If this were 1965, based on what he’s shown and done, Sage Karam would already be a full-time IndyCar driver. But, considering the economic realities of the Verizon series, he’s got the next best thing. One of the two most successful teams in open wheel racing history covets the talented teenager.
“We’re sold on Sage,” said Mike Hull, managing director of Target/Ganassi Racing. “We’re committed to his future because he’s the kind of driver we like and the kind of driver IndyCar needs. And Chip is working hard to come up with the solid sponsorship dollars it takes to have his talent in our race car the whole season.”
Karam was officially announced in the No. 8 car for next month’s season opener at St. Petersburg with GE LED joining Comfort Revolution and Big Machine Records as sponsors.
But the 19-year-old kid who dazzled everyone last May in his IndyCar debut with a ninth-place finish only made that one start in 2014, in addition to a couple of sports car races. So, for his growth, the good of the Mazda ladder system and the best new storyline of the 2015 season, it’s imperative Karam runs as much as possible.
“Our goal is to run him in the entire series, he deserves that,” said Steve Lauletta, president of Target Chip Ganassi Racing. “GE coming on board was great and we are finding a lot of interest in Sage. But we’ve still got a little work to do and we’re pushing hard.”
The native of Nazareth, Pa., whose prowess first became noticeable when he won the Skip Barber Racing School Shootout at age 13, quickly ascended the Mazda Road To Indy taking the USF2000 title, finishing third in Pro Mazda and finally then winning the Indy Lights title in 2013.
His first IndyCar race was last year’s Indianapolis 500 and it was nothing short of sensational. He started 31st, charged to sixth, fell back to 21st when he caught an ill-timed yellow on a pit stop and rallied again to take ninth. Ganassi had farmed him out to Dennis Reinbold’s team for the race, but the operation with 97 victories and 10 championships paid close attention.
Said Hull: “Sage was basically our fifth driver last May and Dario [Franchitti] helped him all month but the kid never put a wheel wrong and did a helluva job,” said Hull. “He succeeded at the most difficult track under the most pressure and that’s what you look for in a driver. We saw him under pressure in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and at the Sebring 12 Hours and he was terrific. And then this year we had eight drivers in the Rolex 24, and I think Sage was third quickest consistently.
“He’s very composed, in and out of the car, and he can slow things down and see it before it happens. He has ears that actually work and he understands the value of teamwork, which I attribute to his parents. He’s the package.”
Because it’s been pretty quiet the past few months, Karam’s fans were getting nervous about his future – but he wasn’t.
“I’ve never panicked because, in my mind, Ganassi has shown they want me and they’ll get the deal done,” he said. “Every time I’ve run, Indy or sports cars, I’ve done the job and Chip has seen that and I know he’s in my corner. I’ve got to run all the pre-season tests and I take that as a big positive too.”
Ganassi, who is building for the future in NASCAR with Kyle Larson, seems to be taking the same route in IndyCar and it’s good to see him embrace a young American again – Jimmy Vasser was the last one who only brought his helmet.
“I don’t care if they’re from Pennsylvania, Egypt, France or Mars, if they’ve got talent, they’ll get the seat,” said the Pittsburgh native who turned down some funded drivers who wanted the #8 car. “It’s fair to say this isn’t a Hertz Rent-A-Car ride. Sage has it because he’s got talent.”