CART: An Interview with Max Papis Winner of the Marlboro Grand Prix at Homestead Miami Speedway
Motor racing - 29 Mar 2000
T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon to everybody. Welcome to the CART media teleconference. Thanks to all of you for taking the time to be with us today. Our guest today is Team Rahal driver Max Papis who earned a well-deserved first career FedEx Championship Series victory in Sunday's season-opening Marlboro Grand Prix presented by Toyota at Homestead Miami Speedway. Max, congratulations and thanks for being with us this afternoon. MAX PAPIS: Thank you guys. T.E. McHALE: Max, the driver of the No. 7 Miller Ford Reynard passed leader Paul Tracy with ten laps remaining and went on to his first career victory in his 60th career start. He averaged a race record 164.788 miles per hour while finishing six hundred twenty thousandths of a second ahead of runner-up Roberto Moreno who matched a career best finish. Max is in his fifth year in the FedEx Championship Series and his second year with Team Rahal. He enjoyed a breakthrough season in 1999 with 11 top-five finishes in 20 starts highlighted by successive runner-up efforts in the season's final two events at Australia and California Speedway. He also earned his first pole position at Chicago; led the series in laps and miles completed, and claimed a berth on the inaugural CART All-Star team. Heading into the April 9th Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix presented by Toyota at Nazareth Speedway, Max leads the FedEx Championship Series with 20 points. The Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix presented by Toyota round two of this year's FedEx Championship Series will be televised live on ABC TV on Sunday April 9th beginning at 1:00 PM Eastern time. Q. When you left -- when you left PPI, when you left Cal Wells for Team Rahal. Cal said that you were going to win an awful lot of races before you were done. And I'm wondering if you've spoken to Cal since the win, and what did he tell you? MAX PAPIS: You know, me and Cal, we have a special relation. We don't need to say many word. Cal was there and he was there with me all the way, you know, when I was on the podium when everyone was gone. I saw him standing there. I went over, I hug him and I told him, "thanks to that day in Michigan when you believed in me and you make me sit in your car and you helped me with this year," and said, "this is -- you're a part of this," and he knew about it. Between friends, you don't need many word; so we have special relation. Q. I've got to ask you, after 60 races you have had to be very frustrated before you finally got the win on Sunday. How did you feel, especially the last year with all these starts and never getting to the winner's circle? MAX PAPIS: I think that's very wrong what you ask. It's completely opposite of what I think. First of all, the real opportunities to win, there are only 21 when I joined Team Rahal with a Ford engine, and I felt that in 21 career start, I won one race, I finish four time -- three times on the podium, and for me it is a great achievement. For me the frustration is never there. We knew that we were developing a Toyota engine when I came on board. We knew that we could not win even when I left PPI; that is the reason Cal let me go. We said in that stage of the development, we don't win. For me, frustration was not there because there is no frustration or other things in life. For me, I knew I was doing my best. I knew that I had to perservere in my dreams and my goals and that's what I did. But, you know, I always felt, and this is not arrogance, you know, I always felt in my heart that the opportunity to be a champion was there, the opportunity to win races was there. I just needed the right people, the right equipment and the right people around me. And, you know, what I said in Sunday in the press conference is what I say right now as well. Now, you could see what I could see in my heart, for many years. Just the difference is now I can share these things with all you guys. Q. When I saw that you were going to be the guest on the teleconference today, I couldn't help but think, gee, I wonder if you've been partying out in South Beach all night. I'm sure you hadn't, but that made me think of the first time I saw you at Mid-Ohio, your first race there, and we talked then about how you had those Italian doctors and they had you on a regimen that you were trying to follow. And I just wondered, do you still work with that same group and how is the regimen changed since a couple years ago, if you have, and also, how difficult is it now to continue to try to follow that kind of program now that you're with the higher-profile type of team that Team Rahal is? MAX PAPIS: Definitely, my trainer, professor Claudia Calstilone, (phonetic). He was with me in Miami, and nothing has been changed since I joined CART and since some years ago. You know, the difference, I am exactly the same person with the same mentality and the same attitude than when I joined CART season four years ago. Nothing has changed. The only difference is the tools that I had in my hand and, you know, definitely, it could be -- I was a great moment, but now we know with Ford and the Miller people, we have the right opportunity to be champions, to win races, and to be a champion and win races you need to take care of your engine and my engine is my body. And therefore, you know, I keep pushing very hard. That's why I had my trainer here for one and a half weeks before race one, just to get ready, not really for Homestead, Miami and these ovals they are not very physical, but for when the time is going