Massimiliano Max Papis
Massimiliano Papis, better known as Max, is the Italian racing driver who made his name mostly in the North American racing competitions (IndyCar/Champ Car, IMSA, NASCAR), but also recorded seven starts in the Formula One World Championship in 1995.
He won three races in the Champ Car, took the Grand American Rolex Series title in 2004 and recorded five class podiums at 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Four years in the Italian Formula 3
When he was a kid, Max competed in karting races and did that relatively well, winning some races in Italy, but also in the European and World Championships. The next stop was Formula Monza Series in 1998 where he spent a single season, while in 1989, he had competed in the Italian Formula 3 Championship. Interestingly, his teammate in R3 Racing for Italy March–Toyota was the famous Alex Zanardi.
He stayed in Italian Formula 3 for further three years with three different teams. In 1990, as a driver of Euroteam Marlboro Reynard-Alfa Romeo team, he had three top six finishes with 5th place at Monza as the season highlight. In 1991, with Team Venturini Dallara-Alfa Romeo, he scored two wins and finally in 1992, driving for VW Factory Team, he was 5th in the Drivers’ championship, winning the race at Vallelunga and having five finishes in top five.
One win in the International Formula 3000
For the 1993 campaign, Max Papis signed with Vortex Motorsport to compete in the International Formula 3000. His rookie year wasn’t brilliant because of too many retirements, but the things improved in the following season in which the Italian finished 6th overall after scoring one race win at the Catalunya Circuit. The same year, he was testing Ligier Renault F1 at Estoril and later became a test driver for Lotus.
Max had unexpected debut and short spell in Formula 1
He had to wait until 1995 on his debut in Formula 1. Papis got a chance with the Footwork Arrows team, replacing his compatriot Gianni Morbidelli for seven races in the middle of the season, mainly because he had a very lucrative sponsor which helped the team who was struggling financially. Max managed to finish only two of seven races, failing to score a point. When Moribidelli returned to the team, Papis had to go, and after he failed to secure his Formula 1 drive for 1996, he decided to go to the United States.
Departure to the US and new steps in his racing career
The first year in the new environment was very good for the Italian. Driving in the CART Series, he scored his first ever points for PPI Motorsports team while in the IMSA SportsCar Championship, driving Team MOMO’s Ferrari and finishing as a vice-champion after winning the races at Watkins Glen, Road Atlanta, and Lime Rock, setting eight track records at the same time. Papis earned the nickname ’Mad Max’ that year after brisk driving late in the 24 Hours of Daytona.
In his second year with PPI Motorsports, Max Papis finished 24th overall in CART Series and debuted in 24 Hours of Le Mans. Driving for Team MOMO alongside Gianpiero Moretti and Didier Theys, he was 4th in P1 class and 6th overall. During 1998, Papis finished one CART series race in top five for the first time, but that was his last year with PPI Motorsports. In the IMSA Championship, he displayed a good performance at 24 Hours of Daytona where he had pole position and was leading for 18 hours to eventually finish third, driving SCANDIA’s Ferrari 333SP.
Video : Mad Max Papis, 1996 Daytona
Good results in the CART Series
For the year of 1999, Max Papis moved to Team Rahal Miller and did a good job. He was fifth in the championship, which was a huge improvement considering the years with PPI Motorsports. He was in top five in 11 of 20 races and was 2nd in most laps led and 1st in the number of miles and laps completed. At Daytona 24h, again in Ferrari 333SP, driving with Jimmy Vasser and Stefan Johansson, Max Papis repeated the results from the previous year.
The last year of the 20th century was pretty good for the guy born in Como. He managed to clinch the maiden win in CART Series, at Homestead-Miami Speedway and won Rolex 24h at Daytona for Dyson racing in a Riley Scott-Ford SRP1 division.
Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona winner
In 2001, Papis was sixth in the CART Series, scoring a win at Laguna Seca, starting from the 25th place on the grid and finished 2nd in two races – at Lausitzring and Fontana Superspeedway. For the following season, Max signed a contract with Sigma Autosport, but the team retired from the competition after five rounds due to financial troubles. Later in the season, he started two races for Fernandez Racing as a replacement for Adrian Fernandez. Searching for the new engagement, Papis drove two races in the IndyCar Series and also in American Le Mans Series. The highlight of 2002 was a victory at 24 Hours of Daytona, driving a Dallara-Judd with Mauro Baldi, Didier Theys, and Fredy Leinhard.
Departure from the CART Series and becoming the Grand-Am Prototype class champion
The season of 2003 was one of the busiest in Papis’ career. He made some tests in NASCAR, raced at Daytona 24 Hours, finished 2nd at Mt. Tremblant and finished 5th at 24 Hours of Le Mans, driving for JML Panoz which was the team’s best finish at the prestigious race. Max also spent his last season in the CART Series, driving in seven races for PK Racing.
Max Papis became the Grand-Am Daytona Prototype class champion in 2004, driving Lexus-Riley of CompUSA Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates, after winning four races and having another four podium finishes. He also did well in AMLS winning 12 Hours of Sebring and finishing 2nd at 24 Hours of Le Mans in GTS class and at Petit Le Mans. In 2005, Papis again had tests with NASCAR team Hendricks Motorsport and competed in the various series, but after a long time, he failed to win a race.
Debut in the NASCAR Series
In 2006, Papis debuted in the NASCAR Busch Series, driving the #36 Sport Clips Chevrolet at two events for McGill Motorsports. He was also invited to represent Italy at Laguna Seca Raceway in the A1GP World Cup of Motorsport. During 2007, Max Papis did well in ALMS. He won Petit Le Mans and 12 Hours of Sebring while in Busch Series, driving the #1 Miccosukee Resorts & Gaming Chevrolet, finishing 3rd in Montreal.
Finally, ’Mad Max’ debuted in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2008, driving in two races for Haas CNC Racing, but the results were poor. He did better in the Nationwide Series. Driving for Rusty Wallace Racing, he was in Top 20 in all three races in which he appeared. The same year, he was 3rd in the GT1 class at 24 Hours of Le Mans, driving alongside Oliver Gavin and Olivier Beretta.
Papis became a race steward in the IndyCar Series
In the following two years, Papis appeared sporadically in every one of the NASCAR Series. In Sprint Cup, his best result was 8th place with Germain Racing at The Glen in 2009. The following year, Papis finished 8th at Martinsville Speedway in the Camping World Truck Series and was 2nd in Montreal in the Nationwide Series race. In 2011, Papis spent his last full season in NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, finishing 18th overall.
In 2013, he appeared in a couple of races as a replacement and had some solid results in both NASCAR, and in the following two years, in the IMSA Series. For the 2016 IndyCar season, Papis was hired as a race steward.