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Firestone Indy Lights: Lefty's Kids Club 100

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Lefty's Kids Club 100

Firestone Indy Lights: Lefty's Kids Club 100

Sage Karam
October 19, 2013


THE MODERATOR: Now we are extremely pleased to be joined by our 2013 Firestone Indy Lights champion, Sage Karam. He started last place today after an engine change to finish third.
Sage, talk about getting this great accomplishment.
SAGE KARAM: Yeah, I went two straight years in the Star Mazda Division to not get a championship. I got fifth my first year, third my second.
Coming to the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team, I knew I had the car to obtain a championship. So I embraced the challenge to get it to the front.
We started out better than we expected knowing that I only had about a day and a half, two days of testing in the car before St. Pete. I don't think I was actually fully prepared, but we still ended up pulling a podium out in that race. Just keep my nose clean, did what I had to do.
We started out the season pretty good. I got my first win at Milwaukee, followed it back up with a win at Iowa. I ended up taking the championship lead.
I was feeling really good in the middle of the season there, and then I kind of relaxed. You can't relax in this sport, that's for sure. I made mistakes. I had two really bad weekends in a row at Toronto and Mid-Ohio. I got sixth and eighth. We fell back to third in the championship, over 30 some points back. Almost looked like our championship was over.
But we kept fighting. We gave it our all. At Baltimore we ended up getting second, got our first street race win at Houston a couple weeks later, then we came here and knew what we had to do, and did that.
So pleased to have won the championship, especially being a part of this whole thing with Sam and Firestone, knowing it's their last race in Indy Lights, to be the last to win the Firestone Firehawk Cup is great.
THE MODERATOR: We're also joined by Sam Schmidt.
Sam, what a special season, a great championship, being able to take the top two spots of the year.
SAM SCHMIDT: First of all, coming in today was quite a relief knowing he already got it, just like last year. Sage is definitely a deserving champion. We've had quite a few excellent drivers come through our program over the last 11 years.
I think the key to our success and Sage's success is the continuity of personnel, engineers and equipment, getting the cars to the finish line. Certainly I wouldn't be here today, Sage wouldn't be here today without our good friend Chris Griffiths who passed away a few years ago and hired most of the guys on the team, trained them. So that's a great feeling.
Also the support from Michael Fux and Comfort Revolution, Sage wouldn't be here without that either. Thanks to him.
On our side, Lucas Oil, the sponsor, MAVTV, we wouldn't have the caliber program we have without them. They are dedicated to open-wheel racing, so we sincerely appreciate that.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up to questions for Sam and Sage.

Q. Sage, let's start with the important one. Are you going to move up?
SAGE KARAM: I don't know. My management team and my sponsor, they pretty much didn't tell me anything before the race. They said, Don't worry about it, we'll do our job, you do yours, go win the title. We won it. The first thing they said after the race to me was, We'll talk tonight.
So I don't know (laughter). I'm hoping. Let's hope. I'm sure you'll see me on the grid for a few races. I got a $1 million scholarship, so I think that's enough to put us on a grid for a few races, maybe the 500. Hopefully a full season, that would be nice.

Q. Sam, you somehow find racecar drivers of championship caliber. What is your secret?
SAM SCHMIDT: Just an incredible support system. My dad said a long time ago, Surround yourself with good people. From my personal support staff, Mira back there has been there 12, 13 years now. Most people aren't married that long in today's society.
To the team, a lot of credit to Chris Griffiths. Michael Crawford, who started the team, was there for our first championship.
One thing that hasn't been brought out, the last two seasons, every driver on our team has won a race, and every driver I think this year led the points championship at one time. It's not like we have one dominating car and driver. They're all extremely good. They work together. That's a critical element to our team.
Drivers need to live in Indy, work out, be in our simulator on a regular basis, need to be with the engineers. I think that all helps. All three of these guys were rookies this year. Formidable challenge. It really scared me that we would lose the championship because they were all so good.
At the end of the day we had to sort between the two of us. An owner can't ask for anything other than coming to the final race like this.

