Don’t Bet Against Sage Karam

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Normally, the Thanksgiving weekend is a dead time for news to break from the Verizon IndyCar Series. That was pretty much the case this past weekend, except for one little item that probably merits a mention; Sage Karam’s contract was not renewed at Chip Ganassi Racing for 2016.

That news didn’t really surprise or alarm me at this point. It was still November when the news came out. I’m reading it not that Karam lost his ride, but that it was a nice gesture on Ganassi’s part to allow Karam to pursue other rides elsewhere, in case funding could not be found before the season started.

I’ve read some opinions that say that Ganassi doesn’t want Karam back and this was an easy out for Ganassi. Maybe I’m naïve, but I’m taking this at face-value. I think that Ganassi does want the twenty year-old back in the Ganassi stable, but doesn’t want to do him a disservice by not allowing him to sign elsewhere should an opportunity present itself.

Whether this is a good thing or not, Sage Karam reminds me of Paul Tracy when he first surfaced at Team Penske at Michigan in 1991 in a Mobil 1 sponsored car painted up like a Marlboro livery, except blue instead of day-glo red. Tracy showed much promise, but lasted only three laps before breaking his leg when he clouted the wall on the front-stretch. The fully recovered Tracy drove in that season’s last two races, with a seventh at Nazareth being his best result.

The 1992 season saw Tracy drive in eleven of the sixteen races, much like Karam driving in twelve of the sixteen races of the 2015 season. Both drivers had some spectacular drives with good finishes, but both drivers also tore up a lot of equipment and ruffled the feathers of the established veterans.

Everyone remembers Ed Carpenter confronting Karam and berating him after the race at Iowa when Karam was racing Carpenter wheel to wheel on his way to a third-place finish. That was nothing compared to what Al Unser, Jr. did to Tracy after the Marlboro 500 at Michigan in 1992 (see below). It’s ironic to think that a year and a half later, they two were teammates at Marlboro Team Penske.

We all know that Tracy went on to win thirty races in his CART/Champ Car career, along with the 2003 Champ Car championship. We also know that he continued to tear up a lot of equipment along the way – much to the chagrin of Roger Penske, who was his car owner for eleven of those thirty wins.

Say what you will about Paul Tracy. Although I’m a big fan of Tracy in the broadcast booth, I was never a huge fan of his as a driver. He ran his mouth too much for my liking and he took out some of the drivers I was a fan of on numerous occasions. But he sure added a lot of excitement to the series and he adequately filled the role of the villain – something that the Verizon IndyCar Series is sorely in need of.

Sage Karam is very similar in nature to Tracy. I think he is loaded with talent, but sometimes he doesn’t exercise the best judgment. Karam is also just as brash as Tracy, albeit in a more subtle and polished way.

I would think that Karam is an easier sell to a sponsor than Tracy was. Karam is an American and seems to have movie-star good looks, or so some women have said. Tracy is Canadian and was never mistaken for Brad Pitt.

But Tracy’s results speak for themselves. He was a great driver and added a ton of excitement and intrigue to the series.

I’m betting that Sage Karam has the same type future in the series as Tracy. He’s very rough around the edges, but has a load of talent that can be honed and polished. I don’t see Ganassi’s announcement as any type of indictment on Karam’s skills or his abilities. Lord knows he brings a lot more to the table than Sebastian Saavedra, who shared the same seat in the No.8 Ganassi car with Karam in 2015.

My guess is that Karam will be a full-time driver in the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2016 and I would not be surprised if he is at Ganassi driving the No.8. If things do turn out that way, I think he will get his first win next season. I wouldn’t bet against it.

George Phillips

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12 Responses to “Don’t Bet Against Sage Karam”

  1. Ed Carpenter could always sign him to drive the ovals! Wouldn’t that be a hoot, Sage replacing Ed.

  2. One thing that worries me about Sage is explained in a conversation with a friend “Sage Karam, he’s the one who killed Justin Wilson”. Now, we know what happened, but I wonder if others think that way as well? We all know what it was but many NASCAR fans still hate Sterling Marlin for “killing Dale”.

  3. DZ-groundedeffects Says:

    Interesting and very apt parallel to Tracy that I hadn’t noticed before.

