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Max Papis

The eleventh instalment of my set of features looking at each driver who competed in the Rockingham 500.

My next series of features will be looking at each driver who competed in my first ever major international motorsport race, the 2001 Rockingham 500, the first time the American CART Championship had raced in the UK since 1979.

Having been confirmed the previous July, the race was held in front of 38,000 people who witnessed, at the time, the fastest ever laps on a British circuit, with hitting speeds of over 215 mph. It was also the first full length oval race in the UK since before the war, when cars roared round Brooklands.

I was seven when I watched the action at a very cold Rockingham, I remember my parents either side of me keeping me warm. However, I also remember the excitement of watching a major motorsport event trackside for the first time, having been to the official opening that May. The speed the cars hit was mind blowing and something I can still recall now.

The race was won by Gil de Ferran who executed a superb move on the last lap to beat Swede Kenny Brack, with fellow Brazilians Cristiano da Matta and Helio Castroneves finishing third and fourth.

Michael Andretti finished fifth ahead of his teammate Paul Tracy in sixth, with 1996 CART Champion Jimmy Vasser in seventh. The fourth Brazilian in the field Tony Kanaan was eighth ahead of home favourite Dario Franchitti.

Spaniard Oriol Servia rounded out the top ten for Sigma Autosport, while just outside the top ten, Italian Max Papis came home eleventh, a great recovery after spinning on the opening lap.

Like many of the drivers on the grid that day I have grown up respecting them hugely and Max is no different. I watched Max’s career closely throughout and always hoped he was faring well when I was not able to find out what he was up to.

He is a driver and a person I have great respect for, and a guy who is as down to earth as they come. I remember a few years ago he was a guest at the Goodwood Festival of Speed and as a fan I really wanted to meet Max. That year his Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet was being looked after by a man called Spencer who we have got to know very well over the years of going to Goodwood.

Spencer is a giant of a man, if you are into rock be sure to check out his band Further From the Sky, however once you get talking to him you will realise he is one of the nicest people you are ever likely to meet. While chatting to him, Max came in and started talking to the other mechanics there. At this point I plucked up the courage to go and ask Max for a picture and autograph, who was immediately immensely friendly and welcoming. My dad and I had a great chat with Max and while dad spoke to Spencer, Max invited me to watch his run up the hill including all the telemetry from his on board cameras, something which I found incredibly cool!

Never in a million years when I first saw Max race in 2001 did I think I would be analysing his driving and telemetry alongside him in great detail. It was a moment that was probably nothing for him but it is a memory which will live with me forever.

Born Massimiliano Papis on the 3rd October 1969, Max grew up in Como Italy, a beautiful medieval city beside Lake Como, for me, one of the most beautiful areas in the world. Because of its beauty and proximity to the Alps, it is a popular tourist destination all year round, with 1.4 million people visiting the area every year.

However despite the Alps being so close, skiing was never on Max’s mind as he developed a love for cars from an early age, winning numerous karting championships before making his full car debut at the age of 19 in the 1989 Italian Formula 3 series.

After contesting four races, his full season debut came a year later with Euroteam in the series, a year which featured other future stars such as Jacques Villeneuve, Luca Badoer and my favourite Alex Zanardi. Max ended the year seventeenth however it ensured he had a season of driving under his belt ready for 1991 in which he remained in the championship, winning twice on his way to seventh in the standings.

Sixth placed followed in 1992 in what proved to be his final season in the Italian Formula 3 Championship before graduating to Formula 3000 International for 1993 with Vortex, partnering fellow Italian Paolo delle Piane. The grid was full of stars that year including champion Olivier Panis, Pedro Lamy, David Coulthard and future CART star Gil de Ferran. Max ended the year tenth, convincingly beating his teammate, ensuring he remained in the series for 1994, now with Mythos alongside Fabrizio de Simone.

Max’s success increased once more as he won his first race on the International stage in Spain, ending the year sixth in the standings with thirteen points. 1994 also saw Max become Lotus’ test driver, a connection which saw him make his F1 debut a year later with Footwork, his sponsorship bring vital funds to the cash strapped team.

