This Week in Ford Racing July 20, 1999 CART FedEx Championship Series Max Papis, driver of the ...
This Week in Ford Racing July 20, 1999
CART FedEx Championship Series
Max Papis, driver of the #7 Miller Lite Ford, is looking forward to the series' first superspeedway visit of the 1999 FedEx Championship Series campaign - the U.S. 500 at Michigan Speedway. After a successful test in the beginning of July that saw Papis atop the speed charts, the Miller Lite team has had the U.S. 500 marked on its calendar.
Papis, who prides himself as a road racer, enjoys racing the fast two-mile ovals and is looking for his Ford-Cosworth engine to be the edge he needs to compete for the win. He also talks about racing with the Hanford device and the team's early-season successes and struggles as it attempts to find the magical chemistry that ultimately builds a racing dynasty.
MAX PAPIS -7- MILLER LITE FORD-COSWORTH -- YOU TESTED AT MICHIGAN SPEEDWAY TWO WEEKS AGO AND POSTED SOME VERY IMPRESSIVE TIMES. HOW DO YOU AND THE TEAM FEEL GOING INTO THE SERIES' FIRST SUPERSPEEDWAY OF THE YEAR? WHAT IS GOING TO BE THE KEY FOR YOU TO HAVE A STRONG RUN AT MICHIGAN? "I think the key is knowing that I have the Ford engine behind me. I think one of the Ford cars will be on the pole at Michigan because the engine seems to have the best top-end performance of any of the other engines. I feel very good and comfortable going into Michigan. After spending a lot of time running a development engine last year in places like Michigan and Fontana where getting speed out of the car was really, really hard, I didn't feel like we were in control of the situation. Knowing that I have underneath me something that can provide me the necessary speed down the straight where it counts is a very good feeling."
WHEN YOU CAME TO THE SERIES FOUR YEARS AGO, YOUR BACKGROUND WAS IN ROAD RACING. WAS GETTING ACCLIMATED TO SUPERSPEEDWAYS A DIFFICULT TRANSITION FOR YOU? "When I came here to the U.S. I had no clue about the ovals. It was very difficult and very tough and very new to me. You need to approach driving differently, you need to discipline yourself and have a good relationship with your engineer. You can go a little bit faster than your car, but you cannot go faster than your car for the entire race. I started to enjoy the ovals more and more because I had good teachers. I think that right now on the superspeedways the wing setup makes for a good show, but I think it is going to be very difficult for someone to take off and run away from everyone else. One thing that is special about the superspeedways is the sense of team spirit that you get during the race. It's a long race where the driver counts, but the pit stops count, the strategy counts a lot, and having the right spotter telling you the right things at the right moment is important. I really enjoy the team spirit. I also like fast corners and I think I have been lucky to drive good cars on the ovals. It's not like I like one type of driving more than others, but with my background on road courses and street courses, that is where I think I am the best. But I am catching up on the ovals and getting better and better."
HOW DO YOU LIKE RACING WITH THE HANDFORD DEVICE? "There is a big trade off. Personally, I don't feel that if you go 240 mph or 250 mph there is much of a difference, but I have not touched the wall yet at that speed. For sure, the Handford device works for the business. It slows the car down on the straight without taking away all of the feeling away from the car. In some respects it equalizes a lot of things in the race. It's not what you want if you are a driver because if you are taking off and someone slipstreams you and goes by you 10 mph faster, you know, it's not real racing. But safety is always the primary issue. I guess I am not experienced enough to say get rid of it, but in my two-and-a-half year experience driving Champ Cars, I will say that 245 mph is way too fast to be going at a place like Michigan. I think everything has a limit and the speed we are running at the moment is plenty."
IF CART ASKED YOU HOW THEY SHOULD TRIM SPEEDS WHAT WOULD YOU TELL THEM? "I would say we should look at going down a step on the horsepower. The worse thing you can do is take away downforce away from the cars. Reducing the downforce takes away the feeling of the driver and that's what you don't want. But, maybe keeping the same level of downforce we have at the moment with maybe a hundred less horsepower. Maybe you could see some people deciding to go with more wing and others deciding to go with less wing and that would open up the technical issues a little bit where right now they are pretty narrow."
AS A NEW TEAM COMBINATION, YOU SAW SOME PRETTY QUICK SUCCESS AND SOME VERY STRONG FINISHES EARLY ON. THEN YOU HAD A STRING OF RACES WHERE YOU SEEMED TO HAVE SOME GROWING PAINS. HOW DID YOU HANDLE HAVING THE SUCCESS AND STRONG RUNS EARLY TO ONLY STRUGGLE A LITTLE BIT LATER? "You have to analyze the latest information you have. We started off on ovals and ovals in certain ways are a little easier to find the chemistry between the drivers and engineers and team when you start with a good package. We had to change a lot of things around to fit my style, but the variables you have to work with on ovals are less. When you go to a street course, the variables are multiplied by a thousand. You don't have as much time to refine the car and work on the details. That is what I think we found. It takes time to find what other people have found in three, four, or five years of experience. Sometimes I get a bit discouraged because I feel I am a better road course driver than an oval driver. Well, I know I am a better road course driver. We have to be patient and I am very patient by nature. It is a learning process and in a class like Champ Cars, it is so important that the chemistry be there between driver, engineer, and team manager because a half-second can make the difference between fifth position and 15th. It makes a huge difference in the way you approach the weekend."