CHAMPCAR/CART: MAX Papis Relects on Homestead

MAX PAPIS, DRIVER OF THE MILLER LITE FORD-COSWORTH, ENJOYED A VERY SUCCESSFUL DEBUT IN HIS FIRST CHAMP CAR RACE WITH TEAM RAHAL BY FINISHING FIFTH IN SUNDAY'S GRAND PRIX OF MIAMI. PAPIS, IN HIS FOURTH YEAR IN THE FEDEX CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES,...

MAX PAPIS, DRIVER OF THE MILLER LITE FORD-COSWORTH, ENJOYED A VERY SUCCESSFUL DEBUT IN HIS FIRST CHAMP CAR RACE WITH TEAM RAHAL BY FINISHING FIFTH IN SUNDAY'S GRAND PRIX OF MIAMI.

PAPIS, IN HIS FOURTH YEAR IN THE FEDEX CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES, POSTED A PREVIOUS CAREER BEST (FIFTH) IN THE RAIN AT THE STREET COURSE IN HOUSTON LAST SEASON.

IN HIS 40 CAREER STARTS, SUNDAY'S FIFTH PLACE MARKS THE SECOND TIME HE HAS SCORED POINTS ON AN OVAL SINCE FINISHING TWELFTH IN THE SEASON FINALE AT THE CALIFORNIA SPEEDWAY IN 1997.

YOU HAVE BEEN WITH TWO TEAMS IN CHAMP CAR RACING (ARCIERIO- WELLS, TEAM RAHAL). BOTH OF THOSE SITUATIONS HAVE BEEN HIGH PRESSURE SITUATIONS. AT ARCIERIO-WELLS YOU TOOK OVER FOR JEFF KROSNOFF AND AT TEAM RAHAL YOU TOOK OVER FOR A LEGEND IN BOBBY RAHAL. COULD YOU ADDRESS THE DIFFERENCES IN THE SITUATIONS AT ARCIERIO-WELLS IN A RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM WHERE YOU WERE NOT EXPECTED TO WIN AND NOW WITH TEAM RAHAL WHERE YOU ARE EXPECTED TO WIN. "First off I was expected to win at Arcierio-Wells. Everyone had high expectations over there. You cannot really compare the two situations. The pressure that was there when I took over for Jeff (Krosnoff) is something that goes beyond motor racing, it deals with human feeling and it touched part of me. It was a very tough decision to become part of that situation but I know I had the support of Cal Wells and Mark Johnson and PPI. Over here it is a different deal. There was more, I would not call it pressure, but when I had to take over for Jeff there was more of a feeling and when I took over for Bobby there was no pressure because we just made a deal and it came together. I know if Bobby wanted me on the team he believes in me and my abilities. So there should be no pressure, I should just worry about driving how I know I can. He knows that my driving capabilities can fulfill (his expectations). The pressure is only what you put on yourself and I always look to improve my performance and improve myself as a person. I just want to be successful and do a good job. Last year I really had to look inside of me to find motivation. We were starting with the dream of winning races but we were developing (the engine) so we did not have the capabilities of winning. This year I know I can fulfill my dream."

HOW IS IT TO HAVE BOBBY RAHAL AS A BOSS? CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH HIM? "With Bobby I think we have more than a team owner/driver relationships. When we are at the track he is like a big brother to me, I'm not going to say he's my dad because he will get upset about it, but he is like a big brother and I think this relationship goes beyond motor racing. I think Bobby sees in me the same will to succeed and maybe he sees that I want to achieve some of the same goals that he wanted to achieve when he was a bit younger. He is so supportive of me and so behind me it really makes me proud. To tell you the truth, to have someone of Bobby's caliber to give you advice and some good words when it's the right moment it's something you cannot buy and that's what I think makes our team different than any other. It's those moments during the race when Bobby will call in and talk to me and say things like 'go and get him' that can't come from anyone else other than a champion. Those moments have made me really proud. They have made me proud that I can work with someone like him and that he has achieved a lot of things in his life. He may be in a tougher challenge than driving race cars because he now has to prove that he is as good of a team owner as he was a driver. It's a situation that requires a lot of skill to put a new page in your life and bring a young driver over whose best previous finish for myself was a fifth place. The decision that Bobby made and all the thought he put into it made me proud. I think knowing that he is there and knowing who Bobby is gave me a little bit more motivation to push a little harder because I want him to be proud of me.

KNOWING THE WAY THAT YOU PUT PRESSURE ON YOURSELF, WHAT WERE YOUR EMOTIONS AFTER THE RACE? "When we started the race it was a bit difficult because we slipped a bit in qualifying. We had been very competitive all weekend and in qualifying we slipped a bit and fell to fifteenth position which we didn't deserve. When I started that race I pushed very hard and kept in my mind that we had to be up front with everyone else. At the end of the race, after I had overtaken Jimmy Vasser at the beginning of the race, and at the end we were fighting for the top four. At the end when I crossed the finish line it was a fantastic feeling. Because we set a goal to finish in the top-five and that's what we accomplished. When you know you can finish in the top-three I guess you have a bittersweet feeling, but that doesn't matter because I was the only one in the top-five who started back as far as P15 and went to the front, along with Gil de Ferran who finished sixth. We showed that we have the potential to be successful, especially on an oval. It has been a learning curve (on the ovals) for me having come from Europe and it really made me very proud and gave me a lot of encouragement and says that we are right there and that the people in the front are beatable and we just have to concentrate and make the best of what we have in our hand because of what we have is capable of winning races.

