CHAMPCAR/CART: Mexico City: Mo Nunn Racing preview

Tony Kanaan wraps up his fifth CART FedEx Championship Series season and his third with Mo Nunn Racing at this weekend's Gran Premio Telmex/Gigante. It will be his 93rd career Champ Car start. To date, Kanaan has one win (1999 U.S. 500), four ...

Tony Kanaan wraps up his fifth CART FedEx Championship Series season and his third with Mo Nunn Racing at this weekend's Gran Premio Telmex/Gigante. It will be his 93rd career Champ Car start. To date, Kanaan has one win (1999 U.S. 500), four poles (1999 at Long Beach, 2001 at Chicago, and this season at Miami and Fontana), six podium finishes, 16 top-fives, and 47 top-10s.

Kanaan took over Mo Nunn Racing's Pioneer- and WorldCom-sponsored CART entry this season after driving the third-year team's Hollywood-sponsored car in 2000 (Mercedes-Benz Reynard) and 2001 (Honda-powered Reynard).

Two weekends ago, at California Speedway in Fontana, Kanaan qualified on the pole for the second time in three races and in the top three for the third event in a row. He led four times for a total of 10 laps but had to endure a less-than-perfectly handling car and had to settle for a fourth-place finish. The finish nonetheless was his sixth top-six result in the last nine events and moved him into the top 12 in the driver points standings.

Last month, on the streets of Surfers Paradise, Australia, Kanaan started third and placed fifth in a bizarre, rain-shortened Honda Indy 300. Earlier in the month, on the downtown streets of his hometown of Miami, Fla., Kanaan earned the pole for the inaugural Grand Prix Americas, the third pole of his career, his second with Mo Nunn Racing and his first this season. Kanaan led fellow front-row starter Scott Dixon in a close battle over the first 19 laps of the race before the two made contact entering Turn One. Dixon was knocked out of the race and Kanaan, who managed to stay in the lead, was sent to the back of the field by CART officials, who judged that he was flagrant in his actions. On the closing lap, Kanaan made contact with the car of Michael Andretti while running seventh and his car stopped on course. He placed ninth for his eighth top-10 result in the previous 12 races.

After a disappointing string of DNFs in the first four CART events (Monterrey, Long Beach, Twin Ring Motegi and Milwaukee) this season, Kanaan mounted an impressive drive of eight points-paying finishes in the next 10 races, highlighted by podium positions in Vancouver and Montreal, the latter from 13th on the starting grid. He also added fourth place (from the final spot on the starting grid!) at Road America and a sixth-place finish at Denver, as well as eighth-place finishes at Portland and Chicago. Kanaan also was headed for what appeared to be a sure podium finish at Mid-Ohio when, while running third with just 14 laps to go, a mechanical problem ended his day.

Kanaan's most promising performance this season came at Japan's Twin Ring Motegi, where he qualified second, led a race-high 72 laps, and recorded the fastest lap of the race before retiring with a mechanical failure on Lap 121of a scheduled 201 laps.

At the Milwaukee Mile the first weekend of June, Kanaan debuted a Lola chassis as the team made the switch from Reynard for the first time in its two-plus years of existence. He qualified eighth after running as high as third following Saturday-morning practice. In Sunday's race, Kanaan moved from eighth to fourth on the very first lap, and was running third when, on Lap 92, he was forced to retire from the 250-lap event with an oil leak.

On Memorial Day weekend, Kanaan competed in his first-ever Indianapolis 500, joining Mo Nunn Racing's full-time Indy Racing League driver Felipe Giaffone in a second Hollywood-sponsored team car. Kanaan qualified fifth in the #17 Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing Chevrolet G-Force entry -- the fastest Indy 500 rookie qualifier in the 33-car field -- and dominated the early stages of the race, leading 23 laps in all before an ill-fated accident while running first on Lap 89. Kanaan spun in the oil of fellow CART regular and polesitter Bruno Junqueira, who suffered a mechanical failure in Turn 3, and made heavy contact with the outside wall. Kanaan was unhurt, but saw a promising day come to an end. He clocked the third-fastest race lap. Giaffone, meanwhile, went on to finish third in the #21 Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing Chevrolet G-Force.

