IRL: Indy 500: Mo Nunn Racing pre Opening Day notes

Giaffone, Takagi, Luyendyk give Mo Nunn team 1-2-3 punch at Indy. Team Notes Two-time Indy 500 winner Arie Luyendyk joins Mo Nunn Racing regulars Felipe Giaffone and Tora Takagi for this year's 87th renewal of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing,...

Giaffone, Takagi, Luyendyk give Mo Nunn team 1-2-3 punch at Indy.

Team Notes

Two-time Indy 500 winner Arie Luyendyk joins Mo Nunn Racing regulars Felipe Giaffone and Tora Takagi for this year's 87th renewal of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, set for May 25. Luyendyk, who won the annual Memorial Day Weekend classic at The Brickyard in 1990 and 1997 and started from the pole three times during the 1990s, is entered in the #20 Meijer/Mo Nunn Racing Toyota-powered Panoz G Force. Giaffone will be behind the wheel of his #21 Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing team car, and Takagi will drive his regular #12 Pioneer/Mo Nunn Racing entry.

This month's Indy 500 represents the fourth event of Mo Nunn Racing's fourth season of existence, which in 2003 is taking place exclusively in the IRL IndyCar Series with the two-car, Toyota-powered effort featuring 2001 IRL IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year Giaffone and new teammate Takagi, the Formula 1 and CART series veteran from Japan.

Three weekends ago, at the inaugural Indy Japan 300 on the 1.5-mile egg-shaped Twin Ring Motegi oval, Giaffone finished third for the second event in a row while Takagi qualified third for his best start in his opening three IRL IndyCar Series events. Giaffone led eight laps enroute to his third-place finish, which put him in third in the current driver points standings. Takagi went on to finish eighth after a problem pit stop early in the race set him back in the running order.

On March 23, at the Purex Dial Indy 200 at Phoenix International Raceway, Giaffone qualified his Hollywood car on the front row and finished third after leading 58 laps. Takagi started 13th after suffering handling problems in qualifying and was out of the race early after hitting the inside wall in Turn Two while trying to avoid the spinning Gil de Ferran on Lap 2. Giaffone was ninth and Takagi 12th at the season-opening Toyota Indy 300 at Homestead Miami Speedway.

In 2002, Mo Nunn Racing participated in both the IRL IndyCar Series and in CART. Giaffone and the Hollywood-sponsored IndyCar entry won the team's first-ever race at Kentucky enroute to fourth place in the driver championship. On the CART side, the team's Pioneer-sponsored entry for third-year team driver Tony Kanaan netted two pole positions and a pair of podium finishes in 19 events.

At last year's Indy 500, Giaffone finished third after starting fourth while then-CART regular Tony Kanaan joined him and started fifth -- the fastest Indy 500 rookie qualifier -- and led 23 laps before an ill-fated crash after spinning in the oil of polesitter Bruno Junqueira put him out of the race early. Giaffone led 11 laps and saw his bid for victory spoiled by lapped traffic in the closing stages of the race.

Morris Nunn founded the team just prior to the 2000 season after having spent the previous four years engineering Jimmy Vasser, Alex Zanardi (twice) and Juan Pablo Montoya to consecutive CART series championships at Target/Chip Ganassi Racing. Nunn also engineered Emerson Fittipaldi to a 1989 Indy 500 victory and that year's CART title at Patrick Racing.

Luyendyk's third-place Indy 500 finish in 1991 with Vince Granatelli Racing and runner-up finish in 1993 with Ganassi Racing both were engineered by Nunn. Mo Nunn Racing team manager Peter Parrott was also at Granatelli in 1991, when Luyendyk also scored CART race victories at Phoenix and Nazareth and finished sixth in the driver championship.

