IRL: Motegi: Mo Nunn Racing preview

Takagi goes home with teammate Giaffone for Indy Japan 300. * This weekend's inaugural Indy Japan 300 on the Twin Ring Motegi 1.5-mile oval is the third event of Mo Nunn Racing's fourth season of existence, which in 2003 is taking place ...

Takagi goes home with teammate Giaffone for Indy Japan 300.

* This weekend's inaugural Indy Japan 300 on the Twin Ring Motegi 1.5-mile oval is the third 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 effort featuring 2001 IndyCar Rookie of the Year Felipe Giaffone and new teammate Tora Takagi, a Formula 1 and CART series veteran from Japan.

* Three weekends ago, at the Purex Dial Indy 200 at Phoenix International Raceway, Giaffone qualified his #21 Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing Toyota-Panoz G Force on the front row and finished third after leading 58 laps. Takagi and the #12 Pioneer/Mo Nunn Racing Toyota-Panoz G Force 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 climbed to fifth in the driver points standings with his third-place finish at Phoenix.

* In 2002, Mo Nunn Racing participated in both the IndyCar and CART series. 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.

* While this weekend marks the IRL IndyCar Series' first-ever visit to Japan, the Mo Nunn team is all too familiar with Twin Ring Motegi. Last year, during the CART series' final visit here, Kanaan and the Pioneer-sponsored team car qualified second, led a race-high 72 laps, and recorded the fastest lap of the race before retiring with mechanical trouble. In 2001, Kanaan drove Mo Nunn Racing's Hollywood-sponsored CART entry here, qualified fourth and grabbed the team's first-ever podium finish. His then-teammate Alex Zanardi and the Pioneer-sponsored Mo Nunn Racing entry finished seventh that day. The team debuted here with Kanaan and the Hollywood car in 2000, when a mechanical failure ended their day just laps from the finish.

* 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.

* Last month, the team announced that two-time Indy 500 winner Arie Luyendyk will join Giaffone and Takagi for a three-car team entry at next month's 87th renewal at the Brickyard. A veteran of 17 previous Indy 500s, with victories in 1990 and 1997, the 49-year-old Luyendyk this year will pilot the #20 Mo Nunn Racing Toyota-powered Indy car with sponsorship from Meijer. 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. 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.

* At the 2002 Indianapolis 500, Mo Nunn Racing doubled its effort with fulltime series competitor Giaffone joined by Kanaan in a second Hollywood-sponsored entry. Giaffone and Kanaan qualified fourth and fifth, respectively, and both had their moments at the front of the pack on race day. Kanaan was the fastest "rookie" qualifier in the 33-car field and led 23 laps before an ill-fated accident while leading, caused by the oil of Bruno Junqueira, put him out of the race. Giaffone, meanwhile, led 11 laps himself and saw his late-race pass of Helio Castroneves for the lead get foiled by lapped traffic. Giaffone went on to finish third.

* 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 Giaffone 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.

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

* 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 weekend marks his first visit to Twin Ring Motegi.

* Three weekends ago at Phoenix International Raceway, he scored the sixth top-three finish in 17 IndyCar Series starts for the team after qualifying his #21 Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing Toyota-powered Panoz G Force on the front row. Giaffone led 58 laps in all and climbed to fifth in the driver points standings after two events.

* 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 third at the Indianapolis 500, 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 30 career IndyCar starts, Giaffone has 24 top-10 finishes, 12 top-fives, and the race win at Kentucky last season.

* 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. He went on to finish third.

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

FELIPE GIAFFONE

"I'm very anxious to race in Japan. I've been looking forward to this race since I first saw that it was going to be on the schedule for 2003. The last time I was in Japan, I was 17 years old and I was there for a kart race at Suzuka. I'm very excited to go back. Race-wise, I really don't know what to expect at Twin Ring Motegi. I'm pretty sure we'll be in good shape, though. I'm going to listen closely to my engineer (Iain Watt) and my teammate (Tora Takagi), because they both have a lot of experience on that track, even though it's a different car and engine package than they've ever run there before. The CART cars and the IRL cars are totally different. When I was in Japan 10 years ago, I had a lot of fun. It's a great place. I like Japanese food, so that won't be a shock to me. It will be good, as well, to be able to hang around with Tora because he's going to get a lot of attention. So I'll be like the road crew hanging out with the rock star, which will be exciting! Tora has raced on that track, so he's going to be a big help. The track seems to be a bigger version of what we race on at St. Louis, but with a much different wing configuration. So I'm not sure what it's going to feel like when I'm in the car. When I'm not in the car, though, I know it's going to feel great to be over there. The fans, from what I hear, are crazy about IndyCar racing."

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.

* This weekend marks Takagi's third career race at Twin Ring Motegi. His previous two races here were with the Pioneer-sponsored Walker Racing Toyota team when the CART series made its final two visits to Japan in 2001 and 2002. Last season, Takagi qualified 11th and finished eighth. He did not finish the 2001 event after qualifying 24th.

* Three weekends ago, at Phoenix International Raceway, Takagi started 13th after battling handling problems in qualifying in the #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 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 third 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 the eighth place here at Japan's Twin Ring Motegi in 2002.

TORA TAKAGI

"It is important for every race car driver to have 'home' race. In my case, especially since I race abroad, I need a race in Japan for both my fans and my sponsors Toyota, Pioneer, Denso and Togo. I am lucky to have a race in Japan, thanks to the IRL. Because of the influence of Major League Baseball, where there are more and more Japanese guys playing, Japanese sports fans are getting more and more interested in the sports leagues in the U.S., which is good. It is a just a coincidence that Ichiro (Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners) and (Hideki) Matsui (of the New York Yankees) are the same age as me (29). I am not sure if Japanese athletes my age tend to challenge and try hard to make it in the U.S. or not, but it's a fun thing to think about. I know Major League Baseball is a big, big thing, but do not forget me! Even though I could not get great results in our first two races in March, I am confident that my team is really strong and I am sure the guys will give me a good car at Motegi. I just need some luck that I was probably lacking at Homestead and Phoenix. Hopefully, the atmosphere of this Japanese round of the IndyCar Series will be something that puts me over the top, this time."

-mnr-

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