March 26 in Motorsports History: Papis clinches first victory in Miami


Twenty years ago today, a future IndyCar race steward won his first major open-wheel race in South Florida.

In his 60th start in CART competition, Max Papis won the Marlboro Grand Prix at Homestead-Miami Speedway on March 26, 2000.

The Rahal Letterman Racing driver started the 150-lap event from 13thand slowly moved through the field as the race progressed. On the final restart on Lap 112, Papis was in second behind leader Paul Tracy.

Max Papis celebrates after winning the 2000 CART season opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway. (Photo: Roberto Schmit/AFP via Getty Images)

While Tracy had a clean restart and seemed en route to his 16th career victory as the laps wound down, the Canadian eventually hit lapped traffic, slowing his pace.

With 10 laps remaining, Papis caught Tracy and passed on the inside to take the lead on the frontstretch.  Third-place Roberto Moreno followed suit as the cars raced down the backstretch.

The top three maintained their positions through the checkered flag.

As he crossed the finish line, Papis punched the air with his fist. He was halfway out of his Reynard-Ford and raising his thumbs in the air as the car rolled down pit road towards victory lane.

“I knew we had a fantastic car,” Papis told ESPN in victory lane. “I just had to wait for the right opportunity. Today is the happiest day (for us).”

The afternoon was also a happy one for Papis’ sponsor, Miller Lite. That same day, Rusty Wallace won a 500-lap NASCAR Cup Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway in his Miller Lite Ford.

Papis went on to win twice more in CART (both the following season). He later also raced sports cars and NASCAR before being hired by IndyCar as a race steward in 2016.

Homestead-Miami Speedway switched their alliance to the rival Indy Racing Leauge the following season and continued to host open-wheel racing until 2010.

Also on this date:

1978: Danny Ongais won the Datsun Twin 200 at Ontario Motor Speedway in California, the first of five victories for the Hawaiian driver in ’78.

1989: Nigel Mansell won the final Grand Prix of Brazil at the Jacarepaguá Circuit. The race moved to Interlagos the next season.

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New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
Joe Portlock - Formula 1/Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images

Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”