A Surprise Pairing at Dreyer & Reinbold

Lost last week among the news items of Paul Tracy being let go by NBC, and later learning that James Hinchcliffe will be replacing him, along with the passing of Al Unser, was the little nugget that Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (DRR) has announced their driver lineup for next May’s Indianapolis 500.

Sage Karam returns to the team for his ninth Indianapolis 500, which is hard to believe, and his eighth with the team. He will have a new teammate in Santino Ferrucci, which excites me a lot more than Karam returning.

When Karam first made his debut in 2014, he was only nineteen. The car was run in conjunction between DRR and Chip Ganassi Racing. The kid from Nazareth, PA raised eyebrows as he started on the last row, but kept his nose clean and finished ninth. It was his first time in an Indy car, since winning the Indy Lights championship the previous year while driving for Sam Schmidt.That was Karam’s only IndyCar appearance for the rest of the 2014 season.

For 2015, Karam drove directly for Chip Ganassi in the No. 8 car in a ride share with Sebastian Saavedra; but Karam drove the car in the Indianapolis 500 and Saavedra drove an extra car (No. 17) for Ganassi in the 500. It did not go well for either driver. They both crashed out of the race. Saavedra lasted 175 laps before crashing into the Turn Four wall, but Karam crashed on the opening lap. The only thing that kept Karam from finishing dead-last is the fact that Conor Daly suffered an exhaust fire on the Parade Lap.

Karam drove in twelve of the sixteen races that season, with a best finish of third at Iowa when he incurred the wrath of Ed Carpenter after the race for some of his brash antics on the track. Karam also finished fifth at Fontana in the wild race that was eventually won by Graham Rahal. It would also mark IndyCar’s last visit to Auto Club Speedway. Other than those two results, Karam struggled in that year with Ganassi. There are also rumors that he got in the boss’s doghouse outside of the car during the season, but we won’t go into that now.

Since then, Sage Karam has been relegated to being mostly an Indy only driver, with all of those Indianapolis 500s being with DRR. He did drive at Iowa and Toronto for Carlin and in 2020 he drove in the three IMS road course races for DRR – finishing no better than twenty-third.

This past May saw Karam earn his highest career finish in the Indianapolis 500, when he finished seventh. His ninth in 2014 and his seventh in 2021, bookend seven very forgettable finishes in the 500. Finishes of 32, 32,28,26,19 and 24 are not performances that will make you an Indianapolis 500 legend, but could possibly get yourself in the Oilpressure.com Indianapolis 500 Trivia Contest in May (there’s a nugget).

There is a segment of IndyCar fans who still swoon over the mention of Sage Karam, after all these years. Quite honestly, I’ve never gotten it. It was a nice story when he was a nineteen year-old kid finishing in the Top-Ten of the Indianapolis 500, but since then he’s done very little to be worthy of the praise he still gets. I don’t know if female fans consider him eye-candy, or if some fans are certain that he will eventually fulfill the promise he showed in winning the Indy Lights title in 2013. Some fans assume because he grew up in Nazareth, PA and knows the Andretti family, that Karam automatically qualifies him racing immortality. But I’ve never understood the hoopla surrounding Sage Karam, and I’m not sure I ever will.

Santino Ferrucci is another matter. He has forty IndyCar starts under his belt, with two full seasons and sporadic starts among two other seasons. His three Indianapolis 500 starts have yielded finishes of seventh, fourth and sixth respectively. I find Ferrucci to be a thrill to watch. I was not happy that Bobby Rahal chose not to put Ferrucci in his third car next season, after he gave what I thought was a good audition over five races this past season. Obviously Christian Lundgaard brings a bigger budget than Ferrucci.

The DRR cars do not qualify well at Indianapolis. Dennis Reinbold addressed that very fact last week on Trackside. They have usually been starting from the last row in recent years. Although Reinbold says this will be their main focus between now and next May, I don’t have confidence they will be able to produce cars capable of contending for the Fast Nine.

If the DRR tandem of Karam and Ferrucci do start on the back row next May, here’s a tip – keep an eye on Ferrucci. Watching him (probably) carve his way through the field will be worth the price of admission. I wish I could say the same for Karam, but until this year – his recent results haven’t given me much of a reason to expect much out of him.

