Max, you are the master in endurance. You almost won the Michigan 500. You won in Brazil, the Homestead race. What do you prefer, personally, the oval or the race track, a regular track?
Max Papis: I tell you, I feel very comfortable in both situations. When I came over to the United States, an oval was an unknown situation for me. And now I'm able to master them in the same way that I feel I can master a street and road course, and that I'm very proud of, especially because I had great teachers on the PPI team when I came over in the beginning of my career.
I just feel for me it would be a great success to win 500 miles. But as I said, Cleveland is race number nine and I'm going to win there and I'm going to win all the races I can and bring the Miller car up there in front, because I feel that now we found our own way to be successful. Of course, you can dream and think you can win all the races, but I always go with a lot of determination to all the race events. And I feel that now I have better proof in my hand to prove my ability and prove the ability of the team. We will be able to be more consistent and to bring home more and more points that would count the most.
Were you surprised with the performance of the car in the Portland?
Max Papis: I always knew that the Ford engine was a very strong engine and the Lola was a good car. It was proved to me on some occasion when we tested and when we performed very well. We just couldn't find the right way of tuning the car for my driving style. As I said, I was not surprised about the potential we had. We just needed a bit of time to make everything work correctly and here was great proof. I felt this race was very much mine. I felt it was a great success.
It was one of the best drive I've ever had in term of being calm, being aggressive, at the same time which was necessary, conserve fuel, use all the abilities I learned in my career, and it was great proof for me. This was one of the most charismatic successes I have had in my career, ability, smartness, and all the situations and all the abilities you need to be a champion at the end of the situation.
This is the last race at Michigan next month, in July. I wanted to ask you what your opinion is of that race leaving Michigan and do you foresee the possibility that CART will become an all road racing circuit?
Max Papis: First of all, it's the first time that we're not going to go back to Michigan again. I've never heard about that. I don't really know how to answer the question because I really enjoy -- I think 500 miles are very much American racing history, their part of the American racing history, so I feel every time in the Michigan 500 it's a great event. It's a place that intrigues me a lot for the characteristic of the race, for the endurance of the race, for what is required for the car to finish a race. You need to push very hard. The engine needs to be reliable. The Ford engine has proven to be very strong there.
And I'm surprised because this is the first time I hear this. And on the other things of CART, I think all the political decisions and other things that CART is doing fly way above my head. I'm a race car driver. I'm very focused on doing my job at the moment, bringing my Miller car to the top three of the championship and fighting to win the championship. And these are my focuses. I leave the politics and other things for other people to handle it. They can handle it better than me because, as I said, my job is driving and providing the best show I can, and to all my race fans, and supporting my team in the best way I can.
In your personal opinion, would you prefer to see an all-road-racing circuit?
Max Papis: I think that CART has always been intriguing because it is a street course, a road course, short oval course, and super speedway, and for me this is what keeps a lot of enthusiasm in my driving. And I would like to see it stay like this.
I wanted to follow up a bit on MIS. I'm sorry you didn't hear about that earlier. I'm just wondering, from a driver standpoint, after you've tested there a couple of weeks ago at MIS, are there any changes that you think need to be made at MIS to help open-wheeled racing there?
Max Papis: I'm a race car driver. My job is driving and supporting my team. All the other situations are up to CART. I have faith that they know exactly what they're doing and what they want to achieve at the race track. I feel that it is not just open-wheel racing and NASCAR and things. It's just the way you want people to receive CART. And I know CART is working really hard in creating a better identify for CART in itself. And I have a lot of belief they are on the right path and there are good people on board, that they know a lot better than me what to do and what to say and what's the final project that they want to bring to the people. So I feel that I leave the job to the people that knows better than me.
When your team was up here two weeks ago testing at MIS, did you learn anything in particular that might have helped you with that victory Sunday at Portland?
Max Papis: No. MIS is a very unique place. It's like when you run in a super speedway, you just run for super speedway configuration. I could get a great jumpstart on everybody else in terms of getting the right feeling on the car and learning what I wanted over there, and here we are.
