CHAMPCAR/CART: Papis maxes out on the cautions at Laguna Seca

Max Papis took full advantage of the Team Rahal pit strategy, climbing from a 25th position on the starting grid to victory circle, in spite of five pit stops, and claiming a win in a caution-filled race at the Laguna Seca track. In spite of ...

Max Papis took full advantage of the Team Rahal pit strategy, climbing from a 25th position on the starting grid to victory circle, in spite of five pit stops, and claiming a win in a caution-filled race at the Laguna Seca track.

In spite of never making a pass on the track, Papis moved his Lola-Ford steadily up through the field as his rivals pitted. With some 40% of the race distance run under yellow flags, the Italian was able to conserve enough fuel to avoid having to stop under the second-last yellow flag.

As a result, Papis moved to the front as the leaders pulled into the pits for fuel and tires. And when the yellows came out again on lap 65, as a result of Oriol Servia's and Mauricio Gugelmin's spectacular crash -- both drivers were uninjured -- the five laps behind the pace car conserved enough fuel to enable Papis to finish on his remaining fuel.

"I'm proud of my guys. I'll tell you it's as much my win as Mark Johnson's and all the guys out there," Papis recalled. "They did a beautiful job and I'm pretty proud of that."

Following in Papis' footsteps was Lola-Toyota driver Memo Gidley, who started in the row ahead of the Italian, and followed him across the finish line, less than a second adrift, in spite of surviving a pit fire after refueling.

In third place was championship leader Gil de Ferran, who appeared to have the race clinched through some astute early pit strategy -- but that was before Papis and Gidley skipped the final round of stops to move ahead of the field.

In the event, de Ferran finished third: not a win, but, combined with rival Kenny Brack's tangle with Michael Andretti in the opening laps, it was enough to move him to 179 points, 26 points clear of the Swede.

Both Andretti and Dario Franchitti were held pointless this afternoon, and have now been mathematically eliminated from the championship points race.

The only other driver with a remaining chance at the CART FedEx championship, de Ferran's Penske teammate Helio Castroneves, finished sixth after tangling with Paul Tracy in the pitlane at the final round of stops, and bending his suspension.

Tracy, who tangled with Castroneves in the pit lane, and was tapped into the wall as a result, was incensed by the fact that Castroneves received no penalty for the incident.

"We would be better off having a circus clown as the chief steward," steamed Tracy after the incident. "Castroneves turns me around in the pit lane and he doesn't get penalized for it. I've got bent suspension and I'm out of the race, when I had a podium car."

While Tracy's complaints about the lack of discipline have some basis, it remains to be seen whether CART will impose a fine on the Canadian veteran for speaking his mind.

Meanwhile, there are two races remaining in the 2001 season, and even if Brack were to win both races, de Ferran needs to score only 18 points to claim the title. While the Penske driver has not yet clinched the championship, catching him is clearly a tall order for the Swede.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Memo Gidley , Max Papis , Paul Tracy , Dario Franchitti , Mauricio Gugelmin , Oriol Servia , Kenny Brack