Max Papis sees a bright future and business opportunity in sim racing

Joe Skibinski / IndyCar
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Max Papis has raced in nearly every form of professional motorsport.

Having competed in Formula One, CART, IndyCar, Grand-Am, AMLS, IROC and all three of NASCAR’s national series, Papis’ racing resume is one of the most diverse in racing.

However, there is one form of racing that the 50-year-old Italian is still learning – sim racing. While he may be new to it, Papis already has embraced the virtual sport.

Papis is one of the drivers competing in the Legends Trophy, an online racing series for drivers older than 40.

Created by Torque Esports in mid-March, the Legends Trophy pits drivers from multiple different disciplines against each other in a virtual All-Star championship.

Notable drivers competing in the series include Jenson Button, Helio Castroneves, Gil de Ferran and Papis’ father-in-law, Emerson Fittipaldi, who is the oldest driver in the series at age 73. Papis has enjoyed being able to race against all of them.

MORE: At 73, Emerson Fittipaldi enjoying introduction to sim racing

“It was amazing to be able to virtually compete on the track with a bunch of people that you never would have been able to compete against, or you crossed paths but never really had the chance to be on the track together,” Papis told NBCSports.com. “Sim racing has created a very similar feeling that I had when I competed in IROC, where it’s gloves off and everyone is from a different kind of motorsports background and is willing to compete with the same car on the same playground.

“This would have never been possible in any other way than virtually. It was tremendous fun and an extremely high challenge, but at the same time, it was something that would have been very hard to make happen without the virtual work.”

In addition to being able to race with fellow drivers from around the world, Papis said he enjoys sim racing because it allows him (virtually) to drive the same cars his racing heroes once drove. During the virtual race at Silverstone, he had the opportunity to drive a McLaren Formula One car just as Ayrton Senna once did.

“When I started the engine and went out of the pits, I almost had tears in my eyes because I always dreamt about racing with my mentor and being able to that virtually was something I never thought about until I went out that time a few weeks ago,” Papis said. “That’s what virtual racing did for me. I was able to take a step back in history and do something that in reality, might have never been possible.

“In general, that’s what I like about sim racing. It reminds me of being about 14 years old and taking my scooter from home, driving to Monza, and jumping the fences just to be able to watch and hear Formula One cars practicing. It gave me the same feel.”

While he may be new to competing in sim racing, Papis is no stranger to the business side. His steering wheel company, Max Papis Innovations, recently has begun to sell specialized wheels for sim racing.

The company first began selling the sim racing wheels around last Thanksgiving and recently has begun to sell more in the absence of real racing because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Papis even sent Robert Wickens a customized wheel to help him with his iRacing efforts.

“When we saw the situation happening, I had a meeting here in the (MPI) office, and we decided to bring back and accelerate the sim racing product,” Papis said. “I was extremely pleased to see that most of our racers upgraded to an MPI steering wheel.

“We’re pleased to provide this service to the community. We will have a lot more things coming in the future. This is just an appetizer.”

Aside from its obvious recent increase in popularity, Papis said he believes that part of the reason why the sim racing community has continued to grow is that it has created an alternative for individuals who want to participate in motorsport but would otherwise not be able to financially do so.

“Motor racing is unfortunately becoming more and more of a privileged sport,” Papis said. “It was not always like that. If that would have the case, I would have never raced, because I was not privileged.

“I think that sim racing will humanize motor racing more and will allow the next generation Max Papis to still dream about it and not stop at the fact that they don’t have $10,000 to buy a go-kart. That is what I see as the great benefit of sim racing.”

Additionally, Papis sees sim racing as a way to further prove the true talent required to race in real-life by showcasing the real driver’s performances versus the amateurs.

“Let’s say I’m running Sebring and I do a 1:52, and Joe Blow goes out there and tries to do the same thing with the same car and runs eight seconds off the pace,” Papis said. “It’s exactly like me looking at Tiger Woods when he can put in a 300-foot par and I can only do 80.

“I think sim racing is going to do two things: create more respect in general towards racers and make people dream like I did when I sat in Ayrton Senna’s car. Those are things I think have been lost tremendously in the last 10 years of the sport.”

Round seven of the Legends Trophy takes place at 12 p.m. ET Saturday at a virtual Nurburgring. Live coverage can be viewed by clicking here.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter @michaele1994

AJ Foyt Racing promotes Benjamin Pedersen from Indy Lights to IndyCar for 2023 season

Benjamin Pedersen AJ Foyt
AJ Foyt Racing
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Benjamin Pedersen is the first driver to land a promotion from Indy Lights into IndyCar for next season as AJ Foyt Racing confirmed Wednesday he’ll be part of its 2023 lineup.

Pedersen, a 23-year-old dual citizen of Denmark and the United States, spent last season running the full Indy Lights schedule for HMD Motorsports. Linus Lundqvist, his teammate, won the Lights title, and Pedersen finished fifth in the final standings. Pedersen earned his only win earlier this month when he led every lap from the pole at Portland.

Pedersen also ran four races for HMD in 2021 with back-to-back runner-up finishes in his debut. Pedersen landed on AJ Foyt Racing team president Larry Foyt’s radar through a “trusted colleague” and Pedersen spent most of last season shadowing the IndyCar team.

His promotion to IndyCar comes ahead of all four drivers who finished ahead of him in the Indy Lights standings, including champion Lundqvist.

“We are really looking forward to having Benjamin as part of the team,” Larry Foyt said. “His enthusiasm is infectious, and he is 100 percent committed to IndyCar, AJ Foyt Racing, and doing the best he can to win races.

“It’s been great to have him embedded with the team this past season, and everyone is excited to hit the ground running when testing begins. It is also great to have a multi-year program in place, which will help him and the team grow together.”

Foyt did not announce a car number for Pedersen. Kyle Kirkwood spent his rookie season driving AJ Foyt’s flagship No. 14 but Kirkwood is moving to Andretti Autosport. The team has not yet announced if Dalton Kellett will return for a fourth season, and a third car for Tatiana Calderon was pulled from competition after seven races because of sponsorship non-payment. Shutting down Calderon’s team removed the only semi-regular female driver from the IndyCar field.

Pedersen, however, was signed to an agreement Foyt said “spans multiple seasons as the team plans to develop the young rookie and is aligned to a longer-term plan for AJ Foyt Racing.”

Pedersen was born in Copenhagen but raised in Seattle and currently lives in Indianapolis. He said his time shadowing the IndyCar team has given him a jump on his rookie preparations.

“I’ve spent a lot of time this season with AJ Foyt Racing learning the ins and outs of making the jump to IndyCar and it’s been really nice to do that in conjunction with my Indy Lights season,” Pedersen said. “IndyCar has been my target goal since I started open wheel racing in 2016. The racing, atmosphere, fans, events, tracks, etc. are all awesome.”