CHAMPCAR/CART: Sigma Autosport, Papis praises crew

Teamwork and strategy help pay off for third place by Papis at Long Beach. BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. - Max Papis' drive at Long Beach was something to marvel at as he started the race 18th and ultimately finished third, for his first podium of the season...

Teamwork and strategy help pay off for third place by Papis at Long Beach.

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. - Max Papis' drive at Long Beach was something to marvel at as he started the race 18th and ultimately finished third, for his first podium of the season and Sigma Autosport's first ever in its two-year Champ Car career.

In addition to Papis' skill and patience, three other things factored into his result at "The Beach." One was a very timely full-course yellow flag late in the race that allowed the then second place Papis to duck into the pits, but two other key elements were vitalthe race strategy and Sigma's veteran pit crew.

Papis and eventual race winner Michael Andretti were the only two drivers to utilize the same strategy and pit out of sequence from the others. Papis and Andretti stayed on the track when the leaders made pit stops during a long caution period from Laps 31 through 36. As a result, Papis ran second to Andretti for 13 laps.

"We discussed this prior to the race with Dave Watson, who spends hours pouring over different race strategies and scenarios," said Phil Howard, Sigma Autosport's team manager, who conferred with Watson and engineer Gordon Coppuck, in the team transporter.

"Now I admit it didn't go exactly as planned, but it was very close and we decided to go for it."

When Papis did stop under the green on Lap 46 for fuel and tires, he reentered the track in 16th place. The leaders then stopped again during the 60th and 61st lap, and Papis was again running second when he came in for his final stop on Lap 64this one under yellow.

It was gut-check time for the Sigma Autosport crew, who did not want a repeat of a long, final pit stop that happened a month ago at Monterrey, Mexico. During that stop, a problematic rear wheel kept Papis from scoring a top five finish. Instead he had to settle for ninth.

This time however, everything went perfectly.

"The guys did a great job of getting Max in and out cleanly," said Howard. "Simply a great stop and Max did an excellent job of driving."

Papis followed Andretti out and was happy to find he was still in second place. From there, Papis kept pace with Andretti until ultimate second place finisher Jimmy Vasser passed him on Lap 73. Papis however brought the #22 Sigma Autosport Lola-Ford/Cosworth home to third place where a jubilant Sigma Autosport crew was awaiting him.

"It's a great thing and a definite bonus," said Tom Howatt, Sigma's crew chief and Papis' left front tire changer. "We were not out there messing around. We knew that on Max's final stop we had to step up to the plate and do a great job. We'll we did and it worked out for all of us. It was awesome."

Another bonus was the fact that that stop helped the Sigma crew secure the sixth fastest overall pit stop time during the race for the second straight CART FedEx Championship event. This put Sigma in a tie for fourth place with two other teams for the Craftsman Pit Crew Challenge.

"The guys did a very good job and really performed well under pressure," said Papis. "They not only did a great job in the pits, but when I was having gearbox problems during practice and qualifying, they took it apart and fixed the problem before the race. They didn't have a lot of time to do this, but they did it and it worked well.

"They were a big part of this and I'm very pleased with them."

Check out our website at www.sigmaautosport.com

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Max Papis