MONTERREY, Mexico (March
5, 2001) - Max Papis couldn't have asked for a better opening race in last year's CART FedEx Championship Series.
Papis, driver of the Miller Lite Ford for Team Rahal, scored a come-from-behind victory at Homestead, Fla., only a few miles from his hometown Miami Beach. It was a celebration with his family, friends and fans as "Mad Max" stood atop his open-wheeler pumping his fist in the winner's circle.
"That win was very special because it had many meanings for me," said Papis, who seeks a repeat performance in the CART opener on Sunday (March 11) at Monterrey, Mexico. "My parents were there from Italy as well as many friends and it was in Miami, my hometown. But it was also the race my good friend Greg Moore had won the year before. And it was the first race after Greg had died (at Fontana in October, 1999). It was a day I will never forget."
Now Papis is prepared for another season opener and can he win again?
"I would not predict something like that," he said after a recently testing session. "Last year, the Miller Lite car got better as the race went on. You can do that on an oval. But on road circuit, you need a good car almost from the start. Passing is not as easy on a road circuit. But that doesn't mean we can't come back and win again."
Papis is anxious to hit the new Monterrey road circuit after impressive tests in the new Lola car.
"I'm very excited about the new Lola car," said Papis. "I have always driven a Reynard in CART (for four and a half years) and that was a good car. But the new Lola has been strong on both the ovals and the roads. Our engineers have spent a lot of time developing the new car. I'm just ready to go out and race after all of the testing."
New CART rules have mandated that that the teams cannot test their machines during the season.
"I like the new rules since it is equal for everybody," said Papis, the former Most Improved Driver in CART. "The teams have the same amount of time on the track during the season. It's now a total team effort. The engineers and crew make up a big part of the results. Plus the driver is important in his feedback to the team."
While Papis prepares for the Mexico opener on the track in testing, the popular Italian driver has been preparing all winter long off the track. Papis is one of the most fit drivers on the CART FedEx tour as he works with three Italian doctors on his physical and mental preparation.
"The physical and mental stress on a driver's body and mind in these champ cars is incredible," said Papis about driving at 240 m.p.h. "I've been training for my sport since I was 14 years old. The G-forces on the body and concentration level on the brain is at a higher level than in any sport. A driver must be at the top of his game."
And Papis and the Miller Lite Ford Lola are expected to be at the top of their game when the green flag drops in Mexico.
"The competition is so strong in CART right now that I would say that between 12 to 15 drivers are capable of winning at every race," said Papis. "And sometimes it is even more contenders. You cannot give less than 110 per cent at all times. And I believe we are prepared for the championship fight."
NOTES: Papis suffered through a tough year after his 2000 victory, finishing just nine of19 races… When he did finish last year, "Mad Max" was in the Top Ten in nine of 10 races… Last year, Papis scored a second on the street circuit in Detroit and a fourth on the permanent road course at Mid-Ohio… In 1995, Max drove in seventh Formula One races for Arrows… Received his "Mad Max" monitor while driving in the World Sports Car series in 1996… Papis is again working with three former PPI teammates in 2001 now with Team Rahal - Mark Johnson (Director of Operations), John Dick (Race Engineer) and Bobby Golasinski (Crew Chief).
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