HOMESTEAD, Fla. (March 26, 2000) - Team Rahal driver Max Papis, the hard-charging Italian who knocked numerous times in pursuit of his first FedEx Championship Series victory last year, had the door finally opened to him Sunday as he drove to his...
HOMESTEAD, Fla. (March 26, 2000) - Team Rahal driver Max Papis, the hard-charging Italian who knocked numerous times in pursuit of his first FedEx Championship Series victory last year, had the door finally opened to him Sunday as he drove to his first career FedEx Championship Series victory in the Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami Presented by Toyota at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Papis (Miller Lite Ford Reynard), who resides in nearby Miami Beach, executed a masterful pass of leader Paul Tracy in traffic with 10 laps remaining and went on to a 0.620 second victory over Roberto Moreno (Visteon Ford Reynard). Despite coming up shy of a victory, it still was a stellar day for Moreno and Tracy.
Moreno matched his career best with a runner-up finish while recording his best-ever finish on an oval. Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard), who led 32 of the 150 laps, finished third after starting 17th to claim the 37th podium finish of his career.
Papis, meanwhile, scored his first career victory in his 60th career start and his first in any automobile race since his July 1996 victory at Watkins Glen in an IMSA event. Papis, a five-year veteran in his second season with Team Rahal, is coming off a fifth-place finish in the 1999 championship that earned him a berth on the inaugural CART All-Star Team. Papis closed last season with consecutive career-best runner-up finishes at Australia and California Speedway, then went himself one better while averaging a race-record 164.788 miles per hour for the 225.3-mile event.
The victory for Team Rahal was its first since Bryan Herta's triumph at Laguna Seca last year, and its first on an oval since team owner Bobby Rahal's 1992 victory at Nazareth Speedway.
The FedEx Championship Series season opener was a race of attrition among the leaders. Defending FedEx Championship Series champion Juan Montoya (Target Toyota Lola), who started on the outside pole, was the first to depart as he exited due to an engine problem after leading the first 21 laps.
Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard) inherited the lead and held it for the ensuing laps before retiring due to an oil leak. That handed the advantage to rookie Kenny Brack (Shell Ford Reynard), Papis' Team Rahal teammate. Brack held the lead for six laps, becoming the first rookie to lead in his FedEx Championship Series debut since Nigel Mansell at Australia in 1993.
In short order, Alex Tagliani (Player's Forsythe Racing Team Ford Reynard) became the second. He took over from Brack for two laps, then Mark Blundell (Motorola PacWest Mercedes) stayed on the point for another two before polesitter Gil de Ferran (Marlboro Honda Reynard) executed a 41-lap stay on the lead, the longest of the event.
De Ferran, who led a race-high 41 laps, pitted on Lap 99 and was victimized when a caution flag came out due to Mauricio Gugelmin (Nextel PacWest Mercedes) running out of fuel. When the green flag waved on Lap 111, de Ferran was running sixth, his ultimate finishing position.
Tagliani became the only two-time leader of the race from Laps 99 through 104, then Tony Kanaan (Hollywood Mo Nunn Racing Mercedes Reynard) took over for four laps. But both Kanaan and Tagliani were penalized during the Gugelmin caution; Kanaan for entering a closed pit and Tagliani for a blend-line violation. Both were moved to the back of the field, negating their chances for victory.
Following the penalties, Tracy took the lead for 32 laps, capping a spectacular drive from the 17th starting position. With Papis running second, the pair came upon lapped traffic on Lap 141. Papis moved around Tracy heading onto the start/finish straight, Moreno followed, and the three remained in that order until the checkered flag. In all, there were nine different leaders.
Jimmy Vasser (Target Toyota Lola) finished fourth and was followed by Patrick Carpentier (Player's Forsythe Racing Team Ford Reynard). Vasser collected his fourth top-four finish in five career appearances at Homestead while Carpentier earned his best finish since a runner-up effort at Vancouver last year.
Papis leads the FedEx Series championship after Round 1 of 20 with 20 points. Moreno is second with 16, Tracy third with 14, Vasser fourth with 12, and Carpentier and de Ferran follow with 10 points each. De Ferran earned two of his 10 points for winning the pole Saturday and leading the most laps Sunday.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
MAX PAPIS, Miller Lite Ford Reynard: "First of all, I'm really, really glad to be here for the first win and with Paul and Roberto. They both taught me several things, and I used that to beat them today. We proved we can make it happen. The feeling has been there since the middle of last year. As soon as Paul was caught in traffic, I was right there to take the opportunity. It was a great race, great competition. It is really good to win here where my good friend Greg [Moore] won the first race last year. I also want to thank everyone with Ford because they're putting in a tremendous effort. There is going to be much more to come. To get my first win here is special for me because I am from here and everyone was here for me. It feels great, especially with a difficult qualifying session. I got a lot of congratulations for that (yesterday) but I got more today. It was a special race because there were many friends here. I couldn't choose a better place to win."
ROBERTO MORENO, Visteon Ford Reynard: "It's good to retire 'Super Sub' [Moreno's nickname for substituting for drivers and excelling throughout his career] and it's good to be here [on the podium]. It was a great to race up front with them. The car was good if I was by myself and I could go a little bit faster, but there is a lot of turbulence when we were behind each other. I was just following Max, and I was just behind him. Max, if you would have run out of fuel this time, I would have pushed you. If you would believe that, you'll believe anything. I'd like to thank [team owner] Pat Patrick for giving me this opportunity and making us title contenders. You don't know how good of a feeling it is after you spend all of this time talking to people and trying to find a ride. It's hard to put it into words. I'm going to share this with my family."
PAUL TRACY, KOOL Honda Reynard: "First, I'd like to say congratulations to Max. He's had a lot happen to him and it's good to see him smiling again. I didn't have a great car all weekend. I had a push condition in the middle of the turns and I was loose coming off, but we got good points coming out of here. It would have been better if there wasn't traffic, but this is racing. I was trying to dictate the pace and not catch a bunch of traffic, but we had to just take what we could get. To get third is a huge achievement for us. My guys gave me great stops. I can't say enough about the job they do. They take a lot of credit for what we do. Obviously, there were a few problems with the Fords and that allowed us to have a good finish. From our team's perspective, this weekend was a big success."
* Max Papis (Miller Lite Ford Reynard) became the first CART driver to collect his first career victory in a season opener since Jimmy Vasser won at Homestead in 1996. Vasser went on to the FedEx Championship Series championship.
* Roberto Moreno's (Visteon Ford Reynard) runner-up effort matched a career-best established at Laguna Seca last year. It was the third podium finish of his career, including a third-place performance in The Inaugural U.S. 500 at Michigan Speedway in 1996.
* Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) collected his second career podium performance at Homestead, the other a runner-up effort in 1997. Tracy also won the first-ever Budweiser Hard Charger award, given to the driver who makes the greatest improvement from start (17th) to finish at each race.
* Kenny Brack (Shell Ford Reynard) and Alex Tagliani (Player's Forsythe Racing Team Ford Reynard) became the first rookies to lead a lap in their first FedEx Championship Series event since Nigel Mansell led at Australia en route to victory in 1993.
* Actor Sylvester Stallone and Fr. Phil De Rea, Catholic chaplain of Championship Auto Racing Teams, gave the command to start engines prior to the event. Stallone is spearheading a movie project, titled Champs, which utilizes Champ Cars and the FedEx Championship Series as its setting.
The 2000 FedEx Championship Series continues with Round 2, the Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix Presented by Toyota, April 7-9 at Nazareth Speedway in Nazareth, Pa.