Parrott is back for his second season with most of the Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing team from last year's IRL IndyCar Series debut. Iain Watt, who engineered the team's CART entry in 2002 after working in recent years with Dario Franchitti, Cristiano da Matta and Max Papis, took over engineering duties for 2003 on the Hollywood car. Tom Vasi is crew chief. On the Pioneer side, David Cripps joined the team to engineer Takagi's car. Don Lambert is in his third year as Mo Nunn Racing crew chief on the Pioneer side.

New additions to the team to support the Meijer/Mo Nunn Racing effort include veteran engineer Tim Wardrop and crew chief Butch Winkle. Wardrop is collaborating on his ninth Indy 500 with Luyendyk, a run that started in 1987 and includes the 1997 victory while the two were at Treadway Racing. Wardrop also engineered Juan Pablo Montoya's 2000 Indy 500 victory, and the former chassis designer at March has had a hand in designing cars for or engineering a total of nine Indy 500 winners. Winkle, meanwhile, was lead mechanic for Al Unser, Jr.'s 1992 Indy 500 victory while the two were at Galles-Kraco Racing.

FELIPE GIAFFONE
#21 Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing Toyota-Panoz G Force

Notes:

Felipe Giaffone, 28-year-old Brazilian open-wheel driving veteran, is in his third IRL IndyCar Series season in 2003 and his second with Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing. This month marks his third career Indy 500. He finished third last season in the #21 Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing team car and was 10th in 2001 with Treadway Racing enroute to earning IRL IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year honors.

At last year's Indianapolis 500, Giaffone qualified fourth and led 11 laps before seeing his late-race bid for the victory get ruined by lapped traffic.

Giaffone is currently third in the 2003 IRL IndyCar Series drivers standings, with 92 points after three events. He finished third for the second race in a row on April 13 at Japan's Twin Ring Motegi, a race in which he led eight laps in all. He started on the front row and finished third at Phoenix International Raceway in a race that saw him in the lead for 58 laps on the mile oval after opening the season with a ninth-place effort at Homestead Miami Speedway on March 2. His 92 points in the standings trails only leader Scott Sharp (106) and second-place Tony Kanaan (102).

The 2001 IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year had an impressive inaugural season with Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing in 2002, scoring his first career IndyCar Series win and the team's first-ever race win last August at Kentucky Speedway.

He went on to finish fourth in the 2002 drivers championship with a solid run of 12 top-seven finishes in 15 events, including the third at Indy, a runner-up finish at Nazareth, and two other third-place finishes at Richmond and Michigan.

Giaffone's 2001 Rookie of the Year campaign at Treadway/Hubbard Racing included top-10 finishes in nine of his first 10 events. His best finishes included second at Texas in June and fourth-place runs at Homestead and Kansas.

In 31 career IndyCar starts, Giaffone has 25 top-10 finishes, 13 top-fives, and the race win at Kentucky last season.

During this past offseason, Giaffone and his wife Alice moved from Indianapolis to Orlando, Fla.

Quotes:

"I'm just looking forward to the Indy 500 like you wouldn't believe. Last year, we had a very good month. My teammates Tora (Takagi) and Arie (Luyendyk) had a chance to test at the Speedway last week, and it looks like our cars should be pretty good. Just like last year, we should have good setup.

"We were good in the race and good in qualifying and in practice. We just need to improve a couple of spots (from third at last year's 500). I had a good teammate last year here in Tony Kanaan. This year, I have two good ones, so it should be that much better for us. When you have a teammate, you have a lot more things you can try. This year, we'll be able to triple our track time.

"The team is well-prepared to have a three-car effort. We can try that much more stuff. I drove with Arie a couple of years ago at Treadway. But it was completely different circumstances. I had trouble with my car and I struggled. He's a really nice guy. He talks a lot, and we should be able to try a lot of stuff and learn a lot from him. Even though he's a little older now and only runs this race each year, I'm counting on taking advantage of his experience at the Speedway.

