Q and A with Indy Lights title contenders
Gabby is second in Firestone Indy Lights points heading into this weekend's Lefty's Kids Club 100 at Auto Club Speedway. He trails Sage Karam by 16 points heading into the race. Gabby, just talk a little bit about battling for a title. I know last year you battled Jack Hawksworth and Sage for the Pro Mazda title, so a title fight is nothing new to you. But talk about how you are approaching this last race at Auto Club Speedway.
GABBY CHAVES: Funny thing you mentioned that because last year it was the same three guys fighting for the title and promoting the championship, the same three guys who are first, second and third in the Indy Lights championship this year. I seemed to be stuck in the middle last year and trying to squeeze my way one position for this last race. Interesting for that, but I think the preparation that we've had all year leads to this last race, which will be the most important race possibly of our careers. We've been preparing very hard fitness‑wise and mentally and working on the simulator and working with the team and everything. This is where it comes down to the line.
MODERATOR: We have been joined by Firestone Indy Lights points leader Sage Karam, also of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Welcome to the call. I just asked Gabby, last year you found yourself in a title position battling Gabby and Jack Hawksworth for the title. One year later you're battling Gabby and Jack Hawksworth for the Firestone Indy Lights title, only you're leading the points. Just talk a little bit about how you are approaching Fontana this weekend.
SAGE KARAM: It's the second year in a row that we're battling it out. I figured it would come down to us three. I think we definitely had a powerhouse team this year, bringing the top three in from Star Mazda, which is now Pro Mazda. Going into Fontana, no different from any other weekend. People are asking me what do I need to do to win the championship. I really don't have to look into it too hard. If I win the race, I win the championship. (Team co-owner) Sam (Schmidt) said to me before the race in Houston, win the race and you're going to win the championship. That's our main focus is win the race, and hopefully we can get the title from there.
MODERATOR: Talk a little bit about battling a teammate for the title. You guys both know that you guys have equal equipment, and if you're struggling you could actually look at the other guy's data. Talk about battling a teammate for a championship.
SAGE KARAM: I think battling Gabby is going to make it a little bit easier just because I know what he's got compared to what I've got, and I see his data, I see his video. Everything he's doing is going to be in front of my eyes. You know, there's no hiding anything, and there's no secrets. We're still teammates. We're still going to be sharing data. We're still going to be acting as a team, but we're going to race each other hard, and I think it's definitely better to be racing Gabby going into this weekend knowing that I'm going to be having all his stuff and all his video and everything compared to if I was racing (Carlos) Munoz where I wouldn't know anything and there would be a lot more X‑factors. I think it definitely plays in both of our hands that we're racing each other, other than somebody else on another team.
GABBY CHAVES: Like Sage said, there's nothing to hide from each other. You can't go out there and work out a magic trick and hope that the other one is not going to find out because we're sharing everything. That will play into someone's advantage, whether it be him or me. We're running our team, so first of all we've got to look at the team and say, wow, what a great job they're doing, not only this season but in the past seasons, as well. They always give us cars to win races and win a championship. I think it's going to be a very interesting last race. I know Sage has got a comfortable lead in points. The way I see it all I have to do is go out there and win the race, and whatever happens behind me happens. I can't control anything from there on. So I've just got to go out there, do my best and see if it plays in our favor or not.
Q: Sage, I know that a couple of the guys have had some tests with IndyCar teams already, and I know it's a little early to be looking ahead to something like that, but have you had any discussions with any teams at this point about what might happen in 2014 if this thing works out in your favor this weekend?
SAGE KARAM: I really haven't had much discussion about IndyCar. The focus has really been on trying to get this title nailed down. I don't think anybody really thought we would be in this position at the end of the year, and I mean, even with the start I had and the mid‑season troubles I've had, I almost was doubting myself that I was going to even be in this position. So I kind of almost wrote off IndyCar next year. And then we turned our season around and we got here. But no, I really haven't been in any discussion. I'm sure after this weekend if things go well, I'm sure that we'll talk to Sam. He's going to be the first guy we go to, obviously, and then we'll go from there and see what happens.
Q: Is your sponsor with you? If you get an IndyCar ride for next year, is he on board with that program, as well?
