HOMESTEAD, Fla., (March 15, 1998) - Arciero-Wells/MCI Championship Auto Racing Team (CART) driver Max Papis finished 26th today in the season's first race in FedEx Championship Series at the Metro-Dade Motorsports Complex. "I think we had a...
HOMESTEAD, Fla., (March 15, 1998) - Arciero-Wells/MCI Championship Auto Racing Team (CART) driver Max Papis finished 26th today in the season's first race in FedEx Championship Series at the Metro-Dade Motorsports Complex.
"I think we had a fantastic race and an excellent car today," said Papis. "We made up a lot of ground and we were there fighting for the top-ten and top-fifteen positions. For the first time, we were always on the lead lap. Unfortunately we lost first gear on the first pit stop. The engine stalled twice but later on that would have not been a problem after we got back on the track. We are out of the race because of a front bearing failure. It is a good start and showed us we are competitive."
"Max did a stellar job of racing today," said Cal Wells III, team owner. "Today was the best he has done on an oval. It is also the best the team has performed and certainly any Toyota power plant has performed. We stayed on the lead lap until the wheel bearing failed. We raced hard with some very famous names in the sport and some very successful manufacturers. Today showed that Toyota is on its way."
Papis, in the award-winning Arciero-Wells/MCI blue Reynard, started 20th in the 29-car field. The number 25 entry had problems with the engine electronics during the qualifying run.
At the start of the 150 lap/201 mile race, Papis moved up from 20th to 16th. He ran as high as 13th on lap 46. On both pit stops he had trouble getting out of the pits but he was able to return to the track and was moving up. He re-pitted after calling in with front suspension problems. Upon inspection, the crew shut the car down after noting the bearing failure.
Today's race was highly competitive and Papis was confident of obtaining a good finish because during the race he felt the MCI entry had a good race set up. "The race had a lot of battles," said Papis. "The championship will be very tough this year and it is evident that if you analyze the starting grid, the group of the favorites is large. Zanardi will defiantly have to fight to defend his title."
On his qualifying attempt on Saturday, Hiro Matsushita, Papis's teammate, had mechanical difficulties and was not able to take the green flag. It was very notable that the Arciero-Wells team did an amazing job changing the engine in a very short 45 minutes. With Matsushita at the 110% qualifying rule, he could have opted to start at the rear of the field. However, the crew made the qualifying grid with time to spare and Matsushita went out for his qualifying run.
"That's great racing," said Wells. "Our crew got the job done for our team, Hiro and our sponsors. We could have started last but that isn't good enough for us. We opted to push on and change the engine. He deserved his opportunity to show he can still push the button when the pressure is on. He was still up to the task today."
The team is packing and preparing for the next race on the 19-event schedule, Twin Ring Motegi in Haga-gun, Japan on March 28, 1998. This will be the first race at the new and highly praised 1.5-mile oval. The race will be 201 laps. It will air on the ABC television network time delay at 2:00 p.m. eastern. Please check your local listings. Updated information on the MCI/Toyota team can also be seen on www.mciracing.com, www.toyota.com or www.cart.com.
"I have many friends and lived and raced in Japan and I am looking forward to going back, again," said Papis about competing in Japan. "I have many special memories of living there; I lived in a city near Mt. Fuji. I know how the Japanese are and I know they have built a first class and very professional racetrack. Japan is the country of dreams for a racecar driver. When you are left alone by yourself in Europe you go to Japan to find a drive. I am looking forward to racing in the grand prix. The people there are very passionate. They followed me when I was driving for Footwork in Formula One. I will br excited to see the race fans again. I want us to have good results at the end of the race week. I want to come home with a smile on my face. I am very proud to go to Japan and race a Toyota engine and I know it means a lot to Toyota to race there."