Hilliard, OH . . . Max Papis has enjoyed his finest season as a driver in CART in 1999 establishing Champ Car career marks in every conceivable category. As the FedEx Championship Series enters the final race of the season, Papis will look to...
Hilliard, OH . . . Max Papis has enjoyed his finest season as a driver in CART in 1999 establishing Champ Car career marks in every conceivable category. As the FedEx Championship Series enters the final race of the season, Papis will look to put the finishing touches on his breakout season, one that could very well land him a spot on the inaugural CART All-Star Team. "We [Miller Lite team] have made a lot of progress over the season," said Papis. "I am especially proud of the strides we have taken to become a consistent finisher in the top-five. This year has been about establishing relationships with Bobby [Rahal] and Tim Reiter and my crew. We have evolved to the point where we will contend for the championship next season. That has been my goal all along." Papis began the season publicly stating his goal to finish in the top-five for the season in points. Entering the final race at Fontana, he ranks fifth in points with 133 and a 13 point lead over Adrian Fernandez in sixth.
One of the defining moments of the season for Papis was his dominating run at Michigan in the US 500, which ended in heartbreak when his Miller Lite car ran out of fuel with less than a lap to go. The performance at Michigan signaled the arrival of Papis and his team. In the seven races since the US 500, Papis has posted five top-five appearances including his first CART podium appearances with a third at Laguna Seca and a second at Australia. "Our success at Michigan really doesn't give us any kind of distinct advantage at California because the tracks are different," said Papis. "We know that week in and week out we have one of the best cars on the track because of the Ford engine and the Reynard/Firestone combination. I have become quite comfortable with our set-up and I am confident that we can run at the front of the field at Fontana." "The only thing I haven't been able to accomplish this season that was a goal of mine was to win a race," said Papis. "I know a lot of people have told me that I won Michigan but I am not looking for moral victories. I want my name on paper as having won a race." "Max has been every bit as good as I thought he would be when we signed him last season," said Team Rahal owner Bobby Rahal whom Papis replaced in the Miller Lite car this season. "I always admired Max as a driven individual who always maximized his opportunities. That has been proven repeatedly again this season." As he enters the last race of the season, Papis has a chance to set CART records for laps completed, miles driven in a season and to tie the series mark for running finishes held by Alex Zanardi.
"Maximum Max" Papis
Category Total/Series Rank Laps Completed 2400-1st (95%) Miles Completed 3896-1st (94%) Running Finishes 17- 1st Best Finish 2nd @ Gold Coast Indy 300 Laps Led 217-3rd Top Five Finishes 10-3rd Top-Ten Finishes 13-3rd Pole Positions 1-4th PPG Points 133 -5th Prize Money $475,000-5th
The hottest driver in the FedEx Championship Series is Shell driver Bryan Herta who has posted 44 points and three consecutive front-row starts in the last three CART events. Posting 44 points in the last three races has allowed Herta to move into 11th place in the season point standings, just ten points behind Jimmy Vasser and tenth place.
"I really haven't been doing anything magical and different from the first 16 races of the season," said Herta. "I am on a roll and I just plan to enjoy it while it lasts."
Entering the final race, Herta needs a top-five finish to make up the ten-point deficit that keeps him outside the top-ten. If he were able to land a spot in the top-ten it would be the third time in four seasons with Team Rahal that Herta ended the year in the top-ten in points.
Team Rahal tested at Fontana in late September and early October and Herta was the fastest of the drivers at the test posting a lap of nearly 235-mph. "What is really encouraging is that we had great long runs with full fuel and used tires," said Herta. "Those factors and the fact the race will be wide open with the Hanford wing in use means we should be able to run at the front of the field. This being a 500-mile race the bottom line is just enduring till the later stages when you can take a shot at winning the thing."
Max Papis' Miller Lite pit crew enters the Craftsman Pit Crew Challenge Shoot-out as the top-ranked crew in CART having amassed 161 points, the highest point total of any of the four finalists. The Papis and the Miller crew will square off against Juan Montoya's Ganassi Racing crew, Paul Tracy's Team Green crew and Michael Andretti's Newman-Haas crew in the finals on Thursday at the California Speedway in Fontana, CA. The winning crew will pocket a $50,000 first prize and the CART series bragging rights for the next year.
"My crew has been instrumental in my success this season," said Papis. "From the start of the season I have felt I have an advantage in the pits because of the dedication and execution of my crew. I am hoping we can win the competition at Fontana so my guys can be a little richer leaving the track than when they arrive. After all $50,000 will buy a lot of Miller Lite."
The Bobby Rahal Foundation will make a donation of $17,000 to the Loma Linda University Children's Hospital prior to Sunday's running of the Marlboro 500 at the California Speedway.
The Bobby Rahal Foundation is the not-for-profit charitable endowment founded by the three-time PPG Cup Champion prior to his final season as a driver. During the 1998 season and "Rahal's Last Ride," the Foundation raised over $400,000 which is earmarked for charitable donations to organizations in CART race communities during the 1999 FedEx Championship Series.