But Ferrucci’s presence could make a difference. The two of them have known each other for years, ever since they raced go-karts against each other while growing up. Childhood rivalries can bring out the best in adults. Just look how the boyhood rivalry between Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan blossomed into a two-plus decade rivalry in IndyCar. Sometimes they hated each other, but most of the time – they pushed each other. I can see that happening with DRR next May.

It’s Christmas week, but so far – the offseason has been clicking along at a pretty hectic pace. Imagine what January will be like!

George Phillips

5 Responses to “A Surprise Pairing at Dreyer & Reinbold”

  1. George, why would you throw out a nugget like this: “There are also rumors that he got in the boss’s doghouse outside of the car during the season, but we won’t go into that now(,)” and not go into it now? If not now, when? If you never want to, why would you hint at it at all. I mean, this IS an article mostly about Sage Kareem, no?

    Or, to quote our favorite politician: “C’mon, maaaan!”

    And don’t forget my original Christmas songs!


  2. billytheskink Says:

    To be frank, I think it is pretty easy to understand why there are some Indycar fans who continue to want to see Karam in the cockpit. Here’s why:

    – Four drivers he beat for the 2013 Indy Lights title (Carlos Munoz, Jack Hawksworth, Zach Veach, and Gabby Chaves) have each made at least 15 more Indycar starts than he has (49, 24, 23, and 15, respectively).

    – Karam podiumed, as a rookie, in his tenth start with Ganassi. Marcus Ericsson did so, as an Indycar sophomore with 97 Formula 1 starts, in his 21st start with Ganassi. Charlie Kimball first podiumed for Ganassi in his 27th start. It took Bruno Junquiera 13 starts to podium. Ryan Briscoe, a one-time championship contender at Penske, NEVER podiumed for Ganassi in either of his stops there. The less accomplished Max Chilton and Darren Manning never podiumed at Ganassi either.

    These points can be argued against, of course (all four of those drivers Karam beat in Lights have now washed out of Indycar, a single podium may be a flimsy foundation for an argument about a driver’s merit)… but it is very understandable why some fans see these things and want to see what Karam can do in an Indycar.

    • You’ve pretty well outlined why I don’t mind at all when Sage Karam gets more chances in an IndyCar, Billy. The fact of the matter is that even with as long as he’s been around the sport, he’s only made 11 starts since his 21st birthday (before which, he may or may not have been a bit of a knuclehead, which means that he had something in common with about 99.9% of pre-21-year olds), and those 11 most recent starts have been sprinkled over the last six years (and only two of those starts have happened outside of the grounds of Indianapolis Motor Speedway). To boot, even that one single chance at a “full time” Ganassi ride wound up being shared with Sebastian Saavedra, and I’m not totally convinced that it came with much in the way of testing time (it’s possible that Sage has still had 20-25 or less days of testing in his 8+ year IndyCar career, which would have been less than somebody who came into the sport back in the ’90-’00s might have gotten in a single offseason), so I’m not sure that was the greatest barometer of what he could do in the first place.

      So, while I don’t exactly swoon at the mention of Sage Karam, his two top-10s in sub-average equipment at Indy when he drove from the back of the field to the front (multiple times during the ’14 race, as D&R lost him positions at every round of stops) abd two more top-5s in that ’15 season indicate that he’s got talent. I’d just like to get a better sample size than the two dozen races spread over eight calendar years that we’ve had before we toss him in the dustbin forever.

    • The mention of Carlos Munoz begs the question, “Whatever happened to…?”” Even with the unorthodox line he drove around IMS, he was competitive and performed admirably. Why can’t a guy who showed this much talent get a ride? Did his year driving for AJ and Larry completely tarnish his luster?

  3. Denise Weltzin Says:

    I love both these guys & really look forward to seeing what they can do together in May. I do think Sage has grown up – he drove such a mature 2021 500 with a car that no one would count as a Top Ten possibility. And yes, he may be eye candy to some, but to this “mature” race fan I see potential for much more with the right circumstances (yes, $$$).

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