I feel that the greatest change we did in Portland were just analyzing the data with the engineers on Friday, coming up with a good solution and proving that the win is within the Miller team. The ability of the success is within the Miller team, because the people that won the race in Portland, the group of people that won the race in Portland are the same group of people that were in Detroit the week before. So that means we have the ability. It's going to be up to us to make the best of what we have in our hand.
Great driving this weekend in the rain. Given the results of last weekend, are you praying for rain again this weekend in Cleveland?
Max Papis: No. We dominated the race with the rain and I think that was proof good enough for everybody that you have to be aware and consciousness of the potential of Max Papis and the Miller Team in any condition. I just feel that the rain on Sunday emphasized my ability and the ability of the Miller team to stay calm, focused, aggressive. And every time the condition becomes difficult only the toughest guys come out, and we proved we were the best on the field.
You have driven sports cars in the past. What do you think about the idea of a joint weekend of CART and ALMS racing together at a venue? Do you think that would be popular?
Max Papis: That would kind of upset me because I want to drive a sports car, so I would have to drive both series at the same time.
Suppose there's one race on Saturday and one race on Sunday? Would you drive both?
Max Papis: I'll tell you, if they gave me the opportunity, I would drive Friday, midgets; Saturday, sports cars; and Sunday, champ cars.
Do you think the two series would be a good match for each other as far as fans being interested in a joint weekend of the two together?
Max Papis: I don't know about that. I know that CART is strong enough to produce a strong show by itself. I think if we focus on the hero we have in the series, on the manufacturers we have in the series, the sponsors we have, like Miller and Ford, that's plenty to boost the series up and make a great show out of it. You don't need anything else.
Mazarati has made a statement to the press that they are looking at either coming to the CART series or the IRL?
Max Papis: Who said that?
Luka -- I can't pronounce his last name -- Montazable (phonetic), the guy who runs the Ferrari race program.
Max Papis: You should learn his name. Luka Montazable.
That's it. He has made a statement they are looking at both series. They're not sure which one they're going to come to. What do you think Mazarati coming to CART would mean, being they are Italian and you are Italian?
Max Papis: For an Italian driver, being able to have an Italian manufacture in the series would be something fantastic. I know they are exploring and they are doing a lot of research on what they want to do in the future.
And as I said, we're here. At the moment, I'm very focused on what I'm doing with the Miller team, with my Ford engine. I'm very proud of everyone in my team. But as I said, I'm very open-minded for the future. And as I said, there are a lot of opportunities to be checked and definitely another manufacturer in the series would do something fantastic, especially Ferrari/Mazarati.
Has Luka talked to you about it at all, the idea?
Max Papis: No.
Has he asked you about CART?
Max Papis: I've always had a good relationship with people in Ferrari. And I just feel at the moment, you know, we have not spoken specifically about that. But me and the Ferrari people have a close relationship all the time. Ferrari is the company that took me to the United States. For sure they know who to call when they want to ask things about the United States work.
Coming into a road course this weekend and then you've got a week off and then you have Toronto and then Michigan and then Chicago getting into the tough part of the season. How do you prepare for something like that?
Max Papis: I prepared for that this winter, with my training, with my diet, with the way I am. And I just feel that for every great athlete, for every athlete, it's not the last two days before the race that makes the difference, it's preparation all the way that brings you up to that moment. And I feel that I kept working really hard on my body, my brain, and with my team. So I feel that we have all the right cards to play our game and embarrass everybody again.
Embarrass is true, yes. So basically your routine is pretty much set and you're comfortable with these races back to back without being overly tired or strung out?
Max Papis: For me, it's no problem. I'm a strong driver. I trained very hard. I'm a strong athlete. And what I think is most tiring is for my crew, for my mechanics, for everybody in my team, especially for my mechanics. I have a lot of respect for them. They are my family. They are the people I care a lot about on the team. And I tell you, you know, the mechanics and the people that work for me in the Miller team on the car, they are the people that are closest to my heart because I have a lot of respect for what they do.
