INDIANAPOLIS – Bump Day for the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge is among the most pressure-packed experiences in motor racing. Now that he’s survived the drama and stress, Sage Karam hopes a familiar starting position can lead to a race finish the likes of which he had the last time he started 31st.
Karam struggled to find speed in the No. 24 DRR WIX Filters Chevrolet throughout the week of practice and first day of qualifications. Unable to make the top 30 positions that were locked into the field in Saturday’s qualifying, Karam and his Dreyer & Reinbold Racing crew were forced into Last Row Shootout on Sunday, where six drivers battled for the final three spots on the grid.
Going up against the likes of Fernando Alonso, James Hinchcliffe, Patricio O’Ward and Max Chilton, Karam rose to the occasion and put together a four-lap run at 227.740 mph – the fastest of the six drivers – to solidly qualify on the inside of the last row. Following the run, an emotional Karam burst into tears of relief at the thought of qualifying for his sixth Indianapolis 500.
“I always knew that speed was there, (we were) just not getting enough out of it,” the 24-year-old Pennsylvanian said. “I had a really bad first qual attempt (Saturday) and skimmed the wall. I got out and the first thing I said was, ‘We're fine, we're fine,’ because I genuinely believe that a run like I did just now (Sunday) was going to be like (Saturday).
“I knew we had the speed. My teammate (JR Hildebrand) did it, and our cars were pretty similar. We had a really good car for two laps, but we didn't really have a good car for four. So today we bettered the drop-off, and that was the difference.”
Karam was proud of the way he and the team were able to fight their way into the race, after it seemed bleak when they woke up Sunday morning.
“That was probably one of the most stressful 48 hours of my life, probably one of the biggest battles I've ever had to go through mentally,” he said. “But the team rallied, and it's just been a really, really tough month, to be able to say we qualified when we were kind of backs against the ball there for a while.”
Karam also complimented the extraordinary runs from Kyle Kaiser of Juncos Racing and Hinchcliffe of Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, the two drivers who will accompany him in the 11th row in Sunday’s race. Kaiser and Hinchcliffe each rebounded from a crash to make the field.
“I didn't have as tough of a month as those other two guys did,” Karam said. “Those guys nearly going upside down and putting backup cars together and coming back is pretty freaking amazing.”
The 31st starting position equals Karam’s lowest for the Indianapolis 500, first set when he was a rookie driver for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing with Chip Ganassi Racing in 2014. That time, he impressively moved his way through the field to finish ninth.
“If it shapes up like that again, I'll be quite happy. We'll see how we can do it,” Karam said with a laugh.
The 103rd Indianapolis 500 airs live on NBC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network beginning 11 a.m. ET Sunday. Tickets for the race remain available at IMS.com.