This has been a heady two weeks for Felipe Giaffone, the Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series 2001 Bombardier Rookie of the Year. Felipe Giaffone. Photo by Ron McQueeney - IRL. After spending the off-season looking for work and...
This has been a heady two weeks for Felipe Giaffone, the Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series 2001 Bombardier Rookie of the Year.
Hired to compete for long-standing Indy Racing League entrants Dreyer & Reinbold Racing the same day DRR team co-owner Robbie Buhl announced he was leaving the cockpit after 21 successful years as a professional driver, Giaffone has been on a whirlwind ever since.
"The deal was very quick. It took just about 24 hours for everything to happen," Giaffone said. "I came to Indy, looked at the shop, flew back and suddenly I was signed. It was all very fast."
Just a few days later, Giaffone was dressed in his new uniform in hand and driving the #24 Purex/Aventis Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone Indy car to sixth in the combined practice times in the Indy Racing League's two-day open test at Indy.
It was quite an odyssey for 29-year-old Giaffone, who comes from a very successful racing family in his native Sao Paulo, Brazil. "This winter was very hard. I went to the open tests, went to Homestead and to Phoenix trying to find a job. It was like being fired and then trying to land a job with the same people," he explained. "It was very hard for me."
"When I first met everybody, they seemed like they had a good facility and good people. I expected not as good a team because they were struggling a little bit [in the first three races this year]. I thought okay, we'll just work our way through," Giaffone recounted.
"I was surprised when I first went out and started pushing the car. After the first few laps I felt like I'd been in the car just a few days ago, not half a year," he laughed. "The Chevy engine felt strong and [familiarity with] the Dallara [chassis] came quickly. They gave me a fast car out of the box," Giaffone revealed. "It was all 100% brand new to me," from the Dallara chassis to the 3-liter Chevy engine.
Felipe Giaffone still has a slight limp from the Kansas accident that took him out of commission for five races last year while driving for Mo Nunn Racing. At that point, he was working with a Panoz G Force/Toyota package and, in fact, last week's two days in the Dallara/Chevrolet were Giaffone's first with that combination. He said the plate in his upper right leg will be removed at the end of the season.
An avid athlete, Giaffone has had to stop jogging due to that accident, but he still goes cycling, swimming and "working out with all the weights." After the two-day open test, he and wife Alice packed up their Orlando, FL home and drove back to Indianapolis to settle in for the season with Dreyer & Reinbold. "We did four hours [driving] the first day and 12 hours the next," to bring their worldly goods back to the center of open wheel racing.
Giaffone believes Buhl's experience in the Indy cars can only help him as the season rolls along. "I think Robbie is a big plus for this team. Dreyer & Reinbold have plans for a second car in the future and Robbie's input is very good.
"It's like Michael Andretti with his team. Ex-drivers help because they know exactly what's going on. Robbie's really good with sponsors so he can help find more. From what I can see he's happy" with his decision to step out of the cockpit.
Felipe might have thought he'd be the man in the middle, as Owen Snyder III was Robbie Buhl's engineer before Giaffone stepped in. "We had good chemistry out of the box," Felipe marveled. "He trusts me as a driver and I can trust him as engineer. Very nice people work here at Dreyer & Reinbold. I know it may take a while but our target is to be right there by the end of the season," he revealed.
At first Giaffone didn't have much set-up input during the Indy Racing League's two-day open test last week at Indy. "I told Owen what I like in a car and he made it really good, the way it should be. I was really taking my time the first time out but it didn't take long" before Giaffone was right up to speed.
Not bad for the first time out, but the month of May usually brings many different scenarios before the Greatest Spectacle in Racing takes place. "We have a long way to go," Giaffone reminded. "Lots can happen and everything here is still new to me. You know how Indy is - one day you're strong and you're lost the next. We have to take our time and not get too excited by [good testing times].
"We want to get better and go faster during the month of May. I think we're going from wanting just to finish to maybe expecting more."
Like any guy who has two top-10 results at the Indianapolis 500 in only three starts, Felipe Giaffone looks at that yard of bricks at start/finish with great desire. And this year with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, Giaffone could have one of the best opportunities of his life to drink milk in Victory Lane.