SAGE KARAM: Yes. Michael Fux, Comfort Revolution, he's showed no signs of going anywhere. This year has been the most support he's ever given to me, the most like ‑‑ just being there for me. He's been a great guy this year. When times got tough, he ended up calling me down to his office in New Jersey and helping me out, talking to me, giving me new ways to train, and usually a sponsor when times are going tough can turn their back on you, and he did the complete opposite and ensured me that he was going to be there 100, 200 percent, whatever it's going to take, that he was going to be here and get me to that next level. I'm confident that he's going to be on board.
Q: Gabby, just talk about what it would mean for you to come from behind here in the last race and win the title.
GABBY CHAVES: I think it would be amazing. Obviously, I have a whole team behind me, not just speaking of the actual car team but my whole family, all my sponsors, everyone that's ever believed in me, has worked so hard to get me to where I am today, and to be in the position of possibly winning the championship and to have pretty good odds of doing so. It would be just an amazing thing. I think words can't really describe what it would mean to everyone and to me, because it's almost like breaking through that barrier where you've struggled and worked so hard to get to where you are, and you just have one more tiny step to get to the other side of the mountain. If we were able to do that, it would be fantastic.
Q: Sage, because you've won twice on ovals this year, is there an advantage for you and your team on the oval, or are the cars from Schmidt Peterson so close that there is no advantage going into the weekend?
SAGE KARAM: I think Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has given me and Gabby and (Jack) Hawksworth a great car week in and week out, every track we've been to. So I expect we're going to show up and we're going to be fast. I figure it's going to be us and the Andretti cars again up front. I figured Munoz was going to be tough because he was pretty dominant here last year when he won the race. But I think there's an advantage to me and Gabby. Gabby beat me at Indianapolis, I beat him at Pocono and Milwaukee and Iowa, but he was second and third, so he's right behind me. We're going to be close. We're going to be breathing down each other's necks out there. If I'm in front of him, I think he's going to be right at my tail and it's going to be let the best man win honestly. I don't really feel any pressure right now. I think if anything he's got the pressure.
Q: With all your wrestling, how do you equate going into this race with the biggest wrestling match that you've ever been in in your career? This would be the biggest car race that you've had to this point, and how would that translate to a big wrestling match?
SAGE KARAM: This is the biggest car race of my life, knowing that the dream of IndyCar is one race away. It's just an insane feeling, it really is. I don't know how it could compare to wrestling because I've never been at a level like this in wrestling like I am in racing. But both things I'm going to have to be mentally tough going into and mentally tough during, and I think that's one advantage wrestling gives is just being able to stay mentally tough and focused the whole six minutes that I'm object the mat, and it's going to let me stay focused the whole 100 miles in the car for the race. I'm going to approach it the same way I would a wrestling match. It's just clear minds, better performance, and that's what I'm going to go with.
Q: Obviously you have a lot of experience on the short ovals between Milwaukee and Iowa, and Indy is completely different in terms of it being a two‑and‑a‑half‑mile flat oval, but how do you expect this oval, a two‑mile with a bit of bumps, different grooves, tires falling off, what have you, how do you expect it to race differently than the other ovals you guys have had experience with?
SAGE KARAM: I think the biggest thing for me and Gabby right now is the track is the X‑factor. If he's nervous, if I'm nervous, it's because we don't know about the track. We've never drove there. We don't know much about it. The only thing we've ever seen is data and on‑board video. It's a lot different going to a track like Milwaukee and Iowa where I've raced now two or three years in a row where I expect ‑‑ I know everything for Turn 1 to Turn 2 to Turn 3. Everything is just the same for me. I think that this track, I've seen it last year, I've watched the video, the highlights. The tire degradation does play a key role in this, so it's going to be on Friday, figure out how we're going to plan out our race, if we're going to go out hard and hope the tires hang on or if we're going to go out kind of slower and then be faster at the end. I guess it all depends really where we're starting and how our pace is in practice when we're running race runs. We'll see. We're looking forward to it.
GABBY CHAVES: I think, much like Sage is saying, when you go to a track that you've been to, you know what you're expecting, and you can kind of play your cards based on that. But here none of us have been there, so we don't know what to expect. We don't have very much practice time. I believe we got one practice and then we go straight into qualifying. So it's going to be difficult, obviously, but I have so much confidence in my team. I know my team will guide me in the right direction to give me the best possible chance of winning the championship, so that's what we want to do. We just want to go out there and be super strong, super fast, and I think on like the short ovals where I didn't really have much experience and I didn't have the performance that I would have had in the second or third year, on the bigger ovals Sage is also kind of a rookie to them, as well. In Indy and Pocono we're very evenly matched, so I'm expecting a bit more of that into Fontana, and for sure it's going to be a great showdown until the last lap.
