CHAMPCAR/CART: Max Papis interview, part I, 2001-06-26

MAX PAPIS T.E. McHale: Good afternoon to everyone, and welcome to the CART media teleconference. Thanks to all of you for taking the time to join us today. Our guest this afternoon is driver Max Papis of Team Rahal, who drove to his...

MAX PAPIS

T.E. McHale: Good afternoon to everyone, and welcome to the CART media teleconference. Thanks to all of you for taking the time to join us today.

Our guest this afternoon is driver Max Papis of Team Rahal, who drove to his second career FedEx Championship Series victory as last Sunday's Freightliner/G.I. Joe's 200 presented by Texaco at Portland's International Raceway.

Good afternoon, Max. Congratulations and thanks for being with us today.

Max Papis: Good afternoon to everyone who is listening.

T.E. McHale: Max, the driver of the No. 7 Miller Lite Ford Lola, drove to his first victory since the 2000 season opener at Homestead when he finished 1.472 seconds ahead of last week's guest here, Roberto Moreno of Patrick Racing.

His victory was the first on a road or street course of his six-year FedEx Championship Series career, and it improved upon his previous best road or street finish of second in Australia in 1999. His best prior finish on a permanent road course had been third at Laguna Seca, also in 1999.

In winning from the pole and leading a race high 69 of 76 laps, Max scored the third sweep of the maximum 22 available championship points during the 2001 season. Helio Castroneves of Marlboro Team Penske, had recorded the previous two 22 point sweeps at Long Beach in Detroit.

Sunday's performance allowed Max to expend his run of consecutive points paying finishes to four, including 6th at Japan, 8th at Milwaukee, and 11th at Detroit. It marks the first time since the final four events of the 1999 season that has he scored championship points in four consecutive races.

With his victory, Max gained three positions in the FedEx Championship Series championship. Heading into this weekend's Marconi's Grand Prix of Cleveland, presented by First Star, he stands 11th in the championship with 38 points. The Marconi Grand Prix of Cleveland, presented by First Star, round nine of the FedEx Championship series, will be televised live by ABC-TV this Sunday, July 1st, beginning at 1:00 p.m. Eastern time.

With that, we'll open it up for questions for Max.

I'm sure you are well aware of rumors flying around and things like that, that maybe you were at a point of driving for your job. Do you feel like some of the pressure has been lifted now? Do you feel a bit vindicated by what you did last weekend?

Max Papis: Could you say again the question because I didn't really understand.

There have been rumors flying around that maybe your job was going to be in jeopardy. And I was just wondering if you feel like some of the pressure is off and you feel a bit vindicated by your performance last weekend.

Max Papis: I've never heard rumors. First of all, you know, I never rumors that my job is on the line or things like that, you know. I don't see the reason why my job should have been on the line. And second, I'm a lot better driver than just listening gossips. And I feel like every situation, people forget a little bit about what's happened in the past and look at today and the situation with that and I just feel that everybody on the Miller team did a fantastic job on Sunday. We came from being in the back to go again in the front.

As I say again, I don't listen to gossip. I listen to what my team says. The team always gives me a lot of sport. And I think it was more, you know -- I'm kind of surprised you tell me that, because it never -- there has never been any rumor on the team or in any circumstances that I ever heard these things. This is actually the first time I hear it.

Talk a little bit about going into Cleveland and the kind of challenges that track provides.

Max Papis: First of all, Cleveland is like another Grand Prix. We're going to go there with a lot of effort, like we go to succeed, like we go to the other race courses and I'm going to attack it in the professional way I'm capable way of and in the professional manner that I've always been up to.

You know, I feel that Cleveland is a very good race course. It provides a good show. And I feel that we have to keep doing a good job as we have been doing in Portland and keep believing in our possibility and working hard. As I said, I hope there is going to be a great attendance because it is always a special event. It's a race at an airport. It's a unique place to be. It's a very American way of interpreting the race cars, auto racing events, and it's a very special event.

