Race Weekend Central

Beyond the Cockpit: Max Papis on Rolex, 2011 Truck Series Transition

Max Papis has had success in multiple disciplines of motorsports over the past two decades. He started as an open-wheel racer in Europe, eventually progressing through the karting ranks and into the lesser categories of open-wheel racing. Eventually, in 1995 Papis made his World Championship debut for the Footwork/Arrows Hart team, driving seven races in place of Gianni Morbidelli.

After his brief tenure in Formula 1, Papis came to the United States driving in IMSA and later on in the PPG IndyCar World Series (which would become the CART World Series). While successful there, it wasn’t what he wanted; so, five years ago Papis began to make the transition away from sports cars and open-wheeled racers to learn NASCAR.

Driving the majority of last season in the No. 13 GEICO Toyota for Germain Racing at the Cup level, Papis is now signed to run all 25 races in Germain Racing’s No. 9 Truck Series Toyota Tundra instead this season – again with GEICO as the sponsor. With defending champion Todd Bodine, young gun Justin Lofton and former winner Brendan Gaughan as teammates, Papis is very confident heading into 2011.

We had the chance to briefly catch up with the driver of the GEICO Tundra during the Rolex 24 at Daytona’s Champions Photo-Op in Daytona International Speedway’s victory lane.

Phil Allaway, Frontstretch: Looking at the time sheets, your team (the No. 9 Action Express Racing Porsche Riley) has been down around 12th or 13th in practice. How’s the Riley handling so far?

Max Papis: I’m actually really pleased about the job we’ve been doing so far because our qualifying pace and our race speed are very similar. So, it doesn’t seem that we can really pick it up and go super quick, but the consistency is great and the attitude within the team is very good.

I’m very pleased about the driver lineup (Note: Papis was joined by Terry Borcheller, Joao Barbosa and Christian Fittipaldi in the No. 9). All the drivers have a lot of experience in endurance racing. I really think that we’re going to be a factor come tomorrow afternoon.

Allaway: What do you think will be the biggest strength of your team heading into the weekend?

Papis: I really feel that the strength of our Action Express car is that it doesn’t take much of an effort to make a consistent, fast lap time. Everyone is within a second or a half a second of each other and I really think that, looking back at the past history of what I’ve done here at Daytona, that’s the name of the game.

Allaway: So, the plan is simply to maintain a consistent pace and hope nothing breaks?

Papis: We already have everything planned. When we’re going to do our pit stops, when we’re going to change brakes. We have a brake usage chart that we’ve set out. The most important thing is that you’re racing against yourself and against the race track, and not the opposition. I think that’s going to be the key for success. We all know what we need to do in the team.

Honestly, I think this is one of the best chances I have had [to win]. Obviously, the Ganassi guys (Nos. 01 and 02 BMW Rileys) are the favorites. They are the benchmark, but I think that Action Express was able to beat me and them last year (Note: Papis was a co-driver of Ganassi’s No. 01 in the 2010 Rolex 24 at Daytona), so I think it’s going to be good.

Allaway: You mention that [the race] is mainly racing the track, and not really the opposition. Is there a point where you really switch mentality and just go after the opposition in an endurance race?

Papis: You have to go hard every lap. You need to race traffic and you need to race other GT cars, but the mentality has to be that you don’t have to race the other people in a way because, if it happens, of course you go for it. But, most of the time, you race yourself because that is going to be the most important part of the race.

Allaway: For many American race fans, their introduction to you was back here in 1996. What kind of memories do you have of that race weekend and the time leading up to it?

Papis: The memories of 1996 are as clear as day. Without this track, I would have never been anywhere. Daytona means the world to me, both as a racetrack, for the results and for the atmosphere of the place.

The 1996 race is tapped into my brain forever. It is one of the best memories of my life, together with my kids.

Allaway: With the Camping World Truck Series this season, you’re running the full season in the No. 9 GEICO Toyota for Germain Racing. First off, how’s the preseason prep going?

Papis: I see that the team is very motivated. It is the first time that they really have a budget so that they can actually build new trucks, not just for Todd Bodine but for everyone. I’m expecting to be able to run consistently in the hunt for success and bring home some wins.

Allaway: How’s the team in general right now?

Papis: The team is working really hard right now to go from a one-truck team to a four-truck team. My own team, the No. 9, is in place. We have all the people, including the pit crew. They’ve been working really actively all winter long to do research and development with Toyota. Toyota is very much involved in the organization. I’m expecting us to definitely be a factor as a team in the series.

Allaway: Last season, you ran the majority of the season in the No. 13 GEICO Toyota Camry in Sprint Cup. It was a bit of a tough year. What can you take away from that season?

Papis: We kind of did what we expected. We brought home the best results for Germain Racing and the No. 13 car with an eighth-place at Watkins Glen [in 2009]. I think that last year, our best result was a 15th, I think, in Talladega (Editor’s Note: It was actually 22nd, twice at Texas and Watkins Glen). I feel that it is difficult to compete against [the] powerhouses, but the experience that I gain and the experience that the team gains in that adventure can help us to run fast and competitive in the Truck Series.

I’m really proud of how far I brought the team from not making shows to being a consistent qualifier in the top 25. Now, it’s in Casey’s hands. I really wanted to run a full NASCAR season and trading 18 Cup races for a full Truck season was a no brainer.

Allaway: Speaking of Watkins Glen in 2009, in the post-race press conference you mentioned something about there being more of a focus on the human in NASCAR. Can you explain that a little?

Papis: The cars are important, but it is the people who build the cars that are more important than the car itself. [NASCAR] is definitely a team sport in every aspect. The human factor is important in every race, not just in building the car but in the knowledge of what it takes to go faster. So, it is special.

Allaway: Do you have any hobbies that you do away from the racetrack?

Papis: Oh yes. I’m a big cyclist and snow skier. I’m just a big, wild kid.

The No. 9 Action Express Racing Porsche Riley effectively ran just like Max said it would during the Rolex 24 at Daytona. After qualifying 12th overall and in the Daytona Prototype class, the team made its way up the order relatively quickly, cracking the top three by the sixth hour. All through the night, the No. 9 kept pace with the two Ganassi BMW Rileys, their team car from Action Express Racing (the No. 5), the United Autosport/Michael Shank Racing No. 23 and the Shank-entered No. 6.

Unfortunately, like Max said, the car’s inability to run “super quick” cost them in the end, as the Ganassi threat was just too much to overcome. Still, Papis and the Action Express team did bring home a third-place finish overall and in the Daytona Prototype class, just a few seconds behind the winning No. 01 BMW Riley.

About the author

Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.

Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.

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