Weekend Cart Results
MONTEREY, Cal.--Max Papis started in the last row and made five pit stops during Sunday's Honda Grand Prix of Monterey Featuring the Shell 300. But, thanks to persistence, eight caution flags and a little racing luck, the irrepressible Italian was able to score a remarkable victory.
Papis led the final 16 laps in the Miller Ford-Cosworth/Lola and took his second checkered flag of 2001 just 0.794 of a second ahead of Memo Gidley, who came from 23rd to second in the Target Toyota/Lola.
And, while those two were understandably happy with their afternoon, Gil de Ferran was also wearing a big smile.
Starting from the pole position, the defending CART champion led the most laps and finished third in the Marlboro Honda/Reynard to increase his lead to 26 points in the FedEx Championship over Kenny Brack with just two races remaining.
“It was a little frustrating because we had such a great car, but it was still a very good result and puts us a step closer to the championship,” said de Ferran, who entered the weekend only 10 points ahead of Brack.
Brack's day ended on the opening lap after he tangled with Mauricio Gugelmin in Turn 5 and retired shortly thereafter.
But, in keeping with this season's tradition of last-to-first, Papis was able to duplicate what Dario Franchitti (Cleveland) and Michael Andretti (Toronto) achieved earlier.
“Definitely today we did not have the fastest car, but because of good pit strategy, a lot of will and a little luck we were able to go from last to first,” said Papis, whose charge from 25th was the furthest back any winner has come on a road course from in CART's 23-year history. “I told Mark (Johnson, team manager) before the race I felt like we could pull something special out today.
“We knew starting in the back we had to do something different and I think this was a great victory for our team.”
In the previous 19 Champ Car races here at Laguna Seca Raceway, the winner had come from the front row on 15 occasions. And that's what it looked like early as Team Penske comfortably ran 1-2 with rookie Scott Dixon the only driver keeping them honest.
De Ferran paced the opening 36 circuits before relinquishing the top spot to Dixon for two laps. Helio Castroneves, who pitted early on Lap 19 during the third full-course caution period, assumed command on Lap 39 when Dixon pitted and held on to first until Lap 50 when he made his second stop.
That left Adrian Fernandez in front and he led for 11 laps before Papis inherited the lead. His fifth, and last, pit stop had come on Lap 43 and he figured there was no way he'd be able to make it the final 40 laps without stopping again.
But nobody could predict that there would be four more full-course yellows for a total of 11 laps and that instead of 83 laps the race would be shortened to the two-hour time limit.
"Mad Max" and Gidley both had good strategy and better karma as they were able to conserve fuel thanks to all that caution and still race each other to the checkered flag.
“I never got a great handle on the car all day, but I drove it to its limit and was able to pull away at the end,” said Papis, whose earlier win this year came in a dominating drive at Portland from the pole.
“I knew Memo was right behind me and I had to fight hard to keep him there.”
Like he did a week before at Houston when he came from 23rd to third, Gidley used a steady pace, good fuel mileage and yellows to earn his third podium finish for Target Chip Ganassi Racing after joining the team in the seventh race of 2001.
“It wasn't a good car all weekend and we struggled, but good strategy, good fuel mileage and good pit stops have proven to be successful,” said the 30-year-old Californian who watched his first CART race here 10 years ago and decided he wanted to be a race driver.
“Considering the run of bad luck we had in the past, this was certainly deserving for this team.”
Following de Ferran home was Dixon, who started third in the Nextel/Powerware/Panasonic Toyota/Reynard, and did an excellent job. The 21-year-old New Zealander had the second fastest race lap and drove another heady race.
“Today was a case where the yellow flags helped a lot of guys, but it hut us,” said Dixon. “It's disappointing because I had a good car and we had did everything right. We were better than fourth today, but that's racing, I guess.”
Jimmy Vasser solidered home fifth in the Visteon/Patrick Racing Toyota/Reynard, while Castroneves had to settle for sixth despite having the fastest car on the track.
“We're still in the championship. Not great but OK, so we've just got to stay positive and head for Australia,” said Castroneves, 38 points behind his teammate and the only other driver mathematically alive for the title.