MONTEREY, CALIFORNIA . . . Team Rahal's Miller Lite driver Max Papis led the final 16 laps of the Grand Prix of Monterey featuring The Shell 300 at Laguna Seca Raceway en route to capturing his third career CART victory. Papis' win is his second...
MONTEREY, CALIFORNIA . . . Team Rahal's Miller Lite driver Max Papis led the final 16 laps of the Grand Prix of Monterey featuring The Shell 300 at Laguna Seca Raceway en route to capturing his third career CART victory. Papis' win is his second of the 2001 season (Portland) and his third podium appearance of 2001. Both Papis wins in 2001 have come on permanent road courses. The win capped a remarkable weekend that saw Papis and the Miller Lite team claim victory from 25th on the starting grid. That matched the 20-year-old CART record held by Mike Mosley for winning a Champ Car race from the lowest grid position. The victory marked the first time since CART began racing at historic Laguna Seca Raceway in 1983 that the winner hadn't come from the top-nine qualifiers.
Papis started 25th overall, after suffering mechanical problems during qualifying, and avoided a record number of on track incidents in posting the victory. The Miller Lite team worked an alternate fuel strategy to perfection pitting four times under yellow in the first 13 laps, which allowed them to extend their final fuel window. Papis worked his way steadily through the field and took the lead for good on lap 61 when Adrian Fernandez pitted. Papis maintained his advantage through two late race restarts and he held off Memo Gidley and Gil de Ferran in the closing laps of the race to preserve the win.
"We didn't have the fastest car today but we had the best pit strategy," said Papis. "I was attacking all race along and driving hard. I was just trying to apply the pressure. This is a great victory for the Miller Lite team because we went from last to first. It takes a lot of determination to do that and maybe a little bit of luck, but I don't believe in luck. Luck comes to people who look for it. I told Mark Johnson (Team Rahal Director of Operations) that I thought we could pull something special out of today. I said it was important to believe in it. We had to struggle this weekend with a motor problem in qualifying and starting at the back. I was just focusing on what I could do. And I'm proud of this victory for the Miller Lite team and me. To be here at Laguna Seca, it is a track with a lot of history and there have been some great names before me here in the winner's circle. This place helped create Alex's [Zanardi] name. We knew that starting in the back that we had to do something different with the strategy. We knew we could gain the track position later if we saved fuel early. It worked perfectly for us today."
The win was a team record sixth of the season for Team Rahal. Shell driver Kenny Brack has captured a series best four wins this year and is second in the CART championship standings. The win by Papis and the Miller Lite car also marks the first time since Team Rahal inaugural season in 1992 that the Miller car has won multiple races in the same season.
The win was the seventh of Bobby Rahal's career at Laguna Seca as a driver and as an owner. Rahal won four straight CART events at the track from 1984 to 1987. As an owner Rahal has seen his drivers win three of the last four races at Laguna Seca. Bryan Herta captured back- to-back wins at the track in 1998 and 1999 and now Papis has added his name to the winner's ledger.
The day was not as productive for Team Rahal's other car as Shell driver Kenny Brack, currently second in the CART FedEx Championship Series point's race, suffered a DNF after he was involved in an opening lap incident that left his left front suspension severely damaged.
"This is a great day for Team Rahal," said co-owner Bobby Rahal. "While we are disappointed for Kenny and his quest for the championship, Max drove a brilliant race today and showed his fighting spirit coming from 25th on the grid to win. This is the sixth win of the season for Team Rahal, more than any other team. We are going to enjoy the moment for a few days before we get ready to go to Australia. We have our work cut out for us but there is still a lot of racing to go and we aren't conceding anything to Gil [de Ferran] and Team Penske."
Team Rahal and the 2001 CART FedEx Championship Series will resume with the Gold Coast 300 in Surfers Paradise in Queensland Australia in two weeks.