At the moment, he is probably one of the most talented drivers in the United States of America. Becoming champion in the Indy Lights, taking the step to Indycar Series and racing in the Tudor United Sportscar Championship are just a few of his achievements troughout the last years. RacingInside.com spoke to the talented American racing driver Sage Karam in an exclusive interview.
Hello Sage, I think many visitors will be familiar with the name of Sage Karam. Unfortunately, some of them will not know who you are. Could you give a brief introduction about yourself?
I am a 19 year-old American racer that was raised in a middle-class American household. I am the first from my family to venture into the world of competitive auto racing. I am also a highly decorated amateur wrestler and former high school football player.
Some race drivers are getting involved in racing through friends or family. How did you get involved in racing? Did your parents support you from the early beginning?
My father always wanted to be a racer, but never had the opportunity. He led me down the racing road at a very young age; I guess to live out some of his dreams. My parents took me karting on a year-round basis since I was 4 years old. I had a passion for karting, but I wanted to get into formula race cars as soon as I could. As a family we often attended IndyCar races and the Indy 500. It’s probably the only form of racing I was ever exposed to growing up.
Did you start your career, like many other drivers, in karting? Do you think karting is an essential step in the career of a race driver?
Karting provided the skill set necessary to learn racing strategy at a young age. I learned very early in karting the value of picking my passes and when to make my moves. I also saw the value of hard work and practice in karting. Karting was some of the most demanding weekends I have ever had. I was karting at the age when others were playing with their friends or attending social events. Karting is all I thought about, it’s all I did every weekend. The decision to go race on the weekends was already made - it was a given. We never had to make that decision again.
During your brief career you already have got some major successes in single seaters, like winning the championship in U.S. F2000 and Indy Lights. In what way did your career progress?
I enrolled in the Skip Barber Formula Racing School at 13 years-old and won their prestigious international shootout competition over 52 other entrants. The Mazda Road to Indy program provided a road map through the American formula racing ranks to IndyCars. I basically followed the American open wheel ladder system, which was probably a solid direction. Looking back, maybe I could have competed overseas for some international experience. I feel I have been up against the best talent in the world, but it would have been interesting to race in other countries too.
Even with the scholarship prizes in the MRTI, there is no way I would have arrived at this point without the support of my sponsor Mr. Michael Fux (Comfort Revolution). He is like family to me and I know he is the man responsible for enabling this dream of mine. I guess every successful person has somebody in their life that gave them a special break or supported their dreams. Michael and my parents have always been the driving forces behind my dreams.
During this season, you are not only racing single seaters, but also in prototypes and endurance races. What made you decide to drive in such cars too?
Winning in the Indy Lights series just won’t provide enough feedback for most professional IndyCar teams to put an unproven rookie in one of their race cars, unless you bring a substantial budget. I have never been a ride buyer in the traditional sense, so buying a professional seat outright was not an option for me.
My management team figured the best way to showcase my talent was within the TUDOR United SportsCar Series with Chip Ganassi Racing. I think the idea was brilliant and it demonstrated my ability to interact with the team and its engineers. I kept replicating my positive results on the track and the data doesn’t lie. I looked at each time I got in the Daytona Prototype as an audition for Chip Ganassi. I think that actually gave the team a better gauge of my talent than winning the Lights championship.
Although, I also know that teams like to see drivers that can win championships, as I proved that ability in the MRTI. I just think it’s difficult for the teams to rate your talent against several drivers in a series, so the TUDOR series was a natural move for me.
If you take a look ahead, what do you think that the future will bring to you? What do you want to achieve?
I’m currently signed as a development driver for Chip Ganassi Racing and I couldn’t be more pleased. I choose not to discuss the details of my agreements, but I can tell you that it was dream come true to sign with CGRT at such a young age. This team is very serious about winning and performing. I share many of the same values as CGR and I see this as a long and productive relationship. I feel that my best chances of reaching my potential, and winning multiple Indy 500’s and IndyCar Series championships are with Chip Ganassi Racing. Plus, the team is an excellent resource for my sponsor.
Every race driver has his good and bad moments. What is the best moment in your career and what is the worst moment in your career, until now?
Winning the Indy Lights title was mega without question. I was 18 years old and gave up everything at home to move to Indy to live by myself without the comforts of a family. Not many understood the move, but I knew it was necessary in order to win the title. So after I won, it was a very fulfilling feeling experience because I had to leave my family to do it.
Now, many young drivers follow that model we created and move to Indy for their race season. But I thought after I won the Lights title that all my problems would be solved and we’d have owners waiting to sign me up for IndyCar. Well that never happened because teams are struggling to find sponsor partners to run a full season of IndyCars.
But, I think when I got out the car at the Sebring 12 Hour prototype for CGRT; I had such a feeling of accomplishment, because I knew I nailed it. I realized it (Sebring) was such a make or break drive for me.
The Indy 500 was a lifelong dream of mine and it was without a question, the greatest moment of my racing career. Even though I got just 9th, I was proud of my accomplishment and I am already looking forward to doing better next year. It was the first time I was ever in an IndyCar with a team that hadn’t raced in a year. It was a great effort by the team and I think they were proud of the result.
The life of a race driver is tough physically and mentally. Do you have a special training programme to stay fit and to gain strength?
When I am in Indy I train at Pit Fit Training. They specialize in preparing IndyCar drivers and some of the best drivers train there. If I am at home in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, I train with my dad. He has an extensive background in maximizing human performance and he has worked with me for many years. We have retained the top sport psychologist in the country for the past 6 years to work the mental side with me.
If you could change lives for a day with another race driver, who would it be?
Since I have recently competed in an IndyCar, I would venture to try something new if given the chance. I would enjoy a day in the life of a NASCAR or F1 driver. I think I would be effective on the NASCAR circuit and that style of driving suits me. The agility and braking of the F1 cars would be a rush too. But at this point I feel I am where I need to be.
From the outside, being a race driver looks like a real dream. But there are also negative points, of course. If you could take people a look at the ‘inside’ of racing, what do you think is the most negative point of being a race driver?
The strange thing is realizing that maybe some of your fellow drivers want what you have. Whether it’s your deal, the team/seat or your sponsor, I have learned to be more vigilant in protecting myself and the people supporting me. That’s the part of the business that is always tough to deal with, but I get it.
What would you like to say to everyone that is dreaming of a career in racing?
I never had a “plan B” because I always believed I was going to make it. Some racers head into this gig with a bunch of talent but not enough confidence. Others dive in with much more confidence than talent. Regardless of whichever end of the spectrum that you are at, make sure you surround yourself by a solid support group such as your parents, sponsors and career advisors. I like to think I got the combination correct and I haven’t seen my best drive yet.
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