"I know how much I learned since my first year. You'll always be learning, forever. Now, Tora is a 'rookie' at Indy, but so was Tony last year. But, like Tony, Tora is far from being a rookie. He has experience in the big cars and it shouldn't be a problem. He tested, and after a few laps Tora was already quite comfortable on the track. For sure, he showed he can be quick. Pretty much everywhere we've gone this year, he's been quick. I think we have a very solid team."

TORA TAKAGI
#12 Pioneer/Mo Nunn Racing Toyota-Panoz G Force

Notes:

This month marks the first career Indy 500 for Formula 1 and CART series veteran Toranosuke (Tora) Takagi of Shizuoka, Japan. This is his inaugural IRL IndyCar Series season and his first with the Pioneer/Mo Nunn Racing team.

Three weekends ago, at Twin Ring Motegi in his native Japan, Takagi started a season-high third and was running second until a problem pit stop on Lap 37 of the 200-lap event. The fuel vent hose stuck in the car, he was penalized a lap for the infraction, and he lost a lap in the process that he was never able to make up. Takagi went on to finish eighth.

At Phoenix International Raceway on March 23, Takagi started 13th after battling handling problems in qualifying in his #12 Pioneer/Mo Nunn Racing Toyota-powered Panoz G Force. On race day, an accident on the second lap while trying to avoid the spinning car of Gil de Ferran brought an early and disappointing end to his weekend. Takagi finished 12th in his IndyCar Series debut at South Florida's Homestead Miami Speedway on March 2.

The 29-year-old Takagi, who earned the nickname "Tiger" during his early days of open-wheel racing in Japan, spent the last two seasons driving the Pioneer-sponsored entry of Walker Racing on the CART circuit after spending three of the previous four seasons in Formula 1. Takagi recorded 11 top-10 CART finishes the past two seasons with season bests of fourth at Houston in 2001 and Chicago in 2002.

After rising through the Formula Nippon Series and Japanese Formula 3 ranks, Takagi became a test driver for the Tyrrell F1 team in 1997, assumed one of its driving positions in 1998, then joined the Arrows F1 team in 1999. He drove to top-10 finishes four times in those two F1 seasons.

Takagi switched to the Formula Nippon Series in 2000, winning eight of 10 races on his way to the series title before joining Walker Racing's CART effort in 2001.

Takagi made 13 oval starts in all during the past two seasons on the CART circuit. His best qualifying effort was third for the 500-mile race at Michigan in 2001, and his best finishes were fourth at Chicago in 2002, sixth at Rockingham, England, in 2002 and Lausitz, Germany, in 2001, and eighth Twin Ring Motegi in 2002.

Qotes:

"I have to say I have come to realizes, first-hand, how challenging this track is after my first run ever at the Speedway on April 22. It is something different from other tracks in many ways, and I really enjoyed my one day driving it, so far. My 225-mph lap was really fast, especially since I thought I was carrying too much downforce. And still it's not fast enough if you look at the speeds from last year.

"So we have some work to do, and I am really looking forward to it. Once you are on the track for practice, you can easily make a good speed if you are fortunate to get a 'tow' from somebody, but usually that speed is more than your car is really capable of making. I think the balance in your car will be a key. I noticed the top finishers from last year didn't start right at the front, so this means you need to be patient for a long time on race day.

"Apart from that, I am really looking forward to start my first Indy 500 challenge. I began to live in Indy for a couple of months right after the Motegi race, to be in position for the 500 and for the rest of the season, and I am enjoying nice spring weather, too.

"As our performance is up and up since Motegi, and our private test here was something promising, I think the guys at Pioneer/Mo Nunn Racing are doing a really good job. And I appreciate that. It will be a long and hard month of May, and I hope I can do something productive with my guys."

ARIE LUYENDYK
#20 Meijer/Mo Nunn Racing Toyota-Panoz G Force

Notes:

Two-time Indy 500 winner Arie Luyendyk is a veteran of 17 Indy 500s dating back to his Rookie of the Year run at the Brickyard in 1985. He joins 2003 IRL IndyCar Series regulars Felipe Giaffone and Tora Takagi as teammates, driving the #20 Meijer/Mo Nunn Racing Toyota-powered Panoz G Force.

