CHAMPCAR/CART: Sigma Autosport update 2002-06-28

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill.--Max Papis went to Portland International Raceway two weeks ago with every intention of defending his G.I. Joe's 200 race victory. Instead, Papis didn't even get the chance to turn a wheel as financial matters prevented him and...

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill.--Max Papis went to Portland International Raceway two weeks ago with every intention of defending his G.I. Joe's 200 race victory. Instead, Papis didn't even get the chance to turn a wheel as financial matters prevented him and the Sigma Autosport team from fielding its entry there and at this week's CART Grand Prix of Chicago.

"This is a disappointment for sure," said Papis, 32, of Miami, Fla. "But it does not mean the end. I'm a fighter and I'll be back. This is only a temporary setback for us."

Missing a race is a disappointment for any race driver, and one could forgive Papis if he felt like Ray Milland with his "Lost Weekend," but Papis is dead serious when he says he's a fighter. Papis is well known for his spirit and optimism and his charges from the back to the front are well known.

Papis has competed in 105 CART FedEx Championship Series races and scored three victories during his career, including two last season -- his win from the pole in a driving rainstorm at Portland, and his CART record win from the back of the pack at Laguna Seca.

Papis signed to drive for Sigma Autosport in January this year. Soon after signing, Papis was part of the winning contingent at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, a race that fulfilled a goal for him. Papis soon began his seventh Champ Car campaign with only a brief shakedown test before taking part in the two-day sneak preview -- with the single Lola.

Not one to complain, Papis gritted his teeth, but the bit between them and got to the matter at hand as he charged his way through the field at the season-opener at Monterrey, Mexico, to lead the Tecate Telmex Grand Prix, ultimately finishing ninth. At Long Beach, Papis again fought through adversity, missing the morning warm-up, but running in the top ten all day and taking his first podium finish of the season and Sigma's first-ever with a third place finish. A promising run at Motegi, Japan, saw Papis run in the top five before his brakes failed.

After a month off to race at the Indianapolis 500, (where more brake problems hindered his effort with a 23rd-place finish), Papis came back with a vengeance to finish third again at Milwaukee. Papis accomplished all of this with no testing and with his single Ford-Cosworth/Lola, unofficially dubbed as "Old Faithful."

It was at Laguna Seca that Papis and the team overcame a huge obstacle when suspension failure pitched "Old Faithful" into the tire wall during the race morning warm-up. Normally, Papis would hop into the back up car, but he still had only one car. The Sigma Autosport crew worked feverishly on the #22 Ford-Cosworth/Lola to get Papis back on the track in time for the race. Not only did the crew get the job done with time to spare, but they did so with a large audience, who burst into applause when the car was wheeled from the Sigma compound to the pitlane.

Although Papis would finish out of the points during the race, he did finish it and still left the Monterey, Calif., track in the top 10 in points and eager to make amends at Portland. Unfortunately it was not to be.

Despite not running, the Italian driver proved the ever-consummate professional and fulfilled several driver obligations including speaking before the media and several fans, signing autographs and even throwing out the first pitch at a Portland Beavers minor league game at PGE Park.

"It is important for people to know that my crew and I came to race and that I was mentally and physically prepared to race at Portland and defend my race championship," said Papis. "We wanted to race and unfortunately due to circumstances beyond our control, we were unable to participate. It was not only disappointing for us, but for my fans, who came to see me race. I want to thank them for supporting the Sigma Autosport team and me.

"They are a big reason I enjoy racing."

Papis did not miss race day and took a pre-race lap of honor with Emerson Fittipaldi in the pace car. During the "National Anthem" and the start of the race, Papis stood in unity with the Sigma Autosport crew in the Sigma pits. Afterwards, Papis made a special guest appearance on the CBS Television broadcast of the race with announcers Bob Varsha and Derek Daly, helping to call some of the action.

"We stood out there to let all the fans know that we came here to race and that we were there to support Max and CART," said Sigma mechanic Neal Everhart. "It was a chance to tell everyone that we were ready to go and that it was not our fault we could not race. We're all part of this extended family."

Papis says he expects to be back in a racecar soon.

"I'm contracted to race for Sigma and I fully intend to continue the year," said Papis. "Not only for myself, but for my team and my fans. I am still committed to doing my best and to try and win races. The passion is within me and I want people to know that I am not feeling sorry for myself.

"I'm a fighter and a winner."

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Max Papis , Emerson Fittipaldi , Derek Daly
Teams ART Grand Prix