    I like Sage a lot. He’s brash but never felt like he was a detriment to the series in any way. If anything, he injected some youthful exuberance into it for the positive, which also shook up the stalwarts in the paddock a bit. I liked that.

    That exuberance also tore up a lot of equipment relative to most drivers and I suspect ol’ Chipper, as much as he may rate Sage, wasn’t ready for another $1M in repair bills. I doubt Sage’s sponsor(s) were either.

    I never have, nor heard anyone else equate or level blame at Sage with the deadly result of Wilson’s day at Pocono. To do so is to imply a negligence or willful assault on Wilson’s car, which is totally preposterous.

    • Unfortunately, I have read a few random ridiculous comments alluding that Karam was to blame for what happened. It’s not an overriding theme, but that perception is out there among a few uninformed loons. – GP

      • Your last two words there say it all, George. Unfortunately, those people exist, and the internet gives those folks a way to put their idiotic thoughts in front of other peoples’ eyeballs.

  4. billytheskink Says:

    I had forgotten how much I enjoy the fact that Al Unser Jr. never fully changes his typical aw-shucks tone of voice even when he’s angry. Hilarious.
    Brian Barnhart (I believe that is) telling everyone to “just calm down!” is great too.

    Sage is a talent and can be a credit to the series. I hope to see him in a car next year for as many races as possible.

  5. hey George. glad to see ganassi didn’t do to karam wat he did to alex Lloyd and destroy his career!

    I agree with you George that hell have a full time ride somewhere this season. (maybe spm) and I do belive hell win this year. in gannassi ‘s #8 will proabley be driven by that superstar sebastin savdree. im waiting for that announcement to come very soon. and they wonder why this seris struggles to be more mainstream.

  6. I don’t know how YOU of all people missed it George, but he reminds me of a young A. J. Foyt with his brash “checkers or wreckers” attitude (and his looks.). Granted, Foyt had a lot better results in the early part of his career, but let’s look at where young Mr. Karam is in a couple of years.

    As for the Ganassi part of the equation, Ol’ Chipster has been spoiled rotten by having some of the safest drivers in the series in terms of NOT wadding up race cars. It’s very rare that you see Scott Dixon tearing up equipment and Charlie Kimball and Tony Kanaan aren’t exactly tough on cars either.

  7. This bit of news came as a surprise to me. It seems rather certain that Karam will have a ride for the Indy 500: his 9th place upon debut in 2014 was such a great performance. My guess is his sponsorship is enough for a partial season so now, he can shop it around, hoping to find a team which has a partial budget, too, which is big enough so they can fund a full season together.
    If that doesn’t happen, a partial season at Ganassi is most likely.

  8. Over the past 50 years the cost of goin’ racin’ has increased exponentially. With that comes the need for more and more sponsorship money. Someone has to pay for those fancy haulers and all the personnel needed to field a team these days, regardless of the series. A look back at an old roadster will perhaps show a few Bardahl decals and the iconic flying red horse. Today, virtually every square inch of the drivers uniform and car are covered with sponsor’s stickers.

    So it will come as nothing new when I say that for any young (or older) driver trying to break into the IndyCar series, they have to bring a suitcase full of sponsor money. More and more, just being talented is not good enough. Our dear departed friend J. Wilson is a good example of that.

    So unless Sage can show them the money or attract some money, there is no guarantee that he will have a ride in 2016 even with his level of talent. When a young driver does get a opportunity, there is perhaps the inclination to be very good very fast. That can lead to crashes.

    If I recall correctly, Gabby Chavez earned an opportunity and was competitive in 2015. He also kept his car off the wall most of the time while learning his craft. Perhaps he was not as aggressive as Sage, but he has a ride for 2016.

    It seems to me that at some point the IndyCar series and the teams have to find ways to rein in costs to make racing more affordable for everyone involved.

  9. A young driver cannot build his skill set if he is not in the car. So, this is a big disappointment. Sage has the talent and just needs a lot of seasoning. The way things are now there isn’t time to learn on the job unless you come funded. There is also a lot of potential from several of the drivers in the ladder series, but where are they going to go?

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