CLEVELAND - At the Detroit Grand Prix two weeks ago, the foremost issue had to do with pop-off valves.
At Portland last Sunday, there was a pop-off of another variety, Max Papis almost blowing a gasket.
After capturing his second career Championship Auto Racing Teams victory in 86 attempts dating to 1996, Mad Max became Glad Max to the point of becoming Rad Max.
He said he kicked everyone's butt, using a more explicit term. He said other drivers used him as their reference point (in regard to) when to brake on the rain-swept road course.
Papis' alter ego can kick in with the swiftness of a turbocharger. He had been out of practice, his id hid by a lack of success. But he still hasn't backed off in terms of boast boost, saying he's ready to kick everyone's backside again in tomorrow's Cleveland Grand Prix, scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. at Burke Lakefront Airport.
Papis' adversaries take a lot of his popping off as pure poppycock. Roberto Moreno, who gained his first CART career victory here last year, said, in a nice sort of way, that Papis should not underestimate his opponents with the series so competitive.
And need we remind Mad Max that his future employment with Team Rahal was in jeopardy and still might be. He was 14th in points. Despite sweeping all the points at Portland after winning the pole and leading the most laps, he still ranks 11th in points.
Yes, we do need to remind Mad Max of that. Has he been living under a gear box? About those rumors, Max?
“I've never heard rumors,” the Italian now living in Miami Beach said after a long pause. “I don't see any reason why my job should have been on the line. And second, I'm a lot better driver than just listening to gossips. This is actually the first time I hear it.
“Sometimes you cannot see with a number, you know, related to my performance, what I can do, because sometimes I only finish 10th or 11th. The difference is only what I know inside of me, and what I have inside of me cannot be proved all the time by a number. Unfortunately, the number is what most of the people on the outside can see. I don't need a race victory to prove that I'm a winner to myself, because I've done a lot of things in my career.”
Kenny Brack is Team Rahal's lead driver, also pacing CART in points. Buddy Rice is a young charger Rahal has waiting in the wings, should one of his current drivers fail the consistent-performance test. That wouldn't be Brack.
“Cleveland is race number nine on the schedule and I'm going to win and I'm going to win all the races I can and bring the Miller Lite car up there in front, because I feel that now we found our own way to be successful,” Papis said.
“As I said, Mad Max is here and everybody should be aware of the situation, because now this is going to launch me into the fight for the championship, and I'm a fighter. I'm here to fight for my own, for my own position in the championship and to bring home the championship at the end of the season.”
Papis talked about his rigid training routine, adding, “I feel that we have all the right cards to play our game and embarrass everybody again.”
As for his victory in Portland, the outspoken Papis said, “We dominated the race with the rain, and I think that was proof good enough for everybody that you have to be aware and conscious of the potential of Max Papis and the Miller Team in any condition.
“I just feel that the rain on Sunday emphasized my ability and the ability of the Miller team to stay calm, focused, aggressive. And every time the condition becomes difficult only the toughest guys come out, and we proved we were the best in the field.”
Practice speeds yesterday may have muffled Mad Max.
He was 26th-fastest in the morning session and moved up to 11th-fastest in the afternoon session.
Team Rahal, co-owned by three-time series champion Bobby Rahal and entertainer David Letterman, has won three of the last four CART races. Brack started the run with back-to-back triumphs at Japan and Milwaukee, the first two victories of his CART career. Papis followed with his Portland win after both drivers struggled in Detroit.