With that track, is it something about the surface, is it just the layout or what, where cars tend to get better as they go along there?

Max Papis: I don't really get what you want --.

What is it about that track? Is it the surface that you're on? Is it a little more conducive to your style or any kind of road course driver style?

Max Papis: Which track?

Cleveland.

Max Papis: I don't really get the question. But Cleveland, as I said, it's a very special race track in terms that it requires a lot of skill. You need to carry a lot of speed into the corner. It's very technical, very wide. You can have different lines and you can interpret the track in a variety of ways. So I feel that if you give room to people that have ability to personalize the race track, to kind of make your own course out there.

And as I said, it's so wide it allows a lot of overtaking. It's a strange race track. It's a street course, is how I see it. But as I said, it provides a great show and the raceway is very important.

Max, what basically has come right here in the last couple of weeks with your side of the Team Rahal with the Miller Lite side? What pace did you guys finally get on, so to speak, as far as hitting it off everything with your team and stuff?

Max Papis: First of all, I'm very proud of all the job we did in Portland. Everyone on the Miller team was working very professionally with a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of intensity in order to achieve our goals. Portland has been in the past, you know, the trampoline for a lot of great drivers to go for the championship. I can recall Emerson Fittipaldi that won Portland, I can't recall the year, that won Portland for the first time, it was the first one he won in the season, and he went ahead to win the championship.

Michael Andretti, Alex Zanardi, 1996. So I feel that I'm in great company. And as I look back in Portland, only great champions won, people with great determination. And I'm very proud to be part of this very selective group of people.

To get more into the specific of what happened in Portland, Max Papis is the same driver who qualified in Detroit two weeks ago. He is exactly the same person. He is exactly the same person who sat in the car in Mexico and came home with one point, and he is the person -- I am a person with a lot of determination. I am a person with a lot of will to succeed.

And on Friday and Saturday, we worked really hard on the car, and for the first time since the beginning of the season, we were able to find a setup in the car that was suiting my driving style the best. And it was proved, as I said, with a lot of will to succeed, a lot of determination that is inside of my heart, you can achieve the goals. I never give him, nobody in the Miller team give up. The first time we had a chance to prove our abilities, we just dominated and we destroyed their position.

What I'm getting at is, Bobby Rahal made a lot of changes in the off season; one of them bringing in Mark Johnson and he brought in a couple of other guys. Basically he wanted -- I think he wanted to shake some things up, but he also wanted to get you and Kenny both feeling comfortable with your surroundings and the people around you. What has clicked right there, do you think, in the last few weeks on your side of it that's basically brought -- that kind of came to fruition there in Portland?

Max Papis: First of all, there is nothing magic in auto racing. There is only hard work and being consciousness of your own weakness and of your own abilities on many sides of the team. That goes from the marketing to the mechanics to the engineer to the driver to the people, you know, that work every day on the team. You know, you're consciousness of your weakness and your strength.

And Sunday, as I told you, I was able to get a good package in my hand, use it the best and to prove that Max is there all the type. Sometimes you cannot see with a number, you know, related to my performance, you know, what I can do, because sometimes I only finish 10th, 11th. But as I said, I fight in Detroit to get 11th, or I fight in Milwaukee to get a few points, the same way I fighted then, I fight it on Sunday in Portland.

The only difference we were able to get a better package together, thanks to all the changes Bobby has done and thanks to the will we have on the Miller team especially. As I said, there is nothing magic. Magic doesn't exist in auto racing, in my own words. It exists with a lot of will to succeed and a lot of determine. And that's what we have with the Miller team, I am very proud of all my guys.

What I'm following up on, though, is, what you all found in Portland, does it now translate into a more comfortable pursuit of finding the sweet spot each weekend now, do you think? Maybe it's not magic, but did you find the magic button maybe a little bit, that you need to be comfortable now?

Max Papis: As I said to you before, there is nothing magic. In auto racing there is only calculation and most of all common sense. We found a way to run the car that suits me pretty well. The only one time that I was able to perform as comfortable was in the winter testing at Laguna Seca where we went really fast as well.