Q: What's your favorite oval or road course?
SAGE KARAM: I'd say my favorite oval, I like the short ovals. I like Milwaukee because you've really got to drive the car and the car really changes throughout the run. Obviously, Indianapolis just because of the historic value in the place. Just racing around Indianapolis is an incredible feeling, and being part of that finish, me and Gabby were part of the four‑wide finish going down in history, that'll never be forgotten between both of us. Everyone loves Indianapolis, so I'd say Indianapolis and Milwaukee are my two favorite ovals. And then favorite road course, I like the street circuits. I'd say Baltimore is my favorite.
GABBY CHAVES: Hands down Indianapolis is my number one for ovals. I've had some good times in the other ovals we've raced at but nothing like Indianapolis and nothing comes even close to the historic meaning that it holds. So hands down for Indy. Where the road course comes in, I enjoy the street circuits. I think they bring out really ‑‑ separate the drivers, the great drivers from the good drivers, so I really like them, as well. And absolutely, I think every driver really enjoys the track they win at, so I've got to say mid‑Ohio is one of my favorites. I've won there, and to me it's high speed like a roller coaster, and I love roller coasters.
Q: They're rebuilding the road course at Indianapolis. You'll get a chance to run on that next year. What's your feelings on that?
SAGE KARAM: I think it's a good thing. I'm pretty sure Gabby ran his first Indy Lights car there like me, as well, so we tested there. It was a great track, very smooth, very flowing. I think it's going to make a good show for the fans. F1 raced there and they seemed to have some good races there. We're looking forward to it. I think redoing it and repaving it is going to be good. I think the track surface there was a little bit low on grip, so I think bringing this new stuff in is going to help out a lot.
GABBY CHAVES: I think the Month of May just got twice as good as it was this year. I think it's going to be a great show having two races in Indianapolis, one road course and one superspeedway. I think it's awesome for the fans, awesome for the drivers, and I really can't wait to get on it. Like Sage said, this was both our first time that we drove an Indy Lights car, and you've got the super long straight where you're running really low on aero and downforce, and then you've got hard braking zones, hard corners. It's going to make for some fun driving as well as some great spectating for the fans.
Q: How did you come up with the nickname SK Moneybags, and have you worked on your donuts at all since Houston?
SAGE KARAM: SK Moneybags, wow. That was in my wrestling season and stuff, and being with my friends, for some reason SK money became a name for me, and I don't know, we always ‑‑ I guess you could say my favorite kind of music is rap music, and we always act a little goofy and try to rap but we're not very good, but we still like to think we are. But as you said, for the donuts, I went to go do a doughnut, and I dropped the clutch and I ended up snapping the clutch line, and I guess there was oil everywhere. And then I guess from the exhaust fumes and everything, it ended up lighting it, so I lost my clutch, and then the car went up on fire so I lost the ignition, and it was not a good attempt at doing a donut, that's for sure.
Q: So you wouldn't try one this weekend if you won?
SAGE KARAM: Maybe if I won the race. If I won the race maybe I would do a donut. If I won the championship maybe just come in and celebrate. I remember my engineers told me they never wanted to see me do a donut for getting second. So we'll see.
Q: During the summer when things were kind of going away for you, what kept you focused during that time?
SAGE KARAM: I was just at an all‑time low at Mid‑Ohio. I've had two bad weekends in my life, obviously, but I don't really remember having two of the worst weekends of racing back‑to‑back, ever. So it was a lot for me to handle, and I've never experienced anything like this. I was really down on myself. I ended up going to a sports psychologist, Dr. Jarrod down in the Lehigh Valley, and he really cleared my mind and got me back on track, and made me see the good things that are coming out of this, you know, that it wasn't all bad and it was going to be all good. That's when I took the championship lead and then I ended up losing the championship lead.
I'd like to say that getting the championship lead and losing it was the best thing that's happened to me this year. You know, I think it taught me the biggest lesson I've learned this year was that if you're in the championship lead is not to drive conservative and save points and go for just points and win the championship. You've still got to be aggressive and still drive the way you've always drove and what got me here.
So that's what I ended up doing now. I just really had to clear my mind, and a lot of family support and friend support, you know, just keeping me up and saying that things are going to be good, and knowing that things were going to be good. Then we got the next race at Baltimore. So I think that was the turning point.
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