IRL: Michigan: Mo Nunn Racing preview

Barron back with Takagi for Michigan's Firestone Indy 400-Miler TEAM NOTES Sunday Firestone Indy 400 on the Michigan Speedway 2-mile tri-oval is the 10th event of Mo Nunn Racing's fourth season of existence, which in 2003 is taking place ...

Barron back with Takagi for Michigan's Firestone Indy 400-Miler

TEAM NOTES

Sunday Firestone Indy 400 on the Michigan Speedway 2-mile tri-oval is the 10th 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 who suffered a fractured right femur and pelvis in a racing accident at Kansas Speedway July 6, will be replaced for the second weekend in a row by American Alex Barron. He 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.

Last Saturday night, at the Firestone Indy 200 on the Nashville Superspeedway 1.33-mile concrete oval, Barron and the #21 Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing Toyota-powered Panoz G Force qualified sixth and finished fifth in his first race subbing for the injured Giaffone. Takagi and the #12 Pioneer/Mo Nunn Racing Toyota-powered Panoz G Force 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.

Earlier this month, at the Kansas Indy 300, Giaffone qualified fifth but was involved in a two-car accident with Dan Wheldon on Lap 56 of the 200-lap event that left Giaffone with the fractured right femur and pelvis that required surgery in Indianapolis the day after the race (July 7). After spending a combined 13 days at Indianapolis' Methodist Hospital and the Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana, Giaffone on Sunday flew down to his native Brazil to continue rehabilitation under the care of renowned Brazilian sports physician Dr. Moises Cohen in Sao Paolo. Giaffone plans to return to the U.S. in time to attend the Kentucky (Aug. 17) and Nazareth (Aug. 24) IRL IndyCar Series events as a spectator. His plans at this time are to be ready to return to the cockpit of the Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing car for the final three events of the season, beginning with the Chicagoland Speedway event on Sept. 7.

Last year here at Michigan Speedway, Mo Nunn Racing's Giaffone had one of his most exciting races of the 2002 season. He qualified 12th but moved up to sixth by the end of the first lap. He led five times during the 400-mile event for a total of 24 laps and ended up third, his fourth top-three finish in 11 events to that point in the season.

For the 32-year-old Barron, this weekend marks his third event this season with the Mo Nunn team and his fourth 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 the 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 coming from his first career front-row qualifying performance, and Takagi's qualifying for the third starting spot at Motegi followed by his near flawless performance during the month of May in 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 and the Hollywood-sponsored IRL IndyCar Series 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.

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-Panoz G Force

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 second career race at Michigan Speedway. Driving the Walker Racing Toyota during his inaugural season on the CART circuit in 2001, Takagi qualified third here and went on to finish just out of the points in 13th position, two laps down, in the 500-mile event.

Takagi is currently 10th in the IRL IndyCar Series driver standings after qualifying third and finishing seventh last weekend at Nashville Superspeedway. He led twice at Nashville for a total of 15 laps but employed a slightly different pit strategy than the eventual top-three finishers.

The qualifying position at Nashville was the third race in a row and the fifth time this season that Takagi qualified third. The others came at Japan's Twin Ring Motegi in April, at Texas and Richmond in June, and at Kansas earlier this month.

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

"I am eager to go to Michigan this weekend. My Pioneer race car was very, very good for qualifying and for the race last weekend at Nashville and it was a very fun race for us. We would have liked to have had a better finish (than seventh), but our strategy just didn't work out. That's okay. Michigan is one of my favorite places to race. I like the big, fast tracks the best. There is no secret about that. I enjoyed the whole month of May at Indy. The last time I was at Michigan was for the last CART race there in 2001, and we (Walker Racing) qualified third. It was my best starting position in two years in CART. This year, with the Mo Nunn team, we have been qualifying great almost every weekend. At Nashville, we had a good race setup, too. It will be our 10th race together, and I think everything is coming together well. The Toyota (Panoz) G Force combination is going to be a good one at Michigan. Qualifying won't be quite as important here, but we definitely want to qualify as good as possible. We will have to make the Pioneer car reliable for 400 miles, and I think we have the right package for that. I hope we can get our first win."

ALEX BARRON

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

The 32-year-old Barron, from Menifee, Calif., near San Diego, is competing in his fourth IRL IndyCar Series event of the season this weekend and his third 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 last weekend. At Indy, Barron was the fastest Bump Day qualifier in the #20 Meijer/Mo Nunn Racing Toyota-powered Panoz G Force at Indy, 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.

Last weekend, at Nashville Superspeedway, Barron qualified sixth in the #21 Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing Toyota-powered Panoz G Force and ran with the leaders for most of the race before finishing fifth. He was the defending race-winner at Nashville, having scored his first career IRL IndyCar Series win in 2002 while driving for Blair Racing.

This weekend marks Barron's third career event here at Michigan Speedway, the two previous outings coming as a driver in the CART series. As a CART rookie in 1998, Barron qualified 28th and finished 15th for Dan Gurney's All-American Racers team, which was powered by a then-developmental Toyota engine program. In 1999, Barron started 18th and finished 18th driving for Mercedes-Benz-powered Team Penske.

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 third place at Gateway Raceway near St. Louis, the track where he made his IRL IndyCar Series debut in 2001 with Sam Schmidt Motorsports. Barron finished fourth at last year's Indy 500 and 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

"I'm really looking forward to going to Michigan this weekend with the Hollywood/Mo Nunn team. We had a great time last weekend at Nashville and managed to get a pretty decent result with a very short time to get everything done. This weekend, we'll have a more traditional two days of practice and qualifying to fine-tune our Toyota (Panoz) G Force package and I think we'll be even more comfortable come race day. I love the big tracks like Michigan and Fontana. Michigan is a very historic place. I've raced there twice before when it was on the CART schedule, but this should be my best chance to go out and compete for a race win there. This race is longer than the typical IRL race, so it will be important to not only be fast and to stay up front, but you have to take very good car of the equipment and stay out of trouble. That's what we did at Nashville and we were right there at the end of the race. It should be a lot of fun, once again."

-mnr-

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