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Teen driver Karam hopes for bright Indy 500 debut

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — From prom to pits, Sage Karam has been money at Indianapolis.

The 19-year-old Indy 500 rookie has danced in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway paddock at a makeshift prom, was runner-up to Scott Dixon in the pit crew competition and become an instant fan favorite and media darling with his carefree persona.

“Where’s all the young girls?” he quipped before Saturday’s autograph session.

Plenty of `em were lined up for the blue-eyed, blond-haired Karam. He’s kind of hard to miss: Karam’s mug was pasted on oversized $100 bills passed out around the track, a fitting tribute for his SK$ moniker.

Karam, who graduates high school next month starts 31st on Sunday in his IndyCar debut. He set a top-15 finish as a reasonable goal in an entry that is jointly fielded by Ganassi Racing and Dreyer & Reinbold Kingdom Racing.

“My friends think it’s pretty cool,” Karam said. “I haven’t seen a bunch of them in a while and we’re going to have some fun.”

The line came to a grinding halt at Saturday’s autograph session at the table where Karam and Sebastian Saavedra were eager to greet fans. The issue? Buddy Lazier had not arrived and many of the fans in line were waiting specifically for the 1996 winner. After a few minutes of no one approaching the table, Saavedra slid into Lazier’s empty seat and signed about dozen of his autograph cards. He pushed the signed cards forward and the fans began moving through the line again, taking the Lazier card with them.

“I guess we’re a bunch of No Buddy’s,” Karam wisecracked.

Karam, meanwhile, was his own autograph hound: He had IndyCar’s security official take a poster of the starting field to be autographed by the other 32 drivers in Sunday’s race.

He posed for pictures with Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and Olympic figure skater Gracie Gold at the Indy 500 parade and posted them on his Instagram account.

Karam made a splash when he attended a prom – a big party, really – with his girlfriend, Anna de Ferran. He missed because it was the same night as Indy 500 practice. Karam graduates from Nazareth (Pennsylvania) Area High School on June 10.

“This whole month has been a trip,” Karam said. “We’re just hoping for a great finish to cap it off.”

Here are five things to know headed into Sunday’s race:

EASY PICK: Michael Andretti believes the winning Indianapolis 500 driver drives for Andretti Autosport. He believes son, Marco, will get it done on Sunday and win the first Indy 500 for the family since Mario Andretti’s 1969 victory.

“This is his favorite time of the year, he’s extraordinary at this race track,” Michael Andretti said of Marco. “I’ve driven against the best of the best, and I’ve got to say, I think this was one of my best race tracks as a driver, and I think he’s better than I was. He’s amazing here.”

Marco Andretti starts sixth on Sunday, his ninth Indy 500.

NEEDS WORK: Oriol Servia won’t race in the doubleheader at Detroit next week because Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing does not have the sponsorship to field his car. The deal he signed with the team in March was for four races through the Indianapolis 500 as the team searched for more funding.

“They waited as long as they could,” Servia said. “I really had hopes this would grow into something longer. Maybe they’ll find something for later this season.

Servia will start 18th on Sunday.

CAUTION!: Tony Kanaan started his Indy 500 winning celebration early last year when a caution essentially ended the race. He circled the track under yellow for two final laps. Chip Ganassi, who fields a car this year for Kanaan, said IndyCar should move to a green-white checkered flag finish.

“(Ending on caution) is a complete letdown to the fans who are on site,” he said. “That’s something that other series have adopted that we need to adopt. It’s certainly disappointing to the on-site fans to see a race finish under yellow.”

SINGLE LADY: There have been at least three women starting every Indy 500 since 2010, and there was a record-tying four a year ago. But when the green flag drops on Sunday, Pippa Mann will be the only woman in this year’s race. Katherine Legge, Ana Beatriz and Simona de Silvestro are all pursuing other opportunities this year, leaving Mann to carry the torch by herself in her third Indy 500.

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SUNSCREEN REQUIRED: After temperatures hovered in the 50s last year, and the dress of choice was a sweater and stocking cap, the forecast for Sunday calls for a high of about 80 and plenty of sun. That could have an effect on the race, too. “When it gets hotter, the engine performs worse and the car slides a lot more,” Scott Dixon said. “If that’s the case, it will create a little more separation.”