By Kirby Arnold, Staff Writer
INDIANAPOLIS – There’s a new look to driver Sage Karam and the Dreyer & Reinbold Racing team this month at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The once-black Chevrolet-powered Dallara is a crisp blue and white, the predominant colors of new sponsor AES Indiana. And the team has trimmed from two cars to one for this year’s 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 30, hoping that narrowing the manpower to one entry will produce better results than recent 500s.
The best look of all, though, was on Karam’s face Tuesday after his first practice laps on the 2.5-mile superspeedway: his smile.
He felt comfortable and fast in cool, cloudy conditions that were conducive to stability and speed, and by the end of the day his best lap – 225.942 mph – was fourth-fastest.
The past few years at Indy brought little more than angst to the 26-year-old when his car handled angry – and you don’t want angry at more than 220 mph. He has started 31st each of the past two 500s.
“The last two years we struggled early on, and to feel confident the first day is a relief, for sure,” said Karam, who’ll attempt to qualify this weekend for his eighth 500. “The car seemed really nice to drive. It was balanced well and the speed seemed good from Chevy.”
With air temperatures expected climb into the mid to upper 80s late this week, Karam knows comfort can change with every rising degree on the thermometer.
“Today is probably the coolest day we’ll have all month, so once the track gets hotter it’ll get more difficult for everybody,” he said. “Hopefully, we can stay on top of it and keep going. This is the most prepared we’ve ever had a car here at the Speedway. It’s been easy to get up to speed comfortably pretty quickly, but the weird thing about this place is you can feel good one day and not good the next. The main thing is staying on top of everything, staying on top of the weather conditions, the wind direction, and try not to tune your car too far out of the window.”
Karam prefers the shift back to a single-car operation with Dreyer & Reinbold. He said the advantage of sharing data and resources with a sister car can backfire on a small team by spreading everyone too thin.
“Two cars may not seem like a lot when you’re a team like Andretti Autosport that’s running six, but we’re a smaller team,” he said. “With two cars, instead of putting all your energy into one (car), you’re putting a little energy into one and a little energy into the other. It leads to not being able to give everything 100 percent. Getting two drivers into the engineering room bouncing ideas off each other can be good, but it also can be bad, and you might get led down a road that maybe you hadn’t thought about just from hearing the other driver’s feedback. I operate better in a one-car setting and I think the team operates better. We can put all our focus on one car, and that’s when we ran strong here in the past.”
Karam finished ninth his rookie year in 2014, driving for Dreyer & Reinbold with assistance from Chip Ganassi Racing, but he hasn’t finished higher than 21st in six other 500s. Tuesday’s opening practice gave him hope for a strong run all month.
“The car seems better than it’s ever been preparation-wise, and I think we showed that a lot today,” he said.
This is Karam’s seventh year driving at Indy for Dreyer & Reinbold, and they’ve bonded like family.
“You look at all the great sports teams, one of the biggest things is that they come together as a unit,” he said. “You don’t have to be the most talented team to win a World Series or Super Bowl, but I think if you have the chemistry and you all play as one, that can set you apart. That’s what we have here. We’ve been together so long. A lot of these guys were on my car for my very first 500. A relationship with them that’s family-like, it makes the month a lot smoother when they understand what I need and want. We know how to operate with each other. I love it here.”