Andretti meant on the track, where Karam has caused a bit of a stir in his first full-time season on the Verizon IndyCar circuit.
Off the track, the 20-year-old Karam has certainly found a friend in four-time series champ and three-time Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti.
Franchitti, now retired after suffering a concussion and other major injuries in an October 2013 crash in Houston, has become a mentor, a counselor, adviser, and yes, a friend to the former Nazareth Area High School wrestling standout.
They’re all part of the Chip Ganassi Racing Team that also features Charlie Kimball, Scott Dixon and Toby Kanaan.
Since Karam is the youngest and the least experienced of that foursome, Franchitti keeps a close watch on him, and he’ll look for continued progress during Sunday’s ABC Supply 500 at Pocono.
“Sage had a tough start because he broke his wrist, but through the month of May there were some real flashes of massive potential,” Franchitti said. “Again at Detroit, he had some flashes that were really, really good and then he made some mistakes during the race.
“From that point on, his attitude has been good and he has worked unbelievably hard. He now realizes how hard he has to work to compete with these guys.”
Karam has competed in 11 races this year with two top-10s, including a third-place effort at Iowa on July 18. But at Iowa and again in the most recent race at Mid-Ohio, he drew the ire of several drivers who felt he was either driving too aggressively or recklessly.
Franchitti said the controversies have been somewhat understandable considering that Karam is a rookie.
“Sage is driving for his career right now,” Franchitti said. “He’s got the potential, but he’s got to do the job. Some of the criticism has probably been on the mark, but very few of it. Most of it has come from the fact that he is a rookie.
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“The stuff that happened at Iowa, had that been Scott or Tony or Will Power or [Juan Pablo] Montoya, nobody would have said anything. A couple of times [Karam] has stepped over the line a little bit, but he’s learning where that line is and hopefully that’s something I can help with.”
On a recent publicity tour in the Lehigh Valley, Karam said it has been an “interesting” rookie season.
“I wasn’t getting the results I wanted early on, but I started getting some confidence in May and was hoping for a good race in Indianapolis and ended up not having a good race there,” he said. “But I got my confidence back and we’ve been rolling from there … starting 10th at Texas, leading my first laps at Fontana, starting third at Milwaukee and finishing third at Iowa.
“The guys on my team … Dixon, Kanaan, Kimball and Dario have all helped me so much. I’ve learned just from talking to them.”
Karam said the biggest challenge for him was learning to stay calm.
“I’ve been going out of the gate a little too aggressive and I forget that the race is 200, 300 laps and you have pit stops and everything,” Karam said. “I was always pushing 110 percent when early in the race all I needed to be doing was about 85. I’ve just brought it down a notch and tried to put the car in a position where it needed to be at the end of the race.”
As for drawing negative comments from media and competitors, Karam said his teammates have told him to stay off Twitter as much as possible.
“Sometimes it’s hard,” Karam said. “It’s just part of it and I’ve built a few rivalries already by just being a rookie because some people don’t think rookies show enough respect.”
Certainly, Franchitti and Kimball have earned Karam’s respect and vice versa.
“Sage has developed really well,” Kimball said. “He started raw, not having been in a car full time last year. That was a bigger challenge than we all realized. He has shown great pace on the short ovals and he has been competitive off the bat at places that can be really daunting.
“I just try to be there to answer questions for him. I’ve learned a lot from my teammates in the four years since my rookie season, and I try to give him as much of my experience as possible. It’s subtle stuff and I don’t have as much time as Dario. But he’s really growing, really listening and working really hard at it. He’s got a good personality. There are times I forget he’s only 20. Other times it’s obvious he’s only 20.”
Franchitti, now 42, also tends to forget he’s dealing with someone just two years removed from high school.
“The expectations, the pressure in the job he has chosen are high,” Franchitti said. “Nobody on the team gives him any leeway because he’s only 20. He’s just another driver on the team. He’s had to grow up quick as many of us have.
“I enjoy working with him. Occasionally, it’s frustrating. But it’s unbelievably rewarding most of the time. I try not to tell him, ‘I did this, I did that’ because it’s all about what he’s doing. I did crash a lot of cars in my rookie season and made a lot of mistakes. Rookies make a lot of mistakes. The trick is to learn from them, and Sage is doing that.”
Author: Keith Groller ( The Morning Call )