Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
June 19, 2013
THE MODERATOR: Welcome, everyone, and good afternoon to today's IndyCar conference call which we're going to talk about the races coming up at Iowa Speedway for the Firestone Indy Lights and the IZOD IndyCar Series. We're joined by two guests today, Sage Karam, and later we'll be joined by Ed Carpenter.
Sage, welcome to the call. Thanks for joining us.
SAGE KARAM: Pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me.
THE MODERATOR: Sage is currently second in the Firestone Indy Lights in points after getting his first win last Saturday.
Has the win sunk in that you got that Firestone Indy Lights victory under your belt? How does it feel right now?
SAGE KARAM: Yeah, I mean, the first one's always the toughest. To get that first one, it almost lifts a thousand pounds off your shoulders.
Definitely feeling good and definitely having some good momentum going into Iowa with two poles in a row and a win.
Definitely good feelings. But we have to put that behind us and just focus on Iowa now. It's in the past, just hopefully we can carry that momentum.
THE MODERATOR: You made some history last weekend at Milwaukee. Besides your first victory, you became the first driver to win in the USF 2000 Championship, Pro Mazda Championship and Firestone Indy Lights. As a guy who has competed and raced in all three series in the Mazda Road to Indy, what does winning in all three mean for you and your career, how you think the Mazda Road to Indy has helped your career?
SAGE KARAM: It's definitely a good feeling knowing we could be successful in all the cars in the Mazda Road to Indy. It's good to know we were getting the wins early in each series. I'm sure that some IndyCar team owners taking notice of stuff like that. Hopefully we can get a ride going in IndyCar next year, hopefully keep that streak alive and get a win in IndyCar.
Yeah, it's a great feeling. I think the Mazda Road to Indy prepares young drivers in a very good way. I've learned everything just in those cars starting in the USF 2000. That just got me going. That was a great car to learn in. Then we moved up to Mazda. Didn't win the championship but won some races, and had some bad luck with mechanical failures.
All these cars teach a driver the basics to an open-wheel car. Now we're in the Indy Lights. Hopefully this is going to transition over into some good IndyCar.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up for questions for Sage.
Q. In your rise and learning from the time you started racing to the level you're at now, could you give fans the idea what it really takes, what you've learned along the way that really helped you step up to the next level.
SAGE KARAM: Yeah, I mean, it's always tough going up to the next level, being a rookie in the series, going against good guys. This year our biggest competition was Carlos Muñoz. Everybody saw how he did in the month of May, getting the runner-up in the Indy 500. It's tough going in there as a rookie.
The big thing is you have to have confidence. You can't be down in any sport you do. Confidence is huge. Right now we're seeing that with my season so far. I finally got that first pole at Indianapolis, and things have been rolling since Indianapolis.
Hopefully we can just carry that momentum and that confidence. You got to have confidence in your team. Your team has to see that you have confidence in them and yourself. Your team is not going to work for somebody that doesn't have confidence and doesn't believe they can win. It's good to have a good mood and good confidence going within the team, just give your best, and the team is going to give it back.
That's really been part of our success, is that even when times got rough, I've always tried to have fun with racing, always stay confident and believe that good things were going to happen. So far, things have been going pretty well.
Q. Was there a point when you first started out that you thought you could do this?
SAGE KARAM: Yeah, there were actually two points in my life. There was one time when I couldn't break the top 10 in karting. I think I was about eight years old. My parents aren't the wealthiest parents, so I didn't have a lot of money to be doing the whole racing deal.
It almost was like, This isn't the right thing for me, I don't think I'm going to be a racecar driver, it's pretty much going to be over unless something dramatic changes.
My dad said, We're going to give it one more try. At North Carolina I was racing at Charlotte. He said, If you don't win, we're done racing. Kind of a lot of pressure. I haven't gotten in the top 10 before since then.
I went into the race and I won Saturday and I won Sunday. It was huge. It was in the Stars of Karting event. Those are two parts of my life when racing almost ended. At that moment I realized, Hey, there's a reason that I won out of nowhere. From there on, it's almost like going back to that confidence deal. I knew I could win. That's when we started winning championships and knew that this is what I could do.
Q. Sage, there's been some talk that you may not be going back to Nazareth for your senior year because of the bigger commitment to wrestling. What would be your senior year in high school?