In 2001, Kanaan piloted the #55 Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing Honda-Reynard to ninth place in the driver points standings. He scored points in 14 of his 19 starts last season, including eight consecutive events from Toronto through Laguna Seca, and nine of the final 10 events of the year. Season highlights included a third-place finish at Twin Ring Motegi for the team's first and his fourth career podium, and the pole qualifying effort on the mile oval at Chicago. He added top-five finishes at Vancouver (fourth), Mid-Ohio (fifth) and the 500-mile season finale at Fontana (fifth). Kanaan had six top-five qualifying efforts on the year (the pole at Chicago, third at Long Beach, fourth at Motegi and Toronto, and fifth at Cleveland and Michigan). The Cleveland (fifth), Toronto (fourth), Michigan (fifth) and Chicago (pole) qualifying efforts came during consecutive events.

In 20 career Champ Car starts on permanent road courses, Kanaan has two podium finishes, five top-fives, and 10 top-10s.

Last weekend, Kanaan won Brazil's most prestigious annual go-karting event -- the 500 Milhas da Granja Viana de Kart -- for the fourth time. He teamed with Brazilian Formula 1 stars Rubens Barrichello and Felipe Massa to outlast the 64-team field in the 500-mile event. They covered the 746-lap distance in 11 hours, 56 minutes and 46 seconds. Mo Nunn Racing's Felipe Giaffone, whose family owns the kart track outside Sao Paolo, had mechanical problems and his team fell out of the race with 12 laps to go.

Veteran race engineer Iain Watt joined Mo Nunn Racing this season after working with Max Papis (1997-98), Cristiano da Matta (1999-2000) and Dario Franchitti (2001) while at Cal Wells' Precision Preparation team (1997-2000) and Team Green (2001) the previous five seasons. Thus, Kanaan has been working with a new engineer for the first time since he came to the U.S. to race Indy Lights in 1996. He worked with Eric Cowdin enroute to Indy Lights Rookie of the Year (1996) and the series championship (1997) honors while at Tasman Motorsports, moved up with Cowdin and Tasman to the Champ Car ranks and was CART Rookie of the Year in 1998, then moved to Mo Nunn Racing with Cowdin after the 1999 season. Cowdin engineered Mo Nunn Racing's Indy Racing League entry this season, guiding driver Felipe Giaffone to fourth in the final driver points standings.

Don Lambert, who joined Mo Nunn Racing last season as chief mechanic with the Pioneer-WorldCom Honda-Reynard program, has been Kanaan's chief mechanic this season and has been joined by a majority of the Pioneer-WorldCom crew from last season.

Longtime race engineer Morris Nunn is in his third season as CART FedEx Championship Series team owner and his first in the Indy Racing League. He founded Mo Nunn Racing just prior to the 2000 CART season after leaving Target/Chip Ganassi Racing, where he was technical director during consecutive series championships by Jimmy Vasser (1996), Alex Zanardi (1997-98) and Juan Pablo Montoya (1999). Nunn also engineered Emerson Fittipaldi's 1989 Indianapolis 500 victory and CART championship while the two were with Patrick Racing.

This year, Nunn's team split its time between single-car entries in both CART (Tony Kanaan driving the #10 Pioneer-WorldCom/Mo Nunn Racing Honda-Lola) and the Indy Racing League (Felipe Giaffone in the #21 Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing Chevrolet G-Force). Giaffone earned Mo Nunn Racing's first-ever victory in August at Kentucky Speedway and finished fourth in the IRL championship behind Sam Hornish, Jr., Helio Castroneves and Gil de Ferran. Mo Nunn Racing announced earlier this week that it will field two cars in the 2003 Indy Racing League, including one Hollywood-sponsored entry for Giaffone and another for a driver/sponsor package to be announced in early December.

TONY KANAAN QUOTES

"This is going to be a very interesting weekend, there's no doubt about it. We're going to yet another new racetrack for us. We've had many of those already this season, and this one is very special because there is a lot of racing history there and the fans, I hear, are going to be some of the best we've ever seen. It's also our last race of the season, which is always special. But there will be a little more emotion than usual because it will be the last CART race for a lot of us. I'm moving on next season and I'm really going to miss being with some of my best friends in the world every weekend. Some of my friends are coming with me. But some are staying behind. The good thing is, even though things are always changing in racing from year to year, good friendships last forever. So we'll always have that. Still, it's going to be tough not racing against a lot of these guys every weekend. As for this weekend, I'm excited about driving on the Mexico City track in a big way. Some of the best drivers in history used to race here. I hope we will be able to put on a good show."

-mnr-

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing