Junior Open Wheel Talent

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Karam drives away from field at Iowa Speedway

by Ryan Stringfield
Posted June 26, 2011 at 5:37 pm Star Mazda

Sage Karam (88) leads Martin Scuncio (60) and the rest of the Star Mazda field Saturday at Iowa Speedway. (Photo: Doug Patterson)

Sage Karam felt his tires come up to temperature on his second qualifying lap Saturday at Iowa Speedway.

The car felt good, real good. So good, in fact, that he nearly broke the track record, missing it by a mere 0.065 seconds on his second trip around the 0.875-mile high-banked oval.

In order to be fast in a Star Mazda car at Iowa, a driver needs to be flat out and on the opening lap of the 100-lap Star Mazda race, Karam was flat-out fast.

But, so was Martin Scuncio who started on the outside of the front row after qualifying second.

“We raced each other clean,” Karam said of his early wheel-to-wheel battle with Scuncio. “We got a little close, but he raced me clean. [Andretti Autosport] set my car up to come in pretty quick, so I was flat right off the bat.”

The two stayed side-by-side for the opening four laps until Scuncio drifted a bit wide at the exit of Turn 4 and tagged the outside wall with his right-rear tire. Still, Scuncio was able to continue and hold onto second position. The mistake was costly, however, as Karam quickly built a gap on Scuncio and the rest of the field.

When the checkered flag waved, Karam crossed the stripe with a 7.837-second advantage. It was the second-consecutive victory for the 16-year-old phenom — who become the youngest driver to win a Star Mazda race on June 19 at Milwaukee (He was 16-years and 101-days old at the time). The previous record was held by current IndyCar driver Graham Rahal.

On Lap 21, Karam had extended his advantage to 2.5 seconds. Then on Lap 46, Scuncio was forced to pit as an oil-line came loose ending his day. A yellow flag bunched up the field, but only temporarily. J.V. Horto replaced teammate Scuncio in the runner-up spot as the field took the green flag for a restart on Lap 50.

Karam developed a slight understeer, but still managed to build another gap as the rest of the field seemed to be battling the same issue.

“The tires came up pretty good, but started to fall off a little bit about Lap 50 or 60,” Karam recalled post-race. “We started getting an understeer and that’s when I went full soft with the bar. I had one click in towards soft and after that I just kept clicking it until I got to full soft.”

Horto continued to push hard chasing Karam and tagged the wall lightly at the exit of Turn 4 on Lap 53, leaving a black streak along the exterior wall only a few feet from where Scuncio had touched during the opening laps.

“I was able to get a good start and get into the draft,” Horto said. “[Iowa] a big track and it’s a tough course to pass on. My lap times fell off about 2 or 3/10s during the race as we started picking up some understeer.”

As Karam continued to lead the way, Horto began to feel the pressure from Tristan Vautier, Gustavo Menezes and Connor De Phillippi with about 33 laps remaining. Those four would continue to fight for position as the laps wound down.

With 10 to go, championship leader Vautier dove to the inside of Turn 1 attempting to overtake Horto for the runner-up position. The attempt failed and relegated Vautier back to fourth as Menezes advanced to third.

“That pass was a lot of fun,” Menezes said with a smile in his post-race interview. “I was pretty excited when I got around [Vautier]. Luckily when we got through traffic I was able to get into a good position and duck underneath him. I got a good draft and went inside. At that point, I was able to pull a gap and work on catching J.V. [Horto].”

With just five laps to go, Connor De Phillippi became the next race casualty pulling into pit lane after his right-rear tire went down. He was running fifth at the time.

De Phillippi’s misfortune elevated Tatiana Calderon into fifth position. On Thursday, Calderon suffered a big crash during open testing. The incident had her team (Juncos Racing) turning wrenches for 42 hours straight as the squad pulled an all-nighter Thursday working to prepare all four team cars. Calderon offered a reward for the hard work by rebounding to qualify seventh and ultimately securing a top-five finish.

Juncos also had reason to celebrate with Horto finishing in the runner-up position after starting fourth and Menezes finishing third after starting back in sixth place. The final result marked Menezes’ first-career podium finish. The up-and-coming rookie flew to Hungary on Sunday to prepare for his next race in the Formula Renault 2.0 series.

“I’m leaving for the Hungaroring tomorrow,” he commented Saturday. “I’m running six races in Europe. I’ve done two races already and it’s helped me transition [to Star Mazda] a little quicker. There are 45 cars in the Renault series and there isn’t a blocking rule, so everyone’s really aggressive. You have to work your butt off there. I feel really good driving both cars and I think driving the 2.0 cars will really help me in the Star Mazda Championship on the road courses. I’m happy with how everything is going this year. My confidence is boosting pretty quick.”

Vautier, driving for JDC MotorSports, held on for fourth in the race, maintaining his championship lead by eight points. Karam’s win bumped him to second in the point standings, just six marks above De Phillippi who resides in third.

The Star Mazda drivers will return to road-course action on July 21-23 at Mosport International Raceway in Bowmanville, Canada.

Full results after the jump.

Star Mazda Championship
Iowa Speedway – Round 5
Race Results

  1. Sage Karam
  2. JV Horto
  3. Gustavo Menezes
  4. Tristan Vautier
  5. Tatiana Calderon
  6. Joao Jardim
  7. Nick Andries
  8. Carlos Linares
  9. Nick Mancuso
  10. JW Roberts
  11. Connor De Phillippi
  12. Martin Scuncio
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