The pop-off valve plate, did that affect you at all at Portland? It sure didn't seem to on the track, but did you notice any difference running it?
Max Papis: I felt there were a lot of political issues related to that especially, and Ford has always done a tremendous job providing the best power and the best ability and best fuel management. And it was proven on Sunday. It was a fast race track with a long straightaway. We had to conserve fuel. We could perform at a high level. We had all the characteristics there. As I said, there was a lot of political things. Ford coped with them in a perfect way and provided me the best power to be -- as I said again, to dominate the race, not just win it.
Max, Cleveland is fast but notoriously rough in some of those turns. Do you almost have to prepare yourself for Sunday's race knowing you're going to get sort of beat up a little bit during the course of it? Even though, as you pointed out, you're in tip-top shape, do you know it's going to be a rough day at the ballpark, so to speak?
Max Papis: You point out something very important. All the time you know how many bullets you have in your gun and when you have to shoot them. For sure, you know, it's very physically demanding, but you have to know when to push hard and when not to push hard, when it's the moment to give 100 percent or when it's the moment to take it back. And I feel that every athlete knows when to give it all or give it 90 percent.
And it is going to be very physically demanding on Sunday in Cleveland, and I felt I worked really hard in wintertime to build my body for this effort, so I'm ready for it.
A couple of years ago CART did leave Cleveland and then decided to come back after some things got worked out. I was wondering, you as the driver have been there many times, would that have been a shame, because it is an extremely entertaining race for the fans every year, would that have been a shame to have walked away from that race track, or at least from that venue let's say, as far as what it means maybe to the fans and stuff?
Max Papis: First of all, there are a lot of issues that I'm not aware of regarding the reason why CART wanted to leave Cleveland. I know that I really love the race fans over there. They give good support. It's a great race track, even if it's a rough one. It's a rough one in terms of pavement and everything. But as I said, I'm sure that CART just wanted to give you guys something to write more exciting.
You talked a while ago about your team and stuff. You guys on Team Rahal, do you sense -- the team itself has one three of the last four races, probably could have won four of the last five, do you sense there is a streak there now that was not there last year or the year before last?
Max Papis: Absolutely. The strength that is in Team Rahal this year is greater than ever in terms of a Ford engine, Lola chassis, managers, mechanics, engineers. We are -- we made a great step forward. And you don't win three races on eight events, or whatever it is, because you're lucky or something like that. You win because you are well prepared, you're a professional, and you work hard at it.
And I feel that Team Rahal will prove the ability that we have, and definitely the team has been enhancing it's position.
T.E. McHale: We'll let Max go for the afternoon. Max Papis, that's for being our guest today. Best of luck in the Marconi Grand Prix of Cleveland, presented by First Star, this weekend.
Max Papis: Thank you. I want to say the last thing. I was very glad, you know, on the whole event in Portland. I will say it again. It was extremely important for everybody on the Miller team because we came from struggling pretty hard, and not only this year, but last year. It was hard for us. We always believed in ourselves, but unfortunately we received a lot of criticism and it was very tough.
But as I always said, we have a lot of fire in our heart. I was very proud of all the people on the Miller team, everybody at Ford, and we came away from Portland with a great success on and off the track. I say it again. Portland has been a trampoline for championship winning drivers. And I feel that now I'm going to fight to go and bring this championship to Italy and bring this championship to the Miller team and to the Ford environment. We deserve it and I'm working really really hard -- I don't know if you can work harder than what I've done in the previous situations, but I will keep working as hard as I did and even a little bit more because I feel that now we can go and we can be proud of what we did. We had a little black cloud over our head. The black cloud is gone. And it's time for everybody to be aware that Mad Max is here, he's back, and he's hungry to win a lot of races.
T.E. McHale: Thanks, Max. We wish you a lot of luck with that.