SAGE KARAM: I'll be back to wrestling my senior year, for sure. I'm just living out here in Indianapolis for race season. Should be back in October. I'll be back in the room as soon as I can, finish out my senior year definitely with my friends.
Q. It would be tough to do football this year. You're going to do school and wrestling then?
SAGE KARAM: Yeah, I'm going to be wrestling. I won't be doing football. I'll be finishing up school online.
Q. Sage, you've gone from Indianapolis Motor Speedway to Milwaukee, now to Iowa. The tracks are getting smaller. What is your comfort level on these bullrings in an open-wheel car?
SAGE KARAM: I'm pretty comfortable on the ovals. I think our stats have shown that ovals are one of my best points of the season. I've done nine ovals. I think I've had five wins, two seconds and two thirds. I'm comfortable on ovals. Whenever I see ovals like Milwaukee and Iowa on the schedule, I'm pretty pumped up to go to those places.
I think what's going to win the championship for us this year is good results on the ovals. We got the win at Milwaukee. That was huge for us. I think Iowa can be another good one. We won there the last three years. Hopefully we can make it a four-peat. Definitely comfortable when it comes to the ovals. I love them.
Q. Sage, I noticed you won Iowa the past three years. Now you won in Milwaukee last year and last week. Talk about what the bullrings you like so much? Why do you think you stand out on those type of tracks?
SAGE KARAM: I definitely think they're definitely a track that requires full confidence within your car. We haven't had much testing on the ovals, but I've always just been really, really confident on the ovals. I've always gelled well with the car. Whenever I had a loose car, an understeer car, I always have a little bit more of a comfortable level than my teammates or something. I think that's what helped us win that race. Everyone's car went loose in Milwaukee, and I was comfortable with the loose car there. That's when we went really fast in the race.
Yeah, I'm just definitely confident on these ovals. I like the short ovals like Milwaukee where you have to lift and everything because that's more of a driver's oval, unlike Indianapolis where it's more flat out, more of a guessing game who is going to win the race. Don't get me wrong, I love Indianapolis, great track. I just think that Iowa and Milwaukee and stuff like that, you really see more of the oval drivers stand out than Indianapolis. It's more drafting and strategy.
THE MODERATOR: You're second in the points standings. Do you feel at this point of the season you have to make a move on Carlos both at Iowa and Pocono or is it too early to be thinking about championship?
SAGE KARAM: No, I mean, it's got to start now. It started at qualifying at Indianapolis, at Indy, getting that extra point on him, just chipping away. Then Indianapolis, obviously my main goal was to win, but my second goal was to beat Carlos.
Going to Milwaukee, we got the pole again. That was another point. We're chipping away, chipping away. He didn't have the greatest qualifying. My goal in that race was to win, do everything I could do to stay ahead of Carlos, hopefully get a few cars in between us. He drove crazy to get back up to second. But we still made some progress. I think we were 29 points going into Milwaukee, now we're only 18. Definitely made some progress.
Yeah, I mean, we got to start getting some wins here and keep chipping away at him. I'd like to go into Pocono almost tied with him. I think that would be a good goal. Hopefully come out of Pocono in the lead.
THE MODERATOR: You mentioned you gained a lot of momentum since Indianapolis. What has made the difference? Has there been a change in the car, the team? What has been the difference? What has helped you gain this momentum?
SAGE KARAM: At Indianapolis, I got a new engineer with Tim Neff. Tim has been around for a while working with Sam on the Indy Lights team. I think the combination of getting him onboard with me, showing his experience, just me feeling comfortable on the ovals, getting a pole under me, knowing I have the potential to be with these guys, getting that full confidence. That was just the difference.
I don't think I changed much in my driving. My overall car didn't change. We all share the same setups and data and everything. I think Tim just brought this new attitude for me to drive with. He's been around for a while, so he's seen a lot of these races, he knows how for me to handle. It's good to have an experienced engineer in my corner.
Q. Sage, I'm curious to know whether the success Carlos had at the 500, does that push your timetable ahead? Do you think with the success you're having, as well as what he's done, that it will open the eyes of owners to give younger guys rides?
SAGE KARAM: Yeah, for sure, what he did at Indianapolis was pretty spectacular. I think that people started respecting the Mazda Road to Indy a little bit more, seeing that he was kind of groomed in Indy Lights to do that. I was rooting for him when he was there. The better he does, the better it makes our series look and everything.
