IRL: Kentucky: Mo Nunn Racing preview

Barron, Takagi head to Kentucky, scene of Giaffone's 2002 victory Sunday's Belterra Casino Indy 300 on the Kentucky Speedway 1.5-mile tri-oval is the 12th event of Mo Nunn Racing's fourth season of existence, which in 2003 is taking place ...

Barron, Takagi head to Kentucky, scene of Giaffone's 2002 victory

Sunday's Belterra Casino Indy 300 on the Kentucky Speedway 1.5-mile tri-oval is the 12th event of Mo Nunn Racing's fourth season of existence, which in 2003 is taking place exclusively in the IRL IndyCar Series with a two-car, Toyota-powered Panoz G force effort. Regular driver Felipe Giaffone, the 2001 IRL IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year and 2002 race winner here at Kentucky who suffered a fractured right femur and pelvis in a racing accident at Kansas Speedway July 6, will be replaced for the fourth race in a row by American Alex Barron, who drove to victory last month at the Firestone Indy 400 at Michigan Speedway. Barron once again joins Giaffone's teammate Tora Takagi, a Formula 1 and CART series veteran from Japan who earned Bank One Rookie of the Year honors at this year's 87th Indianapolis 500.

Takagi, who had been driving the #12 Pioneer/Mo Nunn Racing Toyota-powered Panoz G Force at the first 10 events in this, his inaugural season on the IRL IndyCar Series, switched to a Dallara chassis for the first time at last weekend's Emerson Indy 250 at Gateway International Raceway near St. Louis and brought home his seventh top-eight finish in the last nine races. Barron and the #21 Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing Toyota-powered Panoz G Force, meanwhile, was rear-ended by Roger Yasukawa during a Lap 40 pileup in the pit lane at Gateway in an impact that led to Barron's DNF some 90 laps later due to gearbox failure.

Giaffone returned to his Orlando home Monday from his native Brazil, where he had been rehabilitating from his injuries under the care of renowned sports physician Dr. Moises Cohen. Giaffone underwent surgery to repair his broken right femur at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis on July 7, the day after his Kansas Speedway accident that also involved Dan Wheldon. He began his recovery at Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana, then traveled to Sao Paolo on July 20. Giaffone will be at Kentucky Speedway this weekend and plans to also attend next weekend's race at Nazareth. He is targeting his return to the cockpit of the Hollywood car in time for the event at Chicagoland Speedway on Sept. 7.

Last year here at Kentucky Speedway, Giaffone qualified third, took the lead for the first time on Lap 24 of the 200-lap race, and led 124 laps in all enroute to his first career IRL IndyCar Series win. In 2001, driving for Treadway-Hubbard Racing, Giaffone started 12th here and finished eighth. Barron, driving for Blair Racing, started 16th and finished ninth here last season.

Barron's victory at Michigan was the second of his career and the second IRL IndyCar Series victory ever for Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing. Giaffone scored his first and the team's first last August here at Kentucky Speedway. At Michigan, Barron did it in dramatic fashion. He qualified sixth and was running with the leaders throughout the race. He had to overcome a Lap 164 spin after contact with the car of Tomas Scheckter while fighting for the lead and came back to battle Sam Hornish, Jr., during the final 20 laps for the race win. Barron, who led six times for a total of 25 laps, just got Hornish at the finish line by 0.0121 of a second for the fourth-closest finish in IRL IndyCar Series history. His average race speed of 180.917 mph was the fastest series race ever. Takagi qualified 11th and finished sixth at Michigan and flirted with the leaders during the latter stages of the race before getting shuffled back to sixth place. It was Takagi's fourth top-six finish in his first 10 IRL IndyCar Series starts.

At the Firestone Indy 200 on the Nashville Superspeedway 1.33-mile concrete oval last month, Barron subbed for Giaffone for the first time, qualified sixth and finished fifth. Takagi qualified third for the third event in a row and for the fifth time this season, and ran with the leaders for most of the night, including two stints in first place for a total of 15 laps, before bringing home a seventh-place finish.

