Sage Karam will be settling into the seat of his No. 24 DRR Wix Filters Chevrolet for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing on Saturday, but it will be in the comfort of his own home.
Karam will be among the large contingent of NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers taking part in the inaugural INDYCAR iRacing Challenge, which will be a virtual race among the series' best. Saturday's event will begin at 4 p.m. ET and be streamed through INDYCAR.com for fans to enjoy the action. It also will be available on INDYCAR's YouTube and Facebook as well as iRacing's Twitch.
The experience and expectations will be widely varied among the series athletes participating, and Karam would fall into the veteran category with high expectations. He owns some of the best equipment, practices on his personal computer almost daily in his home in Nazareth, Pa., and is a member of an actual simulation team. Through iRacing, which organizes, hosts and officiates online racing on virtual tracks around the world, Karam gets to hone his skills against some of the top gamers.
Most NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers own proper gaming equipment, but they use iRacing to varying degrees. Some drivers are more active than others, which means their skill sets vary.
Given his experience in iRacing, Karam was asked what should we expect in Saturday's INDYCAR iRacing Challenge debut event. The INDYCAR iRacing Challenge will run weekly on Saturdays at 4 p.m. ET through May 2.
How serious are NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers about sim racing on their personal computers?
"I'd say about 30 percent are into sim racing and about 15 percent are religious about it. If you've jumped in an actual simulator (as professional drivers have) and know how to drive a race car like we do, there's a pretty decent chance you're going to be competitive."
What level of equipment does an INDYCAR driver need to be competitive Saturday?
"Honestly, if they've got a decent computer that can run the software they should be fine. Anyone who is serious has good stuff. Like, I've got a pretty good set of pedals that I can calibrate to my liking – I like it to feel how hard you have to hit the brakes in an Indy car to stop it. But it's like anything else, it can get expensive. When I started, I had a (combined) pedal and steering wheel unit that cost me $300. Now, my pedals alone cost $1,500, and I have three monitors. It can get pretty crazy, like racing does."
Is the sensation similar to driving on an actual track?
"You're feeling the strength it takes to drive an actual car, but you're not feeling the little details – that feeling in your butt or feeling when the car bottoms out or loses traction or slides. You don't get those little details. But it's pretty close in a lot of ways."
Would you rather virtually race on a road course or an oval?
"I think a road course puts on a better show; it would go a lot smoother and be a better show than an oval. When you're on a simulator you have no fear of getting hurt, so on an oval you're not scared to make a mistake. You can make it three-wide going into a corner where you'd never do that in real life and if you wreck it's like … 'OK.' So, on a road course there are a lot fewer yellows and that makes for a better show."
Everyone in this race will have the same car setup, which takes away some of the advantage you might have as an experienced sim racer. Is that the best way?
"Yes. We want this to be a competitive race. With open setups, I would do better, for sure. But for fairness, this is the best thing for everyone — and the fans."
Obviously, large gatherings have been shuttered for the next several weeks. Do you find a simulated race to be a good alternative for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES and its fans?
"We all know why we can't (gather in large groups). We're the only sport that can do something like this. It's a win-win for all of us. It gives us something to compete in, and it's cool for the fans. It's a pretty good solution with everything that's going on."