Rallycross ‘Starting to Click’ for Sage Karam [EXCLUSIVE]

Sage Karam

Getty Sage Karam has provided some feedback about the Nitro Rallycross Next series.

Sage Karam has tested his driving skills across multiple disciplines in 2021, including stock car racing, open-wheel, and rallycross. He doesn’t have much experience on dirt tracks, but his two wins in five rounds of the Nitro Rallycross Next series show that everything is starting to click.

Karam joined the NRX Next series for the 2021 season and continued a relationship with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing that also includes IndyCar races dating back to 2016. Karam hasn’t achieved his goal of winning the Indy 500 just yet, but he has already made a name for himself in the inaugural NRX Next season while battling younger drivers with extensive backgrounds in rallycross.

Karam won for the first time in 2021 at ERX Motor Park, taking the checkered flag in a wild fashion. He spun on the opening lap, prompting the announcers to declare that he was out of contention. However, he methodically began working his way through the field in the remaining laps and crossed the finish line first, stunning himself, the crowd, and the announcers.

“I kind of thought the race was over at that point,” Karam told Heavy before practice on November 13. “But, you know, I kind of just put my head down. From there, I just was like, ‘I’m just gonna run qualifying laps and hopefully, get to the pack. I did my Joker [lap] right away so I could just focus on just running a normal line and just chipping away at them.”

A Joker lap is an alternate route around the rallycross track that each driver must take before the white flag. Some opt to follow the route early to get it out of the way while others wait until the last possible moment. Karam opted to hit the Joker early after his spin, allowing him to simply focus on running clean laps for the remainder of the race.

“Next thing you know, I’m in a battle of like four cars, and we get around all of them,” Karam continued. “And I’m like, ‘Well, I think I’m in a podium spot now, but I don’t really know.’ Then I came across the finish line, got checkered. I didn’t even know I won. I asked the team, I was like, ‘what did we get?’ And they’re like, ‘you just won.’ I couldn’t believe it.”

Following the win at EXR Motor Park, Karam headed to Arizona for the third round of the season. He posted solid runs during practice sessions on both November 12 and 13, but he suffered heavy damage to the No. 24 entry during his first heat race.

The car left the track on a flatbed, creating concern about Karam’s ability to contend. However, the Dreyer & Reinbold Racing team put in extra effort and got him back onto the track for his next event. Karam went on to win the final race of Saturday’s schedule, capping off what he called a “drama-free” event.

Nitro Rallycross Next Events Are Vastly Different Than Karam’s Other Outings

Sage Karam

GettySage Karam prepares for a race at Daytona International Speedway.

While he has considerable experience behind the wheel of several vehicles, Karam had to make some adjustments early in the NRX Next season. The events are vastly different than NASCAR Xfinity Series, IndyCar, or endurance races due to multiple factors. Chief among them is the time in the vehicle.

“Those races are over two hours long,” Karam said. “These things are six minutes long, so it’s a totally different mentality. And in those other types of racing where it’s like you’re in it for the long run and you’re trying to just put yourself in a position for the last bit of the race. Here, it’s like you’re driving 110% every single lap and if you do have a mistake, like the spin we had, you don’t have much time to get it back. So it is a totally different mentality, but I love this racing. It’s fun, it’s got so much action to it.”

To Karam’s point, the 2021 Indy 500 on May 30 lasted two hours and 37 minutes. The Xfinity Series championship race on November 6 lasted two hours and 22 minutes. The Minnesota race that Karam won was a total of six laps, resulting in a shorter event with ramped-up intensity.

The other significant change for Karam has been the switch to a dirt racing surface. He has some experience in American Rallycross. He started five races in 2019, resulting in three second-place finishes and a win at Mid-Ohio. However, those ARX stages were different than what Karam has faced during the inaugural NRX Next season.

“I did a couple of races of this about two years ago,” Karam added. “We did pretty well with that I think my worst finish was like a second. I think I finished second like four or five times and I won one race but those tracks were like half asphalt. These tracks are basically all dirt, so for me, it’s been a transition. I’ve had to learn, and I’ve definitely not had the speed in Nitro as I did in ARX [American Rallycross] two years ago. And I think that’s just mostly because I’m just not totally used to dirt.”

Despite dealing with a learning experience, Karam has worked with his teammates, including Conner Martell, to quickly make improvements. Winning his race in Minnesota only boosted his confidence heading toward Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park and the remaining events. He capitalized by winning once again.

Karam Had High Praise for Travis Pastrana’s Purpose-Built Tracks

As a driver with considerable experience on asphalt and far less so on dirt, Karam has continued to focus on improving his skills. Some of the tracks have aided in this pursuit, such as Travis Pastrana’s purpose-built course at the Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park.

As Karam explained to Heavy, he has struggled in the past with tight, hairpin corners. The track in Phoenix does not present this problem. Pastrana and his trusted crew designed a course with faster sections, bigger jumps, and more sweeping corners.

“I feel like every track we’ve gone to has gotten cooler and cooler,” Karam said. “So the whole series has done a great job with giving us something really fun to drive. And it’s cool to be able to hit some pretty big jumps along the way.

“This track’s definitely not short on those. There’s some pretty big ones here. There’s a corner here that’s like off-camber. You go over a crest sideways. I mean, it’s got a little bit of everything.”

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