Q. The $1 million scholarship, what does it mean?
SAM SCHMIDT: We were able to work that to our advantage a couple years ago with Josef Newgarden. He's done a phenomenal job in the IndyCar Series, thanks to Sarah Fisher for taking that risk. Last year with Tristan Vautier. It was close.
We really wanted a second car with our team. It was really close to not happening. But because of the scholarship, that kind of pushed us over the edge to be able to do it.
Unlike any other series in the world, I believe this is the only series where you truly graduate based on your talent, not based on your money. Even NASCAR. If you're the Truck champion, you're not guaranteed a ride. Even if your K&N West, you're not guaranteed a ride.
IndyCar is a little more challenging because of the budget required. The last two guys have done it and a couple before that. So it's working. It's certainly not working in Europe.
Dan Anderson, the series, Jason, the owners, are all pushing us trying to get us to a 16, 18 number next year. Next year when the new car is coming out, you're going to see the old days of Indy Lights with 23 to 25 cars.
SAGE KARAM: Sam nailed it on the head there. The $1 million makes it so much easier to go to Sam now and say, I think I saw a third IndyCar sitting in the back of the shop there. Let's maybe put it out, put it on jacks, get some seats in it.
I don't know, the Mazda Road to Indy Program gives you that great opportunity to move up. Like he said, it really showcases talent, not money.

Q. You were Pro Mazda before. Did that help you get to this point?
SAGE KARAM: I think every step in the ladder prepared me for what I needed for the next.
Obviously there were new challenges at every ladder, the Lights being one of the most challenging. This car is a difficult car to drive. It's definitely one of the hardest cars I've ever driven in my life. I had to learn a lot.
I almost completely had to put a different - I don't know how to say it really - but change the technique on how I drove. I was doing a few things I shouldn't have been doing. I think the lack of off-season testing I had was the main reason that I had some of these problems early in the season. But we worked them out. Great team, great engineers. They fixed me up good.

Q. Sam, over the last years you had European drivers as well. Do you have a network in Europe that informs you who is good and not good?
SAM SCHMIDT: I might have to kill you if I give it to you (laughter).
I'm kind of everywhere. You'll see me at (indiscernible) in November, which is one of the world's largest karting events, and I parade the Pro Mazda F 2000 paddock. I begin the process of talking to kids and their parents when they're 14 years old.
To the Europe thing, the answer to your question is absolutely, yes. There's a half a dozen to 10 guys over there that I can call and legitimately transparently ask them, Did this guy get it from having the greatest car on the circuit, some competitive advantage, or did he actually win it.
Perfect example is Josef Newgarden. I watched him race here for three or four years, watched him get the scholarship in GP3. Made a call and asked, Is he as good as we think he is? They said, Absolutely. At that point you go to bat with the parents and you try to put together the resources to make it happen.
It's one of my 14 full-time jobs, yes.

Q. Sage, you told me you lived in Nazareth across from the Andretti family. How much did those neighbors help your racing career?
SAGE KARAM: Yeah, Michael got my career started really. Started me off in USF2000. Got a championship with them. Then did two years in Star Mazda with them. Can't thank them enough for having the faith in me, getting my career started.
I guess this goes back to a few questions ago about Sam's team and stuff. He does a great job reaching out to drivers. But the main thing really is the drivers want to go to Sam. Sam has an incredible track record. I think, what is it, four in a row now. I remember last year he had four cars full-time and not one mechanical failure. That was one of the most appealing things.
The track record is great, but the no mechanical failures with four cars was just as impressive. So he does a great job of talking to us. But every driver that comes out of Pro Mazda that's going to come to Lights, Sam Schmidt is the first name you probably want to go to.

Q. You're a high school student, right?
SAGE KARAM: Yes, senior.

Q. You're going to school during the week, racing on weekends. Do your classmates understand what you're doing on the weekends?
SAGE KARAM: I'm doing cyber school now because I've missed so many days of school. It was almost like I had summer the whole year. It was crazy.
It was hard. Yeah, no, everyone at Nazareth High School, they know what I do. It's completely different from what anybody else does there. I said it when I was little kind of joking around, but being quite serious, everyone kind of laughed at me. I want to be in the Indy 500 my senior year of high school. Nobody really believed me. They kind of laughed about it.
But we just won the championship and next May I'll still be a senior in high school. So we'll see. Hopefully we can make the step up. That would be a pretty cool story, I think.
THE MODERATOR: We'll wrap things up. Sage and Sam, congratulations on a great season and a championship. Very well done.

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