Luyendyk contested his last six Indy 500s with Treadway Racing, a run that included the 1997 victory and his start from the pole position for the third time in his career in 1999. He has completed 2,957 laps in 17 Indy 500s, leading 188 laps in all. His 1996 qualifying speed of 236.986 mph still stands as the track record, as does his average speed of 185.981 mph for the race distance in his 1990 Indy 500 victory.

After last year's 14-place Indy 500 finish, Luyendyk, who retired from full-time racing after the 1999 season, added the Michigan 500 to his 2002 schedule. He finished 16th on the 2-mile Michigan Speedway oval after starting 20th last July.

Luyendyk's third-place Indy 500 finish in 1991 with Vince Granatelli Racing and runner-up finish in 1993 with Ganassi Racing both were engineered by fourth-year team owner Morris Nunn. Consequently, Mo Nunn Racing team manager Peter Parrott was also at Granatelli in 1991, when Luyendyk also scored CART race victories at Phoenix and Nazareth and finished sixth in the driver championship.

Veteran engineer Tim Wardrop has joined Meijer/Mo Nunn Racing to work with Luyendyk at The Brickyard for the ninth time. Wardrop, who previously was a chassis designer at March, where he had a hand in several Indy 500 victories, first worked with Luyendyk in 1987. The two were at Team Menard in 1995 when Luyendyk qualified second at Indy behind only teammate Scott Brayton. The two moved to Treadway Racing in 1996, when Luyendyk set what still stands as the all-time fastest four-lap qualifying speed at Indy. Wardrop engineered Luyendyk's pole qualifying effort at Treadway in 1999. And when Luyendyk took the year off in 2000, he went to Target/Chip Ganassi Racing and engineered Juan Pablo Montoya's Indy 500 victory. Wardrop then returned to Treadway with Luyendyk for the 2001 and 2002 Indy 500s.

In total, Luyendyk's 17 previous Indy 500s include the race victories in 1990 and 1997, pole qualifying efforts in 1994, 1997 and 1999, four top-five finishes and five starts from the front row.

In addition to his driving duties here this month, Luyendyk is playing the role of team owner of his son, Arie, Jr.'s effort in the IRL Infiniti Pro Series. That series is making its debut at The Brickyard with the inaugural Freedom 100 on Saturday, May 17.

Quotes:

"I'm really excited about the prospect of working with a professional team like Meijer/Mo Nunn Racing. I believe we've assembled a very good crew. Basically, it looks like they're going to do a good job. We had a good private test at the Speedway. The one thing that really stood out in my mind after that test was the Toyota engine.

" I'm really excited about our prospects because I think it's going to be quite exciting. I think we have an ideal package. The cars, overall, are quite comparable. If there's going to be a difference at all, it's going to be in race setup. But we don't know that, yet. I think that with Mo (team owner Morris Nunn) just being there, being able to look over all the data that all of the engineers are working with, is only going to be an added benefit.

"I think all of the engineers have a lot of knowledge. In some instances, they can teach Mo a few things, and Mo can teach them a few things. As far as I'm concerned, the relationship we've had, considering that we worked together in the past and had success together, is only going to be a plus. We know how each other thinks, how the other one works.

"He can, in his own way, be inspiring to the guys and to myself. If we get into a situation where it might not be going so well, he always comes up with a way to keep us moving forward. Felipe (Giaffone) and Tora (Takagi) really took to the speedway easily, from what I've seen. Tora got on with the job and put down a good speed at our private test. I think he'll have a good month.

"Tora looks to be not just a good driver, but quite a good racer. Felipe, he's been rock solid. He's got a great record of getting through situations and always finishing and always finishing well. He's a guy they all should reckon with for not only the Indy 500 win, but for the championship. For me, let's see if we can make it three!"

-mnr-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing , Chip Ganassi Racing