I gave a ring this morning to my engineers and they're there analyzing what happened on Saturday and Sunday and translating and reporting the things to Cleveland. And not only Cleveland, we're thinking forward, Toronto, Michigan, all the other race events. And I tell you, we have a lot of fire now. As I said, Mad Max is here and everybody should be aware of the situation, because now this is going to launch me into the fight for the championship and I am a fighter. Everybody knows. And I'm here to fight for my own -- you know, for my own position in the championship and to bring home the championship at the end of the season.

You're a fighter, but your a lover, too, aren't you?

Max Papis: I'm a fighter.

Mark Johnson, in a nutshell, what has he specifically brought to Team Rahal? I'm not saying it was missing before necessarily, but what is it that he has brought to Team Rahal that you think has possibly made everyone better to a certain extent?

Max Papis: First of all, there are certain technical and internal things that I don't feel I can share with everybody because they are very private things that we have within the team. But for you to get an understanding, we have -- what Bobby did, with Scott being the CEO, Mark Johnson being the director of operation, and a lot of new people on the team, just made everybody more consciousness of their own abilities. And good people -- just more consciousness about their own ability. And now it's time to deliver because we are the team. And here we are and everybody is very consciousness of the ability that we have in the team. And we're just working hard every day to improve our position. As I said, that comes from the driving -- it goes from the driver's side to the engineer's side to the marketing side to the technical side to the management side.

And for sure, you know, having a partner like Mark Johnson on the team, co-working with Scott, they share a lot of race experience and the results when you've got professional people on board, the results are coming.

Really, I wanted to ask you if you had any comparisons about those recent successes you've had as compared to what Kenny Brack had at the beginning of the season your team mate. Can you tell me a little bit about how your feelings are about finally getting some of the limelight a little bit, and is there any feelings that you have about the way Kenny was getting the attention early on and now that you've got some now?

Max Papis: I don't care for attention. I am myself, and I have my own attention -- I mean, I don't care for the attention. I care for doing the best job I can, perform as a professional person. Of course, I was very happy for Team Rahal. When the situation was coming, I felt positive. I knew we had a good car and good equipment to do a good job. And I know that when I would have had my opportunity with the car setup and the way I wanted, I would have been able to prove my abilities. Well, it was just a matter of time.

I feel that -- as I said, you know, me, I look at my garden, and I look at my own situation and I felt all the time very strong, very confident, and the only difference is that now a lot of people can see what I always have and believe in my heart, that I'm a champion and now the difference is that everybody can see.

As I always said, the difference is only what I know inside of me and what I have inside of me cannot be proved all the time by a number. Unfortunately the number is what most of the people on the outside can see, but I don't need a race winner -- a race victory to prove that I'm a winner to myself, because I've done a lot of things in my career. This is just a confirmation with a number of my ability, and of the ability of all the team, not only me, because we are a group and we win and we lose together. And that's what I feel is the most important thing.

I feel very honored of being able to share this success with a group of people that they appreciate and they know what it means to be a winner.

You mentioned that this gives you -- you already had the confidence and you already had in your mind that you were a winner, how much of an improvement of your abilities does it help you that you've won on a road course now, in addition to winning on an oval?

Max Papis: As I said, I always go out and I'm a professional person. I do my best. And I was very surprised that I won my first race in a short oval. I knew never would have thought about it. If you had asked me, if you would have put some money on where I would have won the race, I would have said on the street or on the road course. That's where I'm coming from. That's my background, more than ovals.

I was pleased I won a race in the short oval. And I tell you, there are many short ovals, many super speedways, many straight road courses to come. I would say that inside of me I always had a lot of determination. And sometimes it's just nice to be able to put a number to what you believe in your heart. And the results especially can emphasize within the team. It's a boost for everybody on my team. It's a boost for everybody, for my mechanics and my engineers. They work really hard and they work big hours. And now they can go home and really feel that they're part of a winning group.

-CART-

part II>

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