Sage Karam

Sage Karam, the 2013 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion, confirmed that he'll be on the grid for the Verizon IndyCar Series season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in the No. 8 Chip Ganassi Racing GE LED Chevrolet.

Karam made his series debut in the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race last May, and also has competed in sports car races with Chip Ganassi Racing Teams.

“I think the audition phase for me is done. It's more about going out and doing our best," said Karam, 19, a native of Nazareth, Pa., who moved to Indianapolis this week to be close to the team headquarters. "We're not looking to set the world on fire, but we're also not looking to be slow in these cars. It’s such an honor to get the opportunity to race full time in the Verizon IndyCar Series, especially in a CGRT car. The 2014 season was a great learning experience with the team as a whole and I feel prepared to get out there and be competitive.

"This is truly one of the biggest days of my life and now I’m just ready for the season to get started.”

Karam will work with veteran engineer Eric Cowdin. Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Charlie Kimball -- who have combined for four series championships, two Indianapolis 500 victories and 53 Indy car wins -- are his teammates.

"I'm sure if I was a veteran in the series and came over to Chip Ganassi Racing and knew what was going on I could take little things from each one of them and go out there," said Karam, who has testing in the offseason at NOLA Motorsports Park and Sebring International Raceway. "Because I'm a 19-year-old rookie who as not really driven these cars much, to have these guys as resources with the knowledge they have you try to take in as much as you can but it can be overwhelming. They have been so helpful already."

The team continues to work on sponsorship for the remainder of the season.

"If there ever was a kid that deserved an opportunity in this series it is Sage," team owner Chip Ganassi said. "He has done everything that we have asked him to do and has turned a lot of heads whether it is driving an IndyCar, sports car or simply making appearances.  Sage is a class act and we are happy to have him run in St. Petersburg as we continue to work on the rest of the season.”

Jakes ready to get started

A week after testing with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports at NOLA Motorsports Park, James Jakes was smiling wide and often for photos, videos and interviews during Verizon IndyCar Series media day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Jakes, 27, was announced Feb. 16 as the driver of the No. 7 Honda as a teammate to James Hinchcliffe.

"I think we can do great things," said Jakes, who competed in 2011-12 with Dale Coyne Racing and in 2013 with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. "We have a nice amount of test days before the first race, which will be helpful. It's going to be a great year for not just for the drivers and teams, but the fans with the different aero kits. It will put quite a different scene on IndyCar, which is something everybody wants."

Hinchcliffe also is entering his first season with the team after three years with Andretti Autosport, which ran Chevrolet engines in 2014.

"(The team has) always done a really good job," he said. "They're a relatively young team in this sport when you compare against Penske and Ganassi. The success they've had in that short period was very impressive from the outside. Now getting to see how it works from the inside, I certainly understand why. I always said that racing isn't about cars or tires engines, it's about people.

"I feel that pressure as well because they have been successful. It's up to me to kind of keep that going. But the testing we've had so far has been very good. We're learning a lot about each other. There's some differences in setup and things like that that I had to get used to, some things that I brought with me that suit more my style. It's all an evolution and I think we're getting there. There's no reason to think that we can't be just as competitive if not more so."

Castroneves expects all four Team Penske drivers in title chase

Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves, who has been the series championship runner-up the past two seasons, said he expects to contend for the title again. And he expects Team Penske teammates Juan Pablo Montoya, Simon Pagenaud and 2014 series champion Will Power to be among his chief competition.

"I think we have a very good potential here to do something very strong," he said. "Obviously, in racing there is a lot of variables. At this point Team Penske is prepared as much as they can to do what we did last year.  I do feel we have a strong team here so we can battle each other for the championship."

Of note

Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Co., the parent of INDYCAR and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, said paid attendance -- not including suites -- for May 2014 at the Speedway increased 75,000 to 360,000. ... Like most everyone in INDYCAR, Kanaan was caught by surprise a few weeks ago with the cancellation of the scheduled March 8 race in Brasilia, Brazil, by the government agency that owns the racetrack. “My biggest concern was how this was going to affect the series," said Kanaan, a Brazil native. "I guess Mark Miles and his team did a great job protecting that. It’s a big disappointment." ... Karam and CFH Racing's Josef Newgarden will participate in drills Feb. 18 at the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.