If you do not yet know the story of “Mad Max”, I highly suggest the November 1996 issue of RACER magazine. Until then, here is what I remember about the North American debut of Max Papis.
The 1996 24 Hours of Daytona was the place. A bitterly cold place to be this particular year in early February. Unless, of course, you are Max Papis and it is your turn to do the final stint in the MOMO Ferrari 333sp.
The Ferrari had surendered the race lead because of mechanical troubles and was further hindered by teammate, Bob Wollek, after hitting a slower car in the chicane. During repairs in the pits, the Ferrari was handed over to Papis.
Papis jumped behind the MOMO steering wheel and headed out onto the track to finish the job and bring the team home to a secure second place. Well, no one told Papis the race was over in their heads, because in his mind he had a lap to get back so that he could put the heat on Wayne Taylor in the race-leading Oldsmobile. Taylors car was being nursed around the track in the final hour to try and insure it would make it to the finish in the lead. Besides, why push the car when the second place car was well over a lap back and in need of nursing, too?
What Papis did could have caused a lesser car to break (blow the engine). With scant minutes left on the clock, Papis had lit a fire and was scorching the track in pursuit of the ailing Oldsmobile. Papis was putting on the greatest late-race comeback ever seen in the history of the 24 Hours of Daytona. Papis repassed the Oldsmobile to put himself on the lead lap. His plan was working. The Doyle Racing Oldsmobile was slowing even more to try and survive the last dozen minutes. They were prey to Papis in his Ferrari as he pulled out a sequence of fast laps!
What few fans remained at the track were applauding with their gloved and frozen hands for the unthinkable might happen. Watches were being studied, timing Papis amazing speed around the near-frozen track. Can he do it? Is he going to catch the Oldsmobile? Was Wayne Taylor a sitting duck to the fiery Italians hunting him down? Was there enough time remaining on the race clock for the MOMO Ferrari to do the untinkable?
With every blazing lap Papis made, the “200mph tape” holding his Ferraris left side together (damage caused by Wolleks pass attempt) would relieve its grip slightly. Was Papis abused and battered red sled falling apart on him? Was his Ferrari going to be the car that broke first?
With less than ten minutes remaining in the 24 hour spectacle, Max drove the fastest lap of the race. He was possessed. What would be the punishment if he didnt finish the race at all after being handed the car while in second place? What would happen if he won? The mind wonders.
What did happen was the closest finish in 24 hour event history at Daytona. 64 seconds is all that filled the gap from eventual (and lucky) winner Wayne Taylor and crew to the MOMO Ferrari. After 24 hours of race dominance over the rest of the field, the two lead cars were merely 64 seconds apart.
Dissappointed Papis didnt get to drive the Ferrari into the Victory Lane, the fans knew in their hearts who the winners were this year. Them. For the fans got to witness an entire season of the newly crowned and adored “Mad Max”.
Im proud to say I was there, and taking pictures of the whole thing!
1998 USRRC “Mad Max” Race Update- At the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona, January 31 - February 1, Max Papis again set fastest race lap in a Ferrari 333sp. Both times Max has raced at Daytona he has set the fastest race lap. Unfortunately, for Max, he did not drive with his previous MOMO Team, instead he drove the Scandia Team Ferrari 333sp. The MOMO Team won the gruelling endurance race.
Max Papis has been the hired gun at Arciero-Wells Racing team since late in the 1996 season. Filling in for the late Jeff Krosnoff, Papis drives a Toyota-powered Reynard with intelligence and passion. Though the Toyota-powered cars are still off-pace compared to Mercedes-Benz, Ford Cosworth and Honda, the gap is narrowing. Max Papis finished the gruelling 1997 U.S. 500 at Michigan International Speedway in 8th place. Papis continues with Arciero-Wells for the 1998 CART season.
As the Toyota engine becomes more competitive, watch for Max to find his way up to the podium. Alex Zanardi beware, this Italian, when in a top car, will be a challenger for the CART Championship title.