Continuing my look at every driver who competed in the 2001 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. After Papis in eleventh was Townsend Bell with his Patrick Racing teammate Roberto Moreno just behind in thirteenth. After the Patrick Racing duo of Bell and Moreno was the Forsythe trio of Alex Tagliani, Bryan Herta and Patrick Carpentier.
Following the trio was Fernandez Racing’s Shinji Nakano, a lap ahead of the sole remaining Chip Ganassi Racing entry of Memo Gidley.
Behind Gidley was Bettenhausen Racing’s Michel Jourdain Jr, ahead of PacWest Racing’s Mauricio Gugelmin, who finished five laps down and two laps behind Jourdain Jr. The final driver to finish, also five laps down was Gugelmin’s compatriot Max Wilson, who was racing for Arciero-Blair Racing.
2001 was Max’s only season in the CART Series, having raced in junior single-seater championships prior to this across Brazil and Europe.
Having started his career in karts, Max’s first taste of cars was in 1993, when he contested the Brazilian Formula Ford Championship, coming a respectable third with two victories. It was a season which featured future CART rival Cristiano da Matta who went onto claim the title however their paths would go separate ways for 1994 as Max graduated to Formula Chevrolet Brazil, winning once and ending the year second.
It was again his only season in a series, graduating to Formula 3 for 1995, only missing out on the championship this time to future F1 star Ricardo Zonta. 1995 was also Max’s first experience of European competition as he contested the final round of the German F3 championship at Magny-Cours, finishing the double header rounds fifth and sixth respectively.
It was the start of his European switch as 1996 saw Max move to Munich, contested the German F3 Championship full time for Tomkakidis Motorsport, a team previously owned by Michael Schumacher’s manager Willi Weber under the guise of WTS-F3.
The team struggled for cash though and after two rounds, after disappointing results, he left the team to join Italian outfit Prema Powertrain, now one of the most prestigious teams in junior single seaters.
Wilson ended the season tenth, despite missing the final four races, which showed that his results were impressive competing against the likes of Jarno Trulli and Nick Heidfeld. It was his only season in German F3 as he graduated once more to International Formula 3000 for Edenbridge, the British outfit impressed with his performances the previous season. He was singed alongside Werner Lupberger, who Max comfortably beat as he ended the season fifth in the championship, again behind compatriot Zonta as well as fellow future CART and F1 star Juan Pablo Montoya.
Max remained with Edenbridge Racing for 1998 and became Williams test driver the same year, although his results were not as strong in his second season in F3000, before switching to SuperNova Racing for 1999, his third and final season in the championship.
Max finished the season eight and was offered the Minardi drive for 2000 although sadly he was not able to generate the budget needed to secure the seat, the drive instead going to Argentine Gaston Mazzacane. It ensured Max took a sabbatical from racing, instead becoming Michelin’s test driver as the squad prepared to re-enter Formula 1 in 2001.
Despite testing the new rubber for a year, he was unable to secure a drive in F1 for 2001 and instead returned to America in which he contested his only year in the CART Series, finishing the year twenty-fifth with a best result of fourth at Milwaukee.
It was a tough debut year for Max up against Australia’s finest touring car drivers in machinery he had never seriously driven previously. Nevertheless, Max still achieved a single top ten result and remained in the series for 2003, switching teams to Dick Johnson Racing.
A much improved showing from Max saw him finish the year seventeenth overall after taking a podium at the final round of the season in Sydney.
Max remained in the series for various teams throughout the mid-noughties before returning to his home country to contest the 2009 Stock Car Brasil championship, a series he has remained in since.
His first season in the series saw him end ninth before winning the championship at his second attempt in 2010, beating reigning champion Caca Bueno by one point.
This has so far proven to be his only championship success however he has remained in the series since, with the exception of 2020. Max’s title defence resulted in a fourth place in the championship, as Bueno reclaimed his crown.
Although Max has not had the same championship winning success again, he has consistently finished in the top ten of the series, winning a race each year.
As well as his racing commitments, Max is also a reporter for Brazilian station SporTV, commentating on their coverage of Formula 1.
Despite never fully making it in single seaters, a sad story for some many drivers who could not put the final piece for the budget jigsaw in place, it is nice to know that Max has enjoyed a hugely successful career in motorsport in multiple championships.
On a personal note it is also fantastic to see that he predominately uses the number 65, the number I used to race with!
Hopefully this success can continue for Max into the future.
Pictures: www.motorsportimages.com, www.speedsport-magazine.com