When the door to a continuation of his IndyCar program appeared to close for 2016, Sage Karam cast his eyes separately back towards the world of sports car racing.
The talented if aggressive 20-year-old out of Nazareth, Pa. had progressively advanced through the Mazda Road to Indy ladder system and won both USF2000 and Indy Lights titles, but finding traction in IndyCar proved difficult.
A single IndyCar start in 2014 was followed by just 12 of 16 races in 2015. Meanwhile, occasional appearances in Chip Ganassi Racing’s Riley-Ford DP put his name on the sports car map.
It was those handful of appearances, coupled with the frustration of trying to find the millions needed for open-wheel, that have helped lead to his opportunity co-driving with Scott Pruett at the new F Performance Racing team and its new Lexus RC F GT3.
“When it comes to sports cars, I’d gone in pushing IndyCar first,” Karam told Sportscar365.
“Coming off a year with Ganassi where I was starting to find my feet, I hoped to get a couple years put together. But I knew it would be tough to put the money together again.
“I knew about a week after Sonoma, unless a miracle happened, I wasn’t going to be able to be back on that grid.
“Once that all happened and some articles came out, I got a call, randomly, from Paul Gentilozzi about the Lexus program he was running and wanted to know if I was interested. ‘Yeah, definitely,’ I thought. Why not give it a look?”
Karam might be a surprise choice on paper considering the number of GT veterans available for the development program in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, but his prior relationship with Pruett has paid dividends.
Not long after Karam first visited the team’s Lansing, Mich. shop, it became apparent he’d be making this a major component of his 2016 season.
“Pretty much I got the job because Scott Pruett threw my name in the hat. It’s all because of Scott,” Karam said.
“He said he wanted to drive alongside me. I worked with Scott at Ganassi, and we have a good relationship.”
The gap is a wide one between the two. As noted, Karam is only 20 and a sports car novice, while Pruett is 55 and arguably in the discussion for being the most successful sports car driver of his generation.
Yet owing to the intricacies and quirks of the FIA Driver Ratings system, it’s Karam that’s Gold-rated, while Pruett is Silver-rated due to his age, and thus the two technically – if not in spirit – fit within the guidelines of the pro-am regulations.
Karam, though, seems bullish about the variety and diversity in sports car racing and is not underestimating the challenge in front of him.
“We’ll both be testing for sure. They want to get about 15 to 20 days in before we race it,” said Karam, who noted the team’s desired first start date of either Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca or Detroit.
“The plan is a lot of testing and a lot of laps behind the wheel for me and Scott. That’s very good for me, because I need to be logging as many laps as I possibly can.
“Being so young, being this age, I need to learn, learn, learn every lap.
“It’s a great opportunity with a manufacturer like Lexus and it could really lead to good, bigger things. I’m excited to get it going.”