By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer
INDIANAPOLIS — Sage Karam’s month at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway had many peaks and valleys, but the 24-year-old managed to find the pace to qualify 31st for the 103rd Indianapolis 500.
After confidence in his No. 24 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Chevrolet became hard to find, the 2013 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires champion had teammate and former Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year, J.R. Hildebrand drive it on Fast Friday.
Karam’s struggles on Saturday included very light wall contact. That meant that Sunday’s Last Row Shootout would give the Nazareth, Pennsylvania native one more opportunity to make the field for “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
Taking to the track at 4:44 p.m. ET, Karam’s four lap average was 227.740, the fastest of the six drivers participating in the shootout. That average was fast enough to bump Max Chilton from the 33 car field and mathematically locked the 2010 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship winner in the field.
“I always knew that speed was there,” said Karam. “It was just getting it out of it. You know, I had a really bad first qual attempt yesterday 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 was going to be like yesterday, I would have been able to bounce back and do that yesterday.
“But we just kept slightly missing the balance for the weather, and then you know, ended up having to come back today to fight into the field, and that was probably one of the most — that was the most stressful 48 hours of my life, probably one of the biggest battles I’ve ever had to go through mentally. And yeah, we put a good run in.”
There was a lot of pressure on young Karam’s shoulders. He had to beat two of the following to assure himself a spot: two-time Formula One world champion Fernando Alonso in his McLaren racing entry, 2016 Indianapolis 500 polesitter James Hinchcliffe, 2017 Indianapolis 500 top lap leader Max Chilton, 2018 Indy Lights champion Patricio O’Ward and 2017 Indy Lights champion Kyle Kaiser. Instead of beating just two, he beat all of them.
“I once had a wrestling coach tell me when I was in high school, it doesn’t matter who you’re wrestling, it doesn’t matter the seed, don’t look at it, don’t look at the brackets, records, nothing,” said Karam.
“Who’s going to win is going to be who wrestles better in that six minutes. And for some reason, us three or us six didn’t wrestle the track, the car, whatever, the weather as good as other guys did yesterday, and when I went back to my team, I knew we had to figure out how we were going to do better today, and we did that.
“It doesn’t matter who you’re up against, it’s just you’ve got to do the best job you can do, and if you do your absolute best, then that’s all you can do. But it doesn’t matter who you’re up against. The pressure, yeah, I mean, it’s insane. I never want to go through this again.”