Papis beats the curse.
Max Papis won a thrilling game of Last Man Standing to take the spoils in the CART season opener at Homestead yesterday [Sunday] from 13th on the grid.
The Italian succeeded where those before him had failed, and hung on to the lead in the closing stages to takes his first Champcar victory after coming so close at Michigan last year. Roberto Moreno finished second and Paul Tracy third.
The race was equally emotional for Papis as it followed the last race of 1999, where his great friend Greg Moore perished, and gave Team Rahal its first success since the departed Bryan Herta triumphed at Laguna Seca two years ago. Papis was only second on the road with ten laps to run, but took advantage of a slip by surprise leader Tracy to dive inside the Green car and race for the line.
''We fought all day, and always believed in our hearts that we could do it,'' he said, ''With a few laps to go, I had a little glitch in my brain that made me think about Michigan and, at one point, I lost five or six lengths in the turbulence, but Bobby [Rahal] came on the radio and told me to go for it - that's why I was able to get by Paul when he went wide.''
Tracy had climbed from a lowly 17th on the grid to be in the running for victory, but fell victim to the leaders' jinx which was in force throughout the day.
Juan Montoya was the early pace-setter, but departed when his Toyota let go on lap 22. Similarly, Kenny Brack led until an oil leak forced him out, and Gil de Ferran looked likely to add victory to his pole position before choosing exactly the wrong lap to make his final pit-stop. Rookie Alex Tagliani took over, but promptly fell foul of a blend-line violation, leaving the Team Green car out in front.
Tracy looked comfortable once ahead, despite the handling problems which had afflicted both his and team-mate Dario Franchitti's cars in practice, but eventually lost the lead in traffic. The Canadian blamed no-one but himself, admitting that his Reynard had begun to slide as he dived inside Michel Jourdain Jr, causing him to lift off. Papis was through in a flash and, such was Tracy's loss of momentum, that Moreno was able to follow the Miller Lite car into second.
''We had a seventh or eighth place car today, but we got good points and that's what we came here to do,'' said a resigned Tracy, ''I think at the end, if we hadn't had any traffic, we would have been okay, but that's the way things go.''
Understeer seemed to be the order of the day, with Papis reporting that the Rahal crew had been trying to dial it into his car all afternoon. In the end, however, he was relieved to see it on someone else's car push victory in his direction.