Although Max had made it to F1, he may have wanted to make it in different circumstances as he was often outpaced by teammate Taki Inoue in a car he was not familiar with, however he also suffered with some horrendous luck behind the wheel of his Footwork. His debut saw him retire spectacularly with a puncture before not even making the start in Germany due to a transmission failure, leaving him stranded on the grid.

Max racing in Formula 1 for Footwork-Hart in 1995

Gianni Morbidelli returned for the final three races of the season, leaving Max without a drive, ensuring he began his time in America.

1996 was his first taste of American Motorsport, joining Team Arciero-Wells for three of the final four rounds of the CART championship, replacing Jeff Krosnoff who sadly lost his life after a crash at Toronto. It was the first year of the premier American single seater split, in which Papis remained with the team heading into 1997, his first full season in America, partnering Hiro Matsushita.

His first full season in the series saw Max finish in the points once, however 1997 also saw Max make his endurance racing debut, driving in the 24 of Le Mans. Max competed in a Ferrari 333 SP alongside Gianpiero Moretti and Didier Theys, finishing the race sixth overall and third in class, ensuring a podium finishing on his debut.

Back in CART, Max remained with Team Arciero-Wells for one more season in 1998, and achieved a best result of fifth at Houston, a season which saw him finish the year on 25 points.

1999 was Max’s first season in CART away from Arciero-Wells as he joined heavyweights Team Rahal, partnering Bryan Herta, replacing team owner Bobby Rahal, who retired at the conclusion of the 1998 season. In a team with such experience, Max flourished, only finishing outside the top ten six times in the nineteen-race season, ending the year with two podiums.

Max ended the year fifth, ensuring he remained with the team for 2000, now alongside rookie Kenny Brack, who joined the team after finishing second in the 1999 International Formula 3000 Championship.

While Brack won rookie of the year, Max finished fourteenth, however he did win his first ever CART race, the opening round of the season at Homestead Miami. It was a blip for Max who returned to form in 2001, winning twice ending the year sixth.

Max competing for Team Rahal in 2001

It was his final full season in CART as he left Team Rahal at the conclusion of the 2001 season, joining Sigma Autosport for the first five races of the season, finishing third twice. However, despite a strong start to the season it was not enough to save the team who folded after round 5 due to financial issues.

2002 also saw Max make his Indy 500 debut, racing for Red Bull Cheever Racing, finishing 23rd having started 18th. He also raced for Team Penske later in the season in a run off race in Texas.

Although he returned to the CART Championship later in the season with Fernandez Racing and then in 2003 with PK Racing for seven rounds, Max has focussed on NASCAR and Sportscar Racing, returned to the 24 of Le Mans for the first time since making his debut in 2003.

He contested the 2003 even in the LMP900 class in a JML Team Panoz LMP01 Evo-Elan alongside Olivier Beretta and Gunner Jeannette. The trio completed 360 laps, ending the race fifth and third in class, ensuring he claimed his second Le Mans podium.

2003 also saw Papis make his American Le Mans Series debut, again with JLM Team Panoz, contesting three rounds of the season at Sebring, Road Atlanta and Sonoma, three amazing American circuits, all of which I would love to watch racing at. Max finished eleventh in the standings with 46 points and a single podium.

It was the beginning of his focus on tin tops and endurance racing as he contested the entire 2004 Grand America Rolex Sports Car Series season alongside Scott Pruett in the Daytona Prototype class. The season included races such as the prestigious Rolex 24 at Daytona and again at some fantastic circuits of America.

Max and teammate Pruett had a superb season, winning once on their way to the series crown, beating their nearest rival, South African Wayne Taylor, by ten points. Max continued to perform well throughout 2004, winning the Toyota Pro/ Celebrity Race in a Toyota Celica, almost a friendly, however he also contested the 24 Hours of Le Mans, his third appearance at the race. It was his first attempt in the GTS category however, having previously raced in the LMP900, class, 2004 seeing Max race for Corvette Racing alongside Ron Fellows and Johnny O’Connell.