We're definitely racing against good guys. To answer your question about my timeline, I'm not sure. I guess it just really depends on how the season goes. I don't really let Carlos or anyone else distinguish when I go to IndyCar or something.
It's all sponsorship and how I perform. Hopefully we can win the championship. That would make it a lot easier to make that decision, but we'll see how that season goes.
Q. Will you be driving in Baltimore later this summer?
SAGE KARAM: Yeah, I'll be driving in Baltimore. I think it's September 1st.
THE MODERATOR: Sage, I know the focus clearly for you right now is Iowa. Looking slightly past that, it's Pocono. That's your home race. Do you have to force yourself not to think ahead to that race? I'll make you think ahead to that race. What is your anticipation with that?
SAGE KARAM: Yeah, I mean, it's pretty much been every day where I'm texting friends that I really haven't been texting in a while that are asking, Hey, racing at Pocono? Yeah, I'm going to be going. So meeting up with new friends.
It's definitely a little bit nerve-wracking knowing there's going to be so many people there that I know. That's probably going to be the one race besides Indianapolis that I'm really going to want to win. There's going to be a big Sage Karam base there. I definitely don't want to disappoint. Got to do whatever it takes to win that one.
THE MODERATOR: How big an adjustment do you think it will be for you to go from a bullring, the shortest track we have, to tied for the longest track and definitely probably right there with Indianapolis as the most unique track? The setups are going to be really different, one from Earth, one from Mars?
SAGE KARAM: Definitely the driving styles are a little bit different. Like you said, they're a little bit tougher to drive, a little more driving that comes into them. These bigger ovals, it's going to have to be a lot more smooth, carry the momentum a lot more. I'm sure Pocono will be flat out in our cars, more like Indianapolis.
You're always trying to be pretty smooth on an oval. Anything on these big ovals when you're going around 200 miles an hour as opposed to 160, like Milwaukee, things happen quicker. You have to be on your A game. It's going to be fun. I can't wait to be there.
THE MODERATOR: You have experience in other forms of high school sport. You're unique in that sense. A lot of times when guys make the commitment to racing, it's pretty much all racing. How has participating in team sports helped your racing? How has participating in racing helped your team sports?
SAGE KARAM: I'm finishing out my high school year next year. I didn't ever want to give up team sports or any other sports just 'cause you only live high school once. They teach you good lessons.
I gave the credit to the win in Milwaukee to wrestling. I said in the press conference that I thought I won this race off of being mentally strong and tough, not because I was physically fit in the car. Some drivers, when they get passed on the opening lap, they know they've been having a perfect weekend, all of a sudden the guy who is in the lead will take off and pull out a five-second lead, I think wrestling has taught me to stay mentally tough. We go through some crazy stuff in wrestling, having to make weight, sacrifices for your team.
I stayed mentally tough. Had to stay composed in the car. That's what we did. Let the race come to me. Got the win.
Yeah, I mean, team sports are different from racing, obviously. When you're out in racing, it's just you. Everybody's watching you. If you make the mistake, it's your mistake. You can get away with the little mistakes like in football because everybody is not really watching you.
I think racing has helped me in team sports, they always say racecar drivers have these crazy good reflexes, hand-eye coordination. I'd say in football and wrestling, I probably have a little bit better vision with my peripheral, just quicker hands and stuff. Both benefits in both sports.
Q. Sage, you grew up in Nazareth. Coming from a place like that, the legacy of the Andrettis, do you think if you had grown up somewhere else you would still be doing what you're doing? How much of that played into what you're doing now?
SAGE KARAM: That's a good question. I don't know if I'd be racing if I lived anywhere else 'cause my family became pretty good friends with the Andretti family. My dad was Michael Andretti's physical fitness trainer when Michael was racing Champ Car.
When they became friends, it was almost like I was growing up around racing. I became good friends with Marco. Me and Marco would go up to New York every weekend and race go-karts together. We became almost best friends.
Honestly, I don't think I'd be racing if it wasn't for the Andrettis, just being brought up around them, seeing them race and succeed, just knowing, Hey, that's what I want to do.
I'm pretty sure my parents didn't know about racing before they met them.
THE MODERATOR: With that, Sage, we'll thank you very much for your time. We wish you the best of luck in Iowa and Pocono.
SAGE KARAM: Thank you.
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