to come when the street courses are coming, like Long Beach, and things like that there you need to be really tough and in extremely good physical shape. I felt that, you know, as my training regime has always been helping me in my career. I'm still going to keep doing it in the same way I was doing it before, and in my mind, everything was the same as before, no different. I'm always the same person that I was on Saturday and Sunday morning when I didn't win any races. Q. Down in Daytona, you said something way back then that "one of these days everyone in America everyone would know Mad Max." They know you now don't they? MAX PAPIS: You know, it was a long time since I won the race. It was, you know -- if you don't take the class win this year in Daytona since 1996, and for me, it was not a long time. You know it was maybe for more statistic. But on Sunday, you could see, you know, why they call me mad Max, you know. I overtook and won many traces on the last lap, and fighting with Paul Tracy, I had the same determination that I always had in my career and what brought me to overtake him on the last ten laps of the race was the will to succeed was always burning big time in my heart. And when I saw the opportunity, that was it. That was my time. You know, it was -- it was a very special moment. It was Max time. Q. And it was also some time for your dad. What has been your dad's reaction and the family back in Italy? MAX PAPIS: Actually, they was very proud because my dad and my mother they were over here with me in Miami; so it was a very special moment. I when I went up there on podium, I lift up the trophy and I turn to them and I look at them and I say, that's enough, that's what you need. Like I say, with people that know -- that know, you don't need to use that many words because you know that they know and they understand. So I was extremely proud to see -- to show to my dad in my career and how far we went. Q. And finally, driving across the finish line, what was going on inside Mad Max's -- what were you thinking? What were the emotions? MAX PAPIS: There were very many emotions. Very difficult to describe but the first things that came to my brain was this time we made it for real. You know, we made it for real. And many things went through my brain and my emotions, but I will keep them for me, but I feel that the biggest things was that at the end, you know, after we won the race, that we were not thinking that we could win it. We thought we could, but, you know, we were -- it was a special one because we built our success and that was -- I was the most happy and when everything was finished, the biggest thing for me was being able to share it with the people that I love, like my family. Q. We've seen oval testing in the winter and obviously in the first race that you're running very well on the ovals, but how is the preparation for the road courses, and particularly, the Long Beach one going? MAX PAPIS: We've not done really a lot of road course testing. We've been learning about our setups. It's really difficult to recreate similar condition -- in the United States, there are not many racetrack that in the wintertime you can go testing for street and road courses. I feel we improved it and that's what I told Bobby as well. For me Sunday was a great satisfaction. I'm European, I'm Italian and I won a race on an oval and it's a huge achievement, on a short oval, it's American territory. So that was a huge thing. And as I told Bobby, I'm a lot better road course than street course driver than what I am on the ovals; so now, let's find the right, you know, right ingredient to really become winners even where I feel -- where I belong, where I was born. Q. I noticed in the preseason predictions, a lot of the writers had Michael Andretti as their title favorite, but I had you as my title favorite. So do you think you could help me out and win a couple more races so it looks like I know what I'm talking about. MAX PAPIS: I still feel like Michael is the favorite. Michael is very experienced and he has -- he has a tremendous background and he has a lot of personality. He knows what he's doing out there. But Sunday, we showed that we are there, too. We are there, too, and we are going to fight every race to take what we can to take home what we can and it's going to be winning races and going to be races. And if it's going to be finishing on the podium it will be great anyway. But Sunday was proof that we believed in ourselves and we could make it happen. And definitely, my goal right now is not stopping to win races. Q. You gave us a thrill Saturday afternoon in qualifying. Did you think that you would be where you were on Saturday afternoon? MAX PAPIS: To answer your question, it's very easy. This is my personality. Me, I always think that until checker flag is down, I can win. Doesn't matter where I am. And Saturday, I got a lot of compliments for the save. I did on the car, but for me, it was, you know, starting 12 and starting uphill, so for me when I started the race, I knew in my heart that I had to really attack in the beginning, hold back a little bit in the middle and attack again in the end. And I felt that with the support of my guys, you know, we have done tremendous because I really analyzed that yesterday. And in the last, I think, five or six races from last year to this year, I finish third in Laguna Seca, fourth in Houston, second in Fontana, second in Australia and first here in Miami. And I felt that this shows a tremendous improvement from Team Rahal and everyone on our team. We were out at the podium one time and that's for me something amazing. Q. Was there any conversation on