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Indy Lights champion Sage Karam gets top career experience in 1st Rolex 24 at Daytona

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Sage Karam had a race filled with firsts.

Just not the one that mattered: finishing first.

The Indy Lights champion competed in his first Rolex 24 at Daytona with the defending, race-winning car from Chip Ganassi Racing and joked a win would give him a Rolex watch to wear to his prom.

But the team was plagued by problems and eliminated from contention before Karam ever got behind the wheel.

So the 18-year-old had to settle for crossing off a number of achievements on his resume.

It was his first international race, his first race in a car with a roof and the first time he's had to make pit stops. His two stints in the cockpit also marked the longest stretches Karam has competed in a paid race.

"Before this race, I've driven Indy Lights and I've only really been in the car at one point for about an hour," he said. "So this is the first time I've been in the car for more than an hour at a time. Also, this is the first time I've ever done pit stops, and the first time I've ever had to share a car with people, so it was a completely new experience for me.

"I look at is as, the more cars you drive, the more tools you start to become familiar with and can use in different types of racing."

Karam was the third-youngest driver in the field. He had Sean Rayall beat by five days, and is seven months older than Madison Snow. So young compared to the rest of the field, Karam wasn't legally able to rent a car upon his arrival in Daytona and had to be shuttled back and forth between the hotel and Daytona International Speedway.

Once at the track Saturday for the start of the twice-around-the-clock endurance race, he got to sit around and wait for his turn in the No. 01 Ford.

And wait.

And wait some more.

Teamed with five-team Rolex winner Scott Pruett, regular driver Memo Rojas and NASCAR's Jamie McMurray, Karam was last in line to drive and was going to be used on an "as needed basis." He wound up getting a pair of two-hour stints behind the wheel, the first at the halfway mark of the race and then again at 8 a.m. Sunday.

"I'm really tired, actually," he said. "Those are some graveyard shifts right there."

Now Karam waits to see what's next for him, besides returning to high school classes in Pennsylvania on Monday.

Returning to Indy Lights isn't really an option because there's nothing left for him to accomplish in the feeder series, but he doesn't have a ride solidified for IndyCar with the season opener just two months away.

He's hopeful his time working with the Ganassi organization for the Rolex can lead to a longer role in the company, either a hybrid job of sports car racing and IndyCar in 2014, or perhaps a spot in a second sports-car entry.

"That's the cool thing about this team, is that they have a car pretty much in every series that you can take your career in any path you want to," he said. "My heart has always been IndyCar. I've always wanted to be in IndyCar and the Indy 500 since I was like 4 years old. But I'm a race-car driver. I would drive a lawnmower if I needed to.

"This was a great opportunity for me and I'm really grateful that they have the confidence to throw me in the car. I'm hoping I did a good enough job that maybe you can see me in the sports car, if not in an Indy car, in the near future."

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