For the 33-year-old Barron, this weekend marks his fifth event this season with the Mo Nunn team and his sixth IRL IndyCar Series race of the year after subbing for the injured Gil de Ferran and Team Penske at Japan's Twin Ring Motegi in April, and then for injured Meijer/Mo Nunn Racing driver Arie Luyendyk at the Indy 500 in May. At Indy, Barron was the fastest Bump Day qualifier, started 25th overall, and brought the #20 Meijer/Mo Nunn Racing Toyota-powered Panoz G Force home in sixth place to earn the MCI Long Distance Award for picking up the most positions during the race. Barron drove a full IRL IndyCar Series season in 2002 for Blair Racing, recording his first career series win at Nashville. He also was fourth at last year's Indy 500 and shared Bank One Rookie of the Year honors with Tomas Scheckter.

At this year's Indy 500, Takagi finished fifth from the inside-third-row starting position and led two laps along the way to earning top Rookie honors. Giaffone started from the inside-sixth-row position but was out of the race by the sixth lap due to electrical problems.

Takagi's third-place finish at Texas in June is among the highlights thus far for Mo Nunn Racing in 2003 that include Giaffone's back-to-back third-place finishes at Phoenix and Japan's Twin Ring Motegi. The Phoenix run came from Giaffone's first career front-row qualifying performance. Takagi qualified for the third starting spot at Motegi, and he followed that up with his near flawless performance during the month of May at Indy. Takagi has qualified third five times this season.

In 2002, Mo Nunn Racing participated in both the IRL IndyCar and CART Champ Car series. Giaffone, boosted by his and the team's first-ever series win at Kentucky, finished fourth in the driver championship. On the CART side in 2002, 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.

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.

Team manager Peter Parrott is back for his second season with most of the Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing team from last year's 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.

TORA TAKAGI

#12 Pioneer/Mo Nunn Racing Toyota-Dallara

Formula 1 and CART series veteran Toranosuke (Tora) Takagi of Shizuoka, Japan, is in his inaugural IRL IndyCar Series season in 2003 and his first with the Pioneer/Mo Nunn Racing team. Sunday marks Takagi's first career race at Kentucky Speedway.

Takagi is currently 10th in the IRL IndyCar Series driver standings after qualifying 10th and finishing eighth at Gateway International Raceway last weekend. It was his seventh top-eight finish in the last nine races.

When Takagi qualified third at Nashville last month, it was the third race in a row and the fifth time this season that he qualified third. The others came at Japan's Twin Ring Motegi in April, at Texas and Richmond in June, and at Kansas in early July.

Despite his best finish of third this season at Texas, Takagi had 23 championship points stripped by IRL officials seven days after the event. Series officials did not approve of Takagi's late-race pass of teammate Felipe Giaffone and Scott Sharp that resulted in Giaffone and Sharp crashing out of the race. One week later, at the Pikes Peak International Raceway Indy 225, Takagi started fifth and finished sixth.

At the 87th Indianapolis 500, Takagi started seventh, finished fifth and led two laps enroute to Bank One Rookie of the Year honors. It was a solid month of May all around for the first-timer at the Brickyard. He was the top-finishing Indy 500 rookie among nine first-time starters in the 33-car field. In addition to leading two laps, Takagi posted the fourth-fastest practice time of the month at 232.007 mph, was the fastest car in practice three times in all, in the top three six times, and in the top seven every practice day but two.

The 29-year-old Takagi, who earned the nickname "Tiger" during his early days of open-wheel racing in his native 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 the third here 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 place at Japan's Twin Ring Motegi in 2002.

TORA TAKAGI

"This will be my first time racing on the Kentucky track, but I know the team has a good history there because Felipe (Giaffone) won there last year. And we had a pretty good test there in June. It will be my first time racing there, but it will be my third race on that type of 1.5-mile track and we have done well on the fast tracks like Indy and Michigan all year. The Kentucky track is a little bit bumpy in places, but I think we will figure out how to be successful there. I had a pretty good weekend with my new Dallara chassis at St. Louis. We learned a lot, and we were able to improve the car during the race. So I had a strong car for the finish. At Kentucky, we will learn more about our new car and I think it will be even better. Our Toyota horsepower will be a good thing in the Dallara chassis and I am looking forward to getting back into the Pioneer car."

