IRL: Phoenix: Mo Nunn Racing race report

Giaffone finishes third at Phoenix; Takagi out early. PHOENIX (Sunday, March 23, 2003) -- Felipe Giaffone brought the ...

Giaffone finishes third at Phoenix; Takagi out early.

PHOENIX (Sunday, March 23, 2003) -- Felipe Giaffone brought the #21 Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing Toyota-powered Panoz G Force home in third place in an action-packed Purex Dial Indy 200 on the mile oval at Phoenix International Raceway.

His teammate Tora Takagi and the #12 Pioneer/Mo Nunn Racing Toyota-powered Panoz G Force made an early exit after heavy contact with the wall inside Turn Two while trying to avoid the spinning car of Gil de Ferran.

Giaffone started second and chased early leader Scott Dixon until he and the majority of the field pitted under yellow on Lap 34 of today's 200-lap event. Quick work by the Hollywood pit crew got Giaffone out ahead of Dixon but still in second behind the car of Roger Yasukawa, who opted not to pit. Giaffone then passed Yasukawa for the lead when the race went back to green on Lap 40, and he stayed in front for the next 52 laps, when he pitted again under yellow with the majority of the field. He reemerged in second behind Michael Andretti, who did not pit with the leaders, but then got around Andretti for his second lead of the race on a Lap 115 restart. That lead was short-lived, however, as Giaffone pitted on Lap 121 under yellow and reemerged in third behind the cars of polesitter Tony Kanaan and Sarah Fisher, who did not pit. Kanaan had pitted just 10 laps earlier under yellow and, as it turned out, did not need to stop again as he went on to win the race. Fisher pitted shortly thereafter and turned over second place to Giaffone. On a Lap 123 restart, with Giaffone still chasing Kanaan, he was held up by a lapped car and that allowed Helio Castroneves to get by for second place. Giaffone held on for third despite making side-to-side contact with the Tomas Scheckter, who was trying to get by him on Lap 170. Scheckter wound up spinning into the outside wall in Turn Two, ending his day.

In the day's first major incident, Takagi, who started 13th, was blinded by heavy tire smoke caused by de Ferran's spinning car while working Lap 2. He maneuvered to the inside, got into the infield grass, and spun into the wall himself. Takagi finished 12th at the season opener at Homestead, Fla., three weekends ago. Takagi's accident on Lap 2 today was the first of 10 caution periods today that totaled 73 laps.

With the third-place finish, Giaffone moved up to fifth place in the driver points standings with 57. He trails leader Kanaan (84), Castroneves (75), Dixon (60) and de Ferran (58) after two events. Giaffone finished ninth at Homestead.

The next stop on the 2003 IRL IndyCar Series tour is in three weeks (April 13) at Japan's Twin Ring Motegi -- the third of 16 events this season.

FELIPE GIAFFONE

"It was a really tough day, but I think we have to be happy with the result. My crew did a wonderful job in the pits. They gained me a spot on the first stop, and I was able to hold my position on my other two stops. I told them on the radio that they deserved to win today. They gave me a perfect car. We didn't have to make any changes all day. And we made good pit stops. Unfortunately, I'm the one who lost a position on the racetrack, and I felt bad about that. The Hollywood car had to be the best car today, especially early in the race. I was in the lead and I was able to save fuel and still pull away from the guys behind me. I thought for a while that today was going to be our day. But the way the strategy worked out, we decided to save time on our last stop by taking on fuel only, which is the same thing Helio (Castroneves) did, and we were in good position to go for the win after that. We thought Tony (Kanaan) would have to pit again because he stopped before us. But with so many yellow laps in the last part of the race, he was able to go the distance. And he was able to take on tires on his last stop, so he was able to stay ahead of us. There was a moment there when Helio tried to get by him on the outside, and they went around the track side-by-side for a lap and a half. I was thinking, 'Hey, I've seen this before' when the three of us were racing go-karts in Brazil about 15 years ago, and that maybe they'd take each other out. But they raced clean and the race turned out the way it did. Now we're back in the points race after a not-so-good weekend at Homestead, and it really looks like we have a championship-caliber team again. I feel bad for what happened to (teammate) Tora (Takagi). But he'll have his good days, for sure. There are a lot of races to go."

TORA TAKAGI

"I came around to Turn Two and there was too much smoke to be able to see. I did what I could to avoid what was happening in front of me, but I got off the track and then spun into the wall. It's a shame because I think we had a very good race car. But the day was over almost before it started. What are you going to do? It's on to Motegi, my home track and the headquarters for my sponsors Pioneer and Toyota!"

-mnr-

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Sarah Fisher , Felipe Giaffone , Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Tora Takagi , Roger Yasukawa , Mo Nunn