WAS YOUR DAD AT THE RACE THIS WEEKEND? He was there with my brother, my best friend, my girlfriend and my trainer. I can't tell you (what it meant) because when I saw my dad in the pits he had tears in his eyes. It's (a feeling) you cannot describe because for me this is my dream, my sport ,and seeing the people that I really care about and are proud of me like Bobby and my dad means more than everything and I am sure that Sunday's result is a good stepping stone. We made some mistakes and I made some mistakes but we are going to make sure we are not going to do those mistakes for sure the next weekend. We know what we didn't do right and we know what we did do right and I think that is one of the strengths we have on our team. We are all very, very down to earth people. We analyze things without taking them personally and that it is why I think that Team Rahal, Bobby and my engineer Tim Reiter are champions, we are champions and we will show we can do very good.

CAN YOU COMMENT ON SOME OF THESE SHORT RACES LIKE HOMESTEAD, NAZARETH AND MILWAUKEE AND WOULD YOU HAVE HAD A BETTER CHANCE TO WIN IF THEY WERE LONGER? ALSO, CAN YOU COMMENT ON THE CHALLENGES OF RACING ON SHORT OVALS AS THERE ARE SO MANY OF THEM AT THE START OF THE SEASON. "I didn't feel the race was too short. The race was actually very intense so maybe that is why it looked short. In those ovals, the short ovals, it is very important to be aggressive and be aggressive in the right moment. I am really pleased on how I did on my restarts. I got by quite a few people in those moments. In the last thirty laps we were playing it consistent. We were running in sixth gear and coasting down the straight to save on fuel and I tell you it was really painful because I know we had the potential to go by Jimmy Vasser but we could not because we had to save fuel. For me it was really exciting. Nazareth is going to be an exciting race as well. A short oval provides a lot of changes in the races which means the drivers have to be aggressive and at the same time be smart. If you are too conservative you get lapped so it's a tricky game. We have a good package and the team led me to the right decisions during the race. We didn't come in for fuel, we played it smart and we ended up fifth which is a very good (result) for the first race of the season."

HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE IN A CAR THAT IS A LITTLE BIT DIFFERENT THAN THE TOYOTA? YOU ARE RUNNING WITH A TEAM THAT IS REALLY TOP-NOTCH NOW AND THAT HAS TO MAKE YOU HAPPY. "It's a different game. Last year we were happy when we were finishing fourteenth and fifteenth because we were developing and catching up to the field. With Team Miller Lite and the Ford engine we have a winning package so it's a different game. It's still the same intensity, it may be even more intense. But I am dealing with a whole new objective. Now when we go to the track we know we can be winners where previously we were developing and when you are in a development program its always questionable because some races the engine may not suit the particular track. But I learned to be patient, which is not easy for an Italian I tell you, but the last two-and-a-half years helped me become a better driver. What you saw on Sunday is a result of what we did at Arcierio-Wells over the last two years, of those hard days and pushing very hard. Also, Sunday you saw the support of a great person in Bobby. He is more than an owner, he is my family in the U.S. I know when he is there he is there behind me it make me push harder. Those things give me the motivation and will to succeed."

DOES THE TEAM HAVE THE HOPES TO LAUNCH ANY KIND OF IDENTITY WITH TEAM RAHAL SIMILAR TO WHAT GANASSI DID WITH JIMMY (VASSER) AND ALEX (ZANARDI)? ALSO CAN YOU DESCRIBE THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN YOU AND BRYAN (HERTA). "First of all Bryan and I have very different personalities. He is a very nice guy. Sometimes people say that he does not talk and things like that, but I tell you, he is a very motivated guy. He will make me sweat in many races and the main thing is that he is an honest person. I appreciated that after the race he came over to me and said good job. He was sorry he was not there at the end but was very pleased for what I had accomplished. It means he is someone who has a heart. We are like water and fire with our personalities but that does not mean anything because people have different values in life but with Bryan I know I will have an honest teammate and continue to be a straight forward person. Of course he wants to beat me and I want to beat him but that will make Team Rahal a better team and push us forward and I think that the (responsibility) we have to the team job is essential. I cannot win and Team Rahal cannot win without a good armory in the team."

IF YOU WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP ARE YOU GOING TO BE LIKE ROBERTO (BENIGINI) AND WALK ACROSS THE SEATS LIKE HE DID AT THE ACADEMY AWARDS? "You pointed out something that made me very proud on Sunday night. We were having dinner and we were really cheering for Benigini because we Italians are really proud of our country and our people. What you saw in him you see in me. I am a little bit of the same kind of a crazy, nasty rebel like him. I don't know how I am going to celebrate because first I have to get to the position that I have the chance to celebrate. But, I would probably do something (similar). I know that night made me and a lot of Italian people real proud and I hope that I can give the similar feeling to all of my country men and to all of the American people that come over to watch us at the races the similar feeling that little man gave to millions of people with his movie and with his personality. Seeing how much passion that he put into his job is very special and I wish one day that I can walk on the heads of many people during a prize giving ceremony too."

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Gil de Ferran , Jimmy Vasser