ALEX BARRON

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

The 33-year-old Barron, from Menifee, Calif., near San Diego, is competing in his sixth IRL IndyCar Series event of the season this weekend and his fifth with Mo Nunn Racing. He subbed for the injured Gil de Ferran and Team Penske at Japan's Twin Ring Motegi in April, and then for injured Mo Nunn Racing driver Arie Luyendyk at the Indy 500 in May, and then for the injured Felipe Giaffone in the Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing machine at Nashville (July 19) and Michigan (July 27), where he scored his second career IndyCar win and the second ever for Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing, and then last weekend (Aug. 10) at Gateway. His first career win was at Nashville while with Blair Racing in 2002, and the team's first was with Giaffone here at Kentucky Speedway last August.

If you count driver championship points for only the six events Barron has competed in this season, he would be third in the standings with 135 behind only Gil de Ferran (161) and Helio Castroneves (148). Counting all races run this season, Barron is 19th overall.

Last weekend at Gateway, Barron qualified eighth but suffered what turned out to be an ill-fated bump from behind from Roger Yasukawa during a pit lane pileup on Lap 40 of the 200-lap Emerson Indy 250. Ninety laps later, Barron was forced to retire with a gearbox failure.

Barron's victory at Michigan last month came by a 0.0121-second margin over two-time-defending series champion Sam Hornish, Jr., the fourth-closest finish in series history. Barron's average race speed of 180.917 mph was the fastest in league history. The victory came despite Barron's Lap 164 spin after contact with the car of Tomas Scheckter while fighting for the lead. Barron led six times for a total of 25 laps.

The previous weekend, at Nashville Superspeedway, Barron qualified sixth and ran with the leaders for most of the race before finishing fifth.

At Indy, Barron was the fastest Bump Day qualifier in the #20 Meijer/Mo Nunn Racing Toyota-powered Panoz G Force, started 25th overall and finished sixth. The 19 positions he gained during the race was the best move of the race and earned MCI Long Distance Award honors.

This weekend marks Barron's second career event here at Kentucky Speedway. Last year, while driving for Blair Racing, he started 16th and finished ninth.

Last season, Barron finished fifth in the season-ending driver points standings for the Blair team. He was running at the finish in 14 of the season's 15 races, was fourth in top-10 finishes with 11, and completed 2,959 of a possible 3,100 laps, second only to 2002 series champion Sam Hornish.

Other top finishes for Barron with Blair Racing last season included fourth at the Indy 500, where he shared Bank One Rookie of the Year honors with Tomas Scheckter. Barron added a fifth-place finish at the season-ending event at Texas Motor Speedway.

After winning the 1997 Toyota Atlantic Championship, Barron made his CART series debut with Dan Gurney's All-American Racers in 1998. He split time in 1999 between Gurney's team and Team Penske on the CART circuit. In 2000, Barron made six CART starts for Dale Coyne Racing before moving to Blair Racing on the CART circuit in 2001.

ALEX BARRON

"A big, fast track like Kentucky is always something you look forward to when you have a superb package like the Toyota/(Panoz) G Force package we have on the Hollywood team. It paid off for us big-time at Michigan with a race win. We had a big disappointment at Gateway, and not because of anything that we did. It was unfortunate we got caught up in the pit lane pileup that put a hole in my gearbox and eventually ended our day there. But the Hollywood/Mo Nunn team did another great job for me by giving me another potential race-winning car. We got up to fourth before the gearbox eventually let go. Now, we get to go run another big, fast track and the team had a great test there at Kentucky back in June. Felipe (Giaffone) will be watching the team for the first time since his accident, and he'll be at Kentucky for the first time since his win there last year, and I'm sure that will motivate everybody on the team in a big way. It should be really great."

-mnr-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing , Dale Coyne Racing