Sage Karam has the look of someone fully embracing and recognizing the opportunity at hand.
Once the surest bet to be a future star in the NTT IndyCar Series, he has spent the last few seasons being humbled by sitting on the sidelines with the only opportunity to compete coming within the hallowed walls of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Still only 24, Karam’s potential is still there to be fulfilled, it’s just a matter of the right situation — and that may very well be building with the Carlin Racing team.
While the initial run as with the British squad was less than ideal on the streets of Toronto last weekend, it did provide room for optimism. Following a brush with the wall that knocked out a toe link and put him in the pits briefly, Karam return to run laps comparable with the top 10 despite being four laps down.
However, the biggest benefit for the driver from Nazareth, Pennsylvania has been the chance to return to the cockpit of the No. 31 Carlin Chevrolet this weekend and build continuity — something he hasn’t had since running 12 races with Chip Ganassi Racing in 2015.
“I haven’t really had many opportunities,” said Karam, the 2013 Indy Lights champion. “In 2015 when I was with Ganassi, I was just so young and it was more or less just, ‘here’s kind of like what an Indy car is like and see how you do’ kind of thing — and just everything that could go wrong that year did for us.
“I learned a lot that year, but I wish I could go back and do that year knowing what I know now. I feel like, not even knowing what I know about driving, but just as a person, just being a little bit more mature and methodical about how you approach things.
“These last two (races) have been the most methodical I’ve approached any weekends, just slowly getting up to speed, chipping away at it. Where 2015 Sage would have just got in the car and tried to go flat out there and maybe would have stuffed it.”
Additionally, there may be no better place for Karam to showcase his ability than tonight’s 300-lap race at Iowa Speedway. Through his career, he has a near-flawless record at the 0.984-mile oval with wins on each of the three levels of the Road to Indy (USF2000, Indy Pro 2000 and Indy Lights), while also scoring a podium in his only IndyCar start there in 2015. While the track has become significantly bumpier over the last few years, Karam still managed to put down a respectable two-lap average of 173.323 mph to qualify 14th.
“The first session, I was really just trying to learn these bumps — it’s a quite tricky, but it’s a fun track,” said Karam. “I’ve done well here in the past. I love this place. You usually love the tracks that you do well at. I’ve been on the podium every time I’ve come here. Trying to keep the streak alive, but I think this will probably be my hardest year to do that given the circumstance of not being here for a few years and being with a new team and stuff, but we’re going to get our best shot.”
Despite that strong record at Iowa, Karam is more focused on the team’s near and long-term needs rather than his own.
“It’s the same goal as Toronto — do as many laps as you can and help the team improve,” said Karam. “That’s making the right decisions on track, hitting my marks in pit lane, coming back and talking to the engineers after every session, giving them feedback I could possibly give them to help them take their program to the next level. I think that’s where they’re at. They’re a new team on their second year, so they really, really want to just improve.
“They wanted to have a better Year 2 than they’ve had and to do that, sometimes it’s good to bring in other drivers that can give different viewpoints. That’s what you’re seeing with these guys.
“They’re a great team, though — a lot of great resources, a lot of great people here. I can guarantee you they’re going to be a team in the near future that’s going to be giving Ganassi, Andretti and Penske a run.”