Sage Karam, 8, passes former teammate Zach Veach at Barber Motorsports Park, April 7, 2013. Photo, Matt Schafer

Sage Karam's decision of a lifetime

Sometimes getting what you want is a double-edged sword, and it’s one that I hope doesn’t cut down one of the most promising talents to come into American open wheel in over a decade. Sage Karam is young, talented, a bit brash and apparently has a bit of a rivalry going with one of the biggest names in American racing. In my opinion, he’s exactly what Indycar needs.

Eighteen-year-old Karam’s stated goal was to win the Firestone Indy Lights Championship this year, and he did, snagging the $1 million prize that goes with it. The problem is the prize money can only be used for a full-time Indycar ride the following year, it can’t be banked or deferred; it’s a use it or lose it proposition and not nearly enough to land a good full time ride. Karam apparently plans on using it. Beyond that, the insanely well pedigreed Matthew Brabham is coming into the Indy Lights series, which will hopefully have a deeper, more talent season in 2014.

Karam is reportedly close to signing with a team for 2013, which would mean running his first Indy 500 before graduating high school. I’m all for this by the way, but Karam has kind of been held out as the “Great New Hope,” of open wheel racing by some fans. He’s got all the makings; a good looking young kid who could put up a stunning rookie season and generate some crossover buzz. Thing is, he needs a quality ride to do it.

I’m not in a position to judge if Karam is ready for Indycar, but when you compare him to the last teenagers to reach the sport, Marco Andretti and Graham Rahal Karam’s record is at least equally impressive as Rahal’s and better than Andretti’s. I say that even with the short field in Indy Lights this season, and knowing that it might rub Andretti Autosport the wrong way.

In September, I wrote an article asking how many teams Andretti Autosport might field, and I got a rather blunt email specifying that Karam was not driving for them. I thought that was odd because I didn’t say that Karam was driving for the team, just that Andretti had supported him for the past several years. Then there was this from a USA Today article.

I haven’t heard anything from Michael, which is kind of a shame, because my family and his family used to hang out every weekend. I don’t see why racing and business had to come between us. But it’s whatever, man. It’s sports.”

I wonder how much of that has to do with long time Andretti sponsor Comfort Revolution following Karam to Schmidt.

If history has shown us anything, he’ll be far better off with an experienced teammate next year. With an apparently burned bridge at Andretti,  Ganassi and Penske already adding cars next year, it looks like his best options are KV Racing, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and potentially Dale Coyne. Each teams is capable of winning races, and would pair Karam with a veteran teammate, which is important, because single car teams didn’t work out so well for Rafa Matos and J.R. Hildebrand.

I’m glad I’m not sitting in Karam’s seat. Does he move up before he finishes high school? Does he forgo the sponsorship package and get some more seasoning in the lower levels? If he moves up too quickly and fails to impress he could be out of the sport in a few years. If he doesn’t move up now he might never get another chance. It’s a high stakes decision, and only time will reveal the right answer.

Tags: IZOD IndyCar Series

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