Massimiliano "Max" Papis is a racing driver from Italy who has competed in several top-level motorsports series such as Formula One and Champ Car. He currently drives in the Grand Am Rolex Sportscar Series.
A native of Como, Italy, Papis started racing in karts in the early '80s and joined the Italian national karting team at age 12. In 1989, Papis moved to auto racing when he competed in Italian Formula 3, producing podium finishes and victories in the prestigious open-wheel series. In 1993 Papis raced in Formula 3000 with the Vortex team, switching to Mythos the following year and proving dominant at Barcelona. He also began testing Formula 1 cars for Lotus and Honda
Taken under the wing of former Lotus boss Peter Collins, who had given him a test in 1994, Papis replaced Gianni Morbidelli in the Arrows team for seven races in the middle of the 1995 Formula One season. However despite being a race-winner in Formula 3000, he often struggled with the unfamiliar car, and was occasionally outpaced by his much-maligned team-mate, Taki Inoue. He also proved to be an unlucky driver, suffering a spectacular puncture and suspension failure on his début race at Silverstone, being left on the grid at Hockenheim due to a transmission failure, and spinning on dust and oil kicked up by David Coulthard at the Ascari Chicane on the first lap of the Italian GP, causing a pile-up and a restart. However, he only missed out on a point in the restarted race when he was overtaken by Jean-Christophe Bouillon's Sauber on the last lap. When Morbidelli returned, he was out of a drive, and headed to America for 1996.
Papis earned the nickname "Mad Max" at the 1996 24 Hours of Daytona during his last stint at the end of the race. Although his second-place Ferrari 333SP had been battered due to collisions, some of its bodywork held together by tape, Papis unlapped himself by passing the race leader (the Doyle Racing Riley & Scott-Oldsmobile driven by Wayne Taylor) and proceeded to bang out some of the fastest laps of the entire race. Taylor had already been nursing his car around the track due to an overheating problem and otherwise would have been able to cruise to a win, but Papis' relentless pace and the slowing Oldsmobile suggested that Papis could theoretically take the win from Taylor except that Papis' pace put his fuel consumption to the max. One of the most startling sights ever at the 24 Hours of Daytona was Papis' full-speed shot (~200 mph) down the pit lane for fuel (pit lane speed limits were imposed the very next year). At the end of the race, Taylor still beat Papis by 64 seconds, but it was Papis' bravura performance that people talk about to this day and earned him the nickname "Mad Max".
He also started ChampCar racing in 1996 as a replacement for Jeff Krosnoff who was killed in the previous race in Toronto. In 1999 he joined the more competitive Rahal team, almost winning the US 500 before running out of fuel, and finishing 5th in the series. He broke his duck by winning the 2000 season-opener, but failed to finish in the championship top 10.
In 2001 he won twice and finished 6th overall, but was dropped by the team, mainly due to two collisions with team-mate Kenny Brack.
He started 2002 with the Sigma team before they folded, and did a partial season with PK Racing in 2003, but has mostly concentrated on sportscars, infamously remarking that "ChampCars needs me more than I need it" as the series struggled to fill its grid for 2003 after many teams defected to the IRL.
In 2004, Papis joined the factory Corvette Racing program as a third driver for endurance events. Teamed with Ron Fellows and Johnny O'Connell in the No. 3 Compuware Corvette C6.R, Papis won the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring and was runner-up in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and Petit Le Mans in 2004.
In 2005, Papis, Fellows and O'Connell were runners-up in the Sebring 12-hour and Le Mans 24-hour endurance races. Papis also drove for Team Cadillac in the 2005 SCCA SPEED World Challenge GT series, scoring victories in Atlanta and Laguna Seca in his black Cadillac CTS-V. Papis represented road racing in the International Race of Champions all-star series, finishing 10th in the 2005 standings.
Max raced in the 2006 Indianapolis 500. He made his NASCAR debut, competing Busch Series race at Watkins Glen International Raceway in August 2006 for McGill Motorsports. He attempted to qualify for the NEXTEL Cup race but failed to make the race. He is also credited with having helped develop Toyota's ChampCar engine.
In addition to his racing and personal appearances, the Miami resident runs his own sports marketing company and keeps active with an intense physical fitness program.