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INDIANAPOLIS – If not for an untimely caution flag, 19-year-old Sage Karam said he could have placed in the top-five at the conclusion of Sunday's Indianapolis 500.
But Karam was more than content with the ninth-place finish he secured in his debut race. The Pennsylvania native rolled off 31st and advanced 22 positions on the day – the most by a rookie since Alex Tagliani did so in 2009.
“I was totally happy with the result,” Karam said. “I'm just blessed to be here.”
After moving up as far as eighth place, Karam said a pit stop just before a caution flag forced him to the back of the field. It was as though he had to run his race twice, forced to fight through the crowd again.
Though Karam was the 2013 Indy Lights Champion, he said this was “by far” the hardest race of his career. The span of 149 caution-free laps to begin the race put his pedal foot to sleep and challenged him physically.
With just 21 total laps under caution, Sunday's race matched the record for the fewest since 1976 when yellow flag laps were first recorded. The 2013 Indianapolis 500 ended with 21 caution laps as well.
A fast car allowed Karam to compete in a field of drivers featuring the likes of Juan Pablo Montoya – a legend to Karam. Karam is currently a developmental driver for Chip Ganassi Racing, but raced in a Dreyer & Reinbold car on Sunday.
Sunday was the first time the latter team had raced since last year's Indianapolis 500. Karam said he was thrilled to get a strong finish for the team, and even more excited about the car he raced Sunday.
“We could drive to the front,” Karam said. “We could pass anybody.”
One of the first drivers Karam passed on the day was Jacques Villeneuve, who won the Indianapolis 500 in 1995. Karam felt a bit nostalgic as he made that early pass.
“(Villeneuve) won the 500 when I was two months old, so I was having fun with that,” he said.
Karam has been having fun with the entire Indianapolis 500 experience. Though he's still about one month away from graduating high school, Karam said he's been able to balance racing and his education.
His team even hosted a scaled-down prom in his garage area after Karam had to skip out on the big dance because of a practice in Indianapolis. Now he's looking forward to receiving his degree, but he would have liked to collect some hardware first.
“It would have been cool to have a 500 Champion ring on my finger as I walked across the stage, but top-10 isn't so bad either.
“I don't know how many 19-year-olds had this much fun today,” Karam said. “I'm just taking it all in.”