the radio during the last laps about whether or not there would be enough fuel in the car or were you pretty certain that you had enough? MAX PAPIS: I didn't know about these things because I let my engineer sort out the technical details. But I trust what they tell me. They told me to go for it and actually it was very special. Bobby was very motivational for me. He played a tremendous part in this one because in one stage; 20 laps to go, I was getting -- pole was getting a little bit away, behind him, I had lots of turbulence and my car was sliding around a lot. I couldn't really stay with him and he told me, think forward, look forward. And the reason that I gained those five or six car lengths allowed me to overtake him when I run into traffic. Bobby, I felt he played a tremendous part in that because he kept me on my toes and kept me pushing and thinking forward and this was what made us the winner Sunday. Q. What about Nazareth? There seems to be a prediction of cold weather and possibly snow there. Have you looked at that yet? MAX PAPIS: Whatever it's going to be, it's going to be the same for everyone. I know that Michael is the king of Nazareth. Michael is the king of the ovals because that's one thing he is. But I feel that we've been testing there; we're not great. We learn a little bit about our car and I feel that we are going to go there with the same determination that we went with two of the races in the beginning of this year. Q. At victory circle, the press was screaming for you to win, too. When you won, they all yesterday. Congratulations, good win, we'll see you at Nazareth. MAX PAPIS: Thanks. Q. That was a well-deserved win. I'm so happy for you guys. My question is with one race down, how did it actually feel, the racing with the new configuration, did it feel any different, did it feel the same? How was it inside the cockpit for you? MAX PAPIS: It's a bit difficult to evaluate this -- MK2, I think is the name of it. They keep changing. But you know, it's a bit difficult to really evaluate it because we don't know yet exactly how it's working. Definitely was a huge turbulence behind other cars. Was difficult to really run close to them. But, you know, it makes the setup very critical. It's very difficult to fight it, so I feel that definitely it is going to give an advantage to drive -- to technical driver, to people who knows what they need in their car. And I feel I'm going to be able to answer this question in maybe a couple races to come, but definitely was not a bad thing. Q. Going into Nazareth you are effectively leading in the points race. How does that effect your focus and what are your plans for Nazareth, are there any changes? MAX PAPIS: I tell you how it affect my focus. I went out there morning and I went around with my jet ski. That's for me -- for me it make no difference, to tell you the truth, you know. I always think forward. I appreciate the Sunday race, but that's it. For me, it's finished. I have many other things to think about, and go ahead and go forward. And so, you know, I really feel that for me it doesn't matter. I'll be leading the championship, I'll be leading the championship; it doesn't really make a big difference if there's 19 races to go. We have many things to prove yet and if there is anyone who thinks that, oh, now we've proved it, we are okay, that's the time that you start to lose -- lose it. So I feel that my mind is set, as always. Hungry for success, even more success, so I feel that I really love Nazareth, it is a tremendous track to drive in. It's a lot of fun. I love overtaking lots of traffic and I feel we are ready to put on another great show there. Q. Max, given that this was such an emotional weekend, it was the first race without Greg Moore, it was your first victory you are racing. Now, what is essentially a home race for you, is there a particular moment from the weekend that stands out or is more special to you, one that will really have a lot of value five or ten years from now. MAX PAPIS: It is really difficult to pick a moment. Definitely, you know, yeah, I would pick the one. When I was getting ready to overtake Paul, I knew -- I did some tests before on that turn, 3 and 4, how early could go on the power. And I remember that I would have never been able to do that four years ago, without all those miles I've done with PPI, without all those testing, all those running in the back of the field, I would have never been able to really have the confidence to do what I did. And I felt that on that lap whatever it was, 140 or something like that, I used all the things I learn in these years, and that moment for me was just much more than overtaking for the lead. You know, showed it to me that now I have the confidence to do certain things on the ovals that I can do on street and road courses, and this for me meant a lot. As I said to you before, you know me very well. We have a lot of conversation in the past. And oval, you know, is American territory, and for me, winning there is something that, you know, I would have -- let's put it that I never would have expected to win my first race in an oval four years ago. Now I made it, and pretty proud of it. Q. I checked your Web site Monday morning. You have got e-mail from all over the world from a lot of different types of people, and one of the things that I have noticed about you over the years is the fact that you love the fans and the fans love you. Talk about the emotion of -- I don't even know if you've had a chance to look at the e-mail, but talk about that for a moment? MAX PAPIS: Absolutely. You are exactly right. When we built our MaxPapis.com Web site, the intention