Barron joins Takagi, subs for injured Giaffone at Firestone Indy 200 TEAM NOTES * Saturday night's Firestone Indy 200 on the Nashville Superspeedway 1.33-mile concrete oval is the ninth event of Mo Nunn Racing's fourth season of...
Barron joins Takagi, subs for injured Giaffone at Firestone Indy 200
* Saturday night's Firestone Indy 200 on the Nashville Superspeedway 1.33-mile concrete oval is the ninth 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, will be replaced this weekend by defending Nashville race-winner Alex Barron, who 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.
* Two weekends ago, at the Kansas Indy 300, Giaffone and the #21 Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing Toyota-powered Panoz G Force 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 a fractured right femur and pelvis that required surgery. It is uncertain when he will be able to return to the cockpit. Takagi and the #12 Pioneer/Mo Nunn Racing Toyota-powered Panoz G Force qualified third but was forced to retire from the Kansas Indy 300 on Lap 92 with a terminal fuel pressure problem.
* For the 32-year-old Barron, it will be his second tour of duty with the Mo Nunn team and his third IRL IndyCar Series race of the season 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. 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 won at Nashville Superspeedway in 2002 while driving for Blair Racing in his first full season on the IRL IndyCar Series circuit. He was fourth at last year's Indy 500 and shared Bank One Rookie of the Year honors with Tomas Scheckter.
* Three weekends ago, at the SunTrust Indy Challenge on the Richmond International Raceway three-quarter-mile oval, Giaffone qualified eighth and finished sixth despite early-race contact in the pit lane with Sam Hornish, Jr. Tora Takagi and the #12 Pioneer/Mo Nunn Racing Toyota-powered Panoz G Force qualified third for the third time in seven tries this season. He crashed his primary car in final practice, however, and had to start the race from the back of the pack (22nd). Takagi improved nine positions -- more than any other driver in the race -- to finish 13th in the event shortened from 250 laps to 206 due to rain.
* 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 four 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 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.
"Alex did a tremendous job for us with relatively little preparation at Indy this year and we are fortunate that a driver of his caliber is available to help us out of a tough situation this weekend. It is a shame what happened to Felipe (Giaffone) at Kansas Speedway two weekends ago, especially since his injuries resulted from an accident that we believe was not his fault. We wish him the speediest of recoveries. We're confident he'll come back stronger than ever. In the meantime, we are prepared to keep Hollywood in the championship hunt with Alex behind the wheel this weekend."
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.
* Saturday night marks Takagi's first career race at Nashville Superspeedway.
* Takagi is currently 11th in the IRL IndyCar Series driver standings but is looking to make a charge back into the top 10 and turn things around after his DNF (fuel pressure problems) at Kansas Speedway two weekends ago and his 13th-place finish at Richmond late last month. Takagi qualified third at Kansas for the fourth time this season. His other top-three qualifying efforts came at Richmond, Texas and Japan's Twin Ring Motegi. He was forced to start from the back of the pack (22nd) in his back-up car at Richmond, however, because of damage sustained by his primary car in a final practice accident.
* 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 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 at Japan's Twin Ring Motegi in 2002.
"Well, Nashville is another track that is going to be new to me. We had a very good (open) test there, especially as far as our race setup goes. Probably our best so far this year as far as race setup goes. We got a lot of laps in and a lot of full-tank runs and we are really happy about what we learned. It is a very interesting track because it is a concrete surface. Grip is not a problem, at least not for us. It makes the track look a little bit unusual, too, especially at night. We have had a pretty good car for qualifying everywhere we have gone. Now it's time to take advantage of our good starting position, if we can do it again at Nashville, and make it work to our advantage on race day. We will need to take good care of our tires, make sure our race setup is good, and play a good fuel strategy."
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 third IRL IndyCar Series event of the season this weekend and his second 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. He 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.
* Barron won last year's IRL IndyCar Series event here at Nashville while driving for Blair Racing in his first full season on the IRL circuit. He started fifth, his best qualifying effort of the season, and went on to win the race enroute to fifth place in the season-ending driver points standings. He was running at the finish in 14 of last season's 15 races, was fourth in top-10 finishes with 11, and completed 2,959 of a possible 3,100 laps last season, second only to 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.
"We're going to be under the gun once again, but aside from the Speedway at Indy, I can't think of a better situation or a track to jump back into a race car on short notice. Having won the Nashville race last year, and having been a part of the Mo Nunn team at Indy this year, I think our chances of being competitive in the race Saturday night are very, very good. I'm definitely looking forward to it. The biggest thing at Nashville is that the track is all concrete, the only such track for us. So there is a way to drive there -- a way to take care of your car and tires and to set the car up -- that is unique to all of the tracks we run on. Pit stops are going to be a big deal, so you have to get in and out quick in order to maximize your track position and be in position for the sprint race at the end. Like it did for me last year, pretty much everything has to go well. We worked our way up and, at the end, we had our car adjusted for the last 10-lap shootout."