Max on his way to the Grand America Rolex Sports Car Series title with Chip Ganassi.

The trio lead large portions of their class, however a crash against the tyres at Arnage lost the team five laps while the car was repaired, ensuring Max eventually finishing second in class and eighth overall. They did however, make it a Corvette 1-2 as the other factory Corvette piloted by Jan Magnussen, Oliver Gavin and Olivier Beretta won the class, eleven laps ahead of their teammates.

As part of his commitment to Corvette Racing, Max contested two rounds of the American Le Mans series with the American giants, yielding a sole race victory, not bad considering his limited time in the car in a highly competitive series.

Max remained with Corvette Racing for 2005 now in the renamed LMGT1 class, contested Le Mans once more as well as two American Le Mans Series races, mirroring his 2004 season with the American manufacturer. Max’s symmetrical year continued at Le Mans as he again finished second in class, however he was not able to replicate his success in America, although he still finished on the podium.

2005 also saw Max compete in the International Race of Champions, a championship which was founded by Les Richter, Roger Penske and Mike Phelps, running between 1974 and 2006, an equivalent to an All-Star game for North American motorsport. The majority of drivers invited were predominantly oval racers, however 2005 saw Max joined by the likes of Sebastian Bourdais, Helio Castroneves from CART and IndyCars.

There were four races held, two at the start of the year and two and the end, Max ending the season tenth out of twelve drivers, earning thirty points.

Max’s busy 2005 also saw him race in nine of the fourteen rounds of the Grand American Rolex Series, now driving for Krohn Racing/ TRG. Although he did not win, he finished on the podium twice, ending the year just outside the top twenty.

Max’s busy schedule continued into 2006 as he once again contested in various championships around America as well as one-off events in Europe. A lot of these appearances were part-time seasons in championships such as the Grand American Rolex Series and American Le Mans Series for Corvette Racing for a third year.

His commitments with Corvette Racing ensured he competed at Le Mans, finishing seventh, although he did finish on the podium once during the American Le Mans Series.

The Le Mans 24 Hours was not the only major motorsport event he would contest in 2006, as he returned to the Indy 500 for the first time since 2002, competing for Cheever Racing, alongside owner/ driver Eddie. Max qualified 18th for his second attempt at Indy, however he ended 14th after, a lap behind his teammate who ended a place ahead in 13th.

Max's Cheever Racing 2006 Indy 500 entry.

As well as his Endurance Racing commitments, Max contested in additional single seater events, representing Italy in the A1 GP Championship, a series which ran for three winters. The concept was a championship for nations to race against each other in identical machinery around the world, to find the best nation in motorsport. Each nation had one car although throughout the year they had multiple drivers, ensuring Max raced a sole event in the US, finishing seventh in the second race of the day.

Away from single-seaters, Max also made his debut in the NASCAR Busch series, now known as the Nationwide Series, the series below NASCAR in the chain. He contested two races in both 2006 and 2007 before making his NASCAR debut in 2008 for Haas CNC Racing, now known as Stewart/ Haas Racing, one of the most successful teams on the grid.

2008 also saw Max claim another class Le Mans podium with Corvette Racing, his last appearance to date at the great race, before committing to a 15 race season in NASCAR for Germain Racing in 2009. He finished 43rd both in 2009 and 2010 in which he remained with the team.

Since 2010 Max has contested in various part time seasons around the world, included the European NASCAR Whelen Series as well as V8 Supercars, such is Max’s ability to jump into anything and go fast.

He has had a fantastic career and still remains racing to this day at the age of 50 around the world as well as making appearances at events such as the Goodwood Festival of Speed. It has been a pleasure to learn monte and more about his career as I was already a fan but his versatility is something which has impressed me hugely.

Hopefully he remains in the paddock for many years to come.



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