was mainly focus on two things. One, to keep all the journalists around the world updated on what we do, what we are doing. And the other one was to stay in contact with all my race fans. And I tell you, between Sunday and Monday I got something -- 140 messages on my Web site. I read them all and I am going to answer to all of them because its thanks to what these people write to me, thanks to these motivation they have and they give it to me, that I can go out there and I can find that little glinch, I can find that little bit of fire more in my heart that allows me to go and do what I do out there, and you know, it was tremendous just to tell you, we open our merchandising side and after the race, 20 minutes after the race, they sold all the t-shirts and all the things we had there at the track, and we couldn't even give it away to everyone. For me, it was a great satisfaction to see how far we went since I came over here in the U.S. there is still a lot of room to improve and we are definitely go to grow. But what I feel definitely is the most happy is that people can see who is behind the wheel and they can see that I put my heart and all my efforts into what I do and can't be any better appreciation than for me than a kid coming over and saying thanks and giving me a hat to sign or something like this or taking a picture with people that that I really feel in their heart and their eyes they really care for me. For me this is my life is made for. I love driving. This is what I love the most, but the things I love intensely is being able to give something to the people that they are there and watching -- they are watching me and supporting me. This is what I carried the most. Q. You said a few moments ago that when you were talking about Nazareth, you were saying that's the next race and Homestead is behind me. But I've got to think there's a little more to that. I've got to think in the quietness of your house or standing on the beach or when you're on the jet ski this morning, you screamed out once or twice; you had some real private joy with this, haven't you? MAX PAPIS: Absolutely. This morning, you know when I woke up, I said ... (technical interference) ... but at the same time, I know that now, now, is time to focus on the future and if you stand still, you know, people don't overtake you, just leave you there. So my focusing and my emotions are, you know, they are very intense, but I always feel that I appreciate every day me, appreciate -- even this morning when I woke up and I look outside my house and see what I can see. So for me, every day is a new day and I always try to look at big picture of about what life is about, and today was a great achievement and there are many -- if I can -- if my achievement gave joy to people, that's my goal, that's what I'm happy for and I'm sure that I gave joy for many people that were close to me. Q. One other question from me. After the race, you know you talked a little bit about emotion that you felt. What about the emotion and the congratulations you got from other drivers such as Juan Montoya or Dario or Michael Andretti? What did they say when they came up to you? MAX PAPIS: The people you know -- as I said to you, for me, the feeling is very special. I was up there on the podium and I could see many, many people happy for me. Dario went up in front of the pit wall, stood up and gave me the thumbs up, and for me, that's what counts; it was very special. And having two people that I really respect tremendously, like Paul Tracy and Roberto Moreno. Paul was there and he was really sincere when he said what he said to you guys. He said that -- he really say that he was sincerely happy and proud that I was there with him and for me this is -- this is what it counts, you know, like Paul, you know, Paul was there and I could really see in his eyes and his heart that I meant what he say. And the same things for Roberto. Fortunately for them, as I say it in the press conference, during this year, we've been talking about oval driving and I have picked up a lot of tricks. But besides that, I can't really tell you, like when I was up there on the podium, Alex came over, and I have a special relationship with him that goes a lot way beyond auto racing. And very similar thing for Jimmy Vasser. Jimmy came over and I could really feel that these guys like Jimmy, Alex, you know, Paul, Christian, as well, they care for me as a human being, and of course, I'm their opposition. But I could see that they was sincerely happy, and during the winter time, we go through very difficult moments all together, and it was very special that I -- to see what all of these guys have in their hearts and it couldn't be any better, couldn't be more words to say than to look in their eyes. T.E. McHALE: We'll wrap it up for today. Max, congratulations again on your first career victory. Thanks for being with us today. Best of luck in the Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix presented by Toyota coming up next Sunday April 9 at Nazareth Speedway in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, and through the rest of the FedEx Championship Series season. MAX PAPIS: Thank you so much. And what I wanted to say to everyone is that you know, I promise you a very good press conference and if -- if it would have been a really special one, better than all the ones you've seen before and I hope you really got it because it came from my heart. T.E. McHALE: Thanks again, Max, and good luck to you the rest of the way. A reminder to all of you that Max's teammate rookie Kenny Breck will be featured on a Team Rahal teleconference tomorrow, Wednesday 1:00 p.m. Eastern time.