‘500’s.
In 2015, Takuma Sato squeezed Karam into the wall on lap one of the event which ended his day prematurely. For the historic 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 in 2016, Karam had worked his way into the top-10 after starting 23rd before a slight tap alongside Townsend Bell sent the Dreyer & Reinbold driver into the wall while Bell continued on.
Last year Karam was running 18th when on lap 122 when a dead battery signaled the conclusion of the No. 24 team’s day.
Amid the ups and downs, aspirations for a strong finish in 2018 are abundant for the Dreyer & Reinbold stable. Not only will Karam embark on his fourth Indy voyage with the team, but DRR has added Indianapolis veteran J.R. Hildebrand to the mix this month in a move that will surely strengthen the potent one-off team.
For the first time at Dreyer & Reinbold, Karam can lean on a teammate for a variety of resources that he only enjoyed in 2015 while driving for Chip Ganassi Racing. The prospect of data sharing and another positive influence on the team has the young pilot excited.
“J.R. has a lot more laps around IMS than I do, so he brings the ability to try more set-up changes and acquire reliable and accurate feedback,” Karam explained. “In the time we spent together already, the chemistry seems natural.”
This is all building on a foundation Karam has been constructing since the 2014 season when he began with Dreyer & Reinbold. Over the years he has gone from the speedy rookie prospect to a critical thread woven into the team’s fabric.
“The relationship (with Dreyer & Reinbold) has evolved into one of family,” said Karam. “The crew is pretty much the same as it was in 2014 and we are familiar with each other.
“I want nothing more than to win the Borg for (Dennis Reinbold). I think the team’s work ethic motivates me to be the best driver that I can be. Neither of us want to let each other down, and that creates a powerful environment.”
Karam and his DRR crew have already seen the positive returns of that powerful environment as they flew through the veteran refresher program on May 1 with little resistance. Certainly a one-off team with a brand new car is bound to face challenges during a short three-hour test session, but Karam was pleased with the car’s performance when speaking with INDYCAR last week.
“It was a really good day for me,” Karam remarked. “This is the most comfortable I have been here at Indy in the very first day of running … We ran laps today and I feel good as we got through so much information.
“We were extremely pleased at how the WIX Filters Chevrolet ran. Usually, the cars don’t feel the best after a refresher but this is the best I have ever felt after day one. The car felt good coming through the refresher speeds and even better when we added speed. I’m anxious to get to the Speedway in a few weeks to get going for the greatest race in the world.”
Adding to his positive comments about the new Dallara IR-18 universal aero kit, Karam expressed an unexpected comfort with the car’s handling when speaking with Open-Wheels.
“During the short refresher segment I had last week, I was surprised how stable and predictable the car felt compared to previous years,” Karam remarked. “On the road and street courses it looks loose … I like a loose car. Hopefully I will get an opportunity to race it on the street and road circuits this year.”
Before he attempts to put together a program for the second half of the Verizon IndyCar Series season, Karam will be focused on the task at hand as he attempts to qualify for the 102nd Indianapolis 500 in two weeks and then compete in the race on May 27. What has he learned most since that 9th place finish in 2014?
“I have learned the value of patience and to focus on the things that matter most.”
If his priorities are straight and he gets just a hair of luck from the world’s greatest race course, there’s reason to believe that Karam will be a contender at the end of this month’s 500 Mile Race.
Images courtesy of INDYCAR Media.