IRL: Richmond: Mo Nunn Racing preview

Giaffone, Takagi set to tackle tough little oval at Richmond TEAM NOTES * Saturday night's SunTrust Indy Challenge on the Richmond International Raceway three-quarter-mile oval is the seventh event of Mo Nunn Racing's fourth season of ...

Giaffone, Takagi set to tackle tough little oval at Richmond

TEAM NOTES

* Saturday night's SunTrust Indy Challenge on the Richmond International Raceway three-quarter-mile oval is the seventh 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 featuring 2001 IRL IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year Felipe Giaffone and teammate Tora Takagi, a Formula 1 and CART series veteran from Japan who last month earned Bank One Rookie of the Year honors at the 87th Indianapolis 500.

* Two weekends ago, Takagi and the #12 Pioneer/Mo Nunn Racing Toyota-powered Panoz G Force finished sixth in the Pikes Peak International Raceway Indy 225. Giaffone and the #21 Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing Toyota-powered Panoz G Force finished 13th at Pikes Peak, losing valuable ground early in the race as the result of pit violation and subsequent penalty.

* Three weekends ago, Takagi brought home a third-place finish, his best to date, at the Bombardier 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. Giaffone also appeared headed for a top-three finish before a late-race accident nine laps from the finish that involved Takagi. Seven days later, while the series had moved on to Pikes Peak, Takagi was stripped of 23 championship points and the team lost 23 entrant points by IRL IndyCar Series officials, not approving of Takagi's late-race move at Texas.

* 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. In a third team entry, Alex Barron, subbing for an injured Arie Luyendyk, was the fastest Bump Day qualifier in the #20 Meijer/Mo Nunn Racing Toyota-Panoz G Force and finished sixth from the inside-ninth-row starting position. The 16 positions Barron picked up on race day was the biggest move among the 33 starters and earned MCI Long Distance award honors.

* In addition to Takagi's third-place finish at Texas, season highlights thus far for the Mo Nunn driving duo 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.

* 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.

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

* Felipe Giaffone, 28-year-old Brazilian open-wheel driving veteran and 2001 IRL IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year, is in his third IRL season in 2003 and his second with Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing. This weekend marks his third visit to Richmond International Raceway. Last year here, he was chasing Gil de Ferran for the lead late in the race when brake problems set in. Giaffone held on for a third-place finish. Two years ago, with Treadway/Hubbard Racing, Giaffone started eighth and finished 11th enroute to Rookie of the Year honors.

* Two weekends ago, at the Pikes Peak International Raceway Indy 225, Giaffone started third on a grid decided by Saturday practice times after qualifying was rained out. He stayed in the top five until a pit mishap on the first round of stops on Lap 93 of 225 led to a drive-through penalty that set Giaffone back almost two laps, a deficit he could not overcome. He finished 13th and now sits in ninth position in the current IRL IndyCar Series driver points with 123, two behind Tomas Scheckter (125) and one ahead of defending series champion Sam Hornish, Jr. (122).

* At the previous weekend's Bombardier 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, Giaffone appeared headed for his third top-three finish of the season when, just nine laps from the finish, he was caught up in the aftermath of contact between his teammate, Tora Takagi, and Scott Sharp. It was his second DNF in a row. He was running fourth at the time, working on passing Sharp for fourth at the time.

* The month of May did not turn out to be particularly kind to Giaffone. He fought handling problems through Pole Qualifying weekend at the 87th Indianapolis 500 and managed a starting position of only 16th. Despite a promising Race Day outlook, he was out of the race by Lap 6 after suffering terminal electrical problems.

* Earlier this season, Giaffone drove to back-to-back third-place finishes at Phoenix and at Japan's Twin Ring Motegi. The finishes gave Giaffone seven top-three finishes in a 15-race stretch dating back to his runner-up finish at Nazareth in 2002. Giaffone started second at Phoenix and led 58 laps on the day. At the inaugural Japan event, Giaffone held onto third place despite losing fifth gear late in the race.

* 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 34 career IndyCar starts, Giaffone has 25 top-10 finishes, 13 top-fives, and the race win at Kentucky last season.

* At the 2002 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.

"Richmond is a place where I've always enjoyed driving. I call it a road course type of oval because you're always turning and you're always in traffic. It's really fun for me. The car just goes and it's up to you to stay out of trouble. You can get sideways but it's no big deal because the speeds are a lot slower than all of the other tracks we go to. We're in a sequence of three races where things haven't gone too well for us on the Hollywood side. So we're really looking to turn things around. Usually I've had the bad streak at the end of the last couple of seasons with streaks like we've been having lately. Maybe this means we'll get the bad stuff out of the way for the year now, and we'll finish strong from this point and be right in the middle of the championship by the end of the season."

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 Richmond International Raceway.

* Takagi is currently 11th in the IRL IndyCar Series driver standings with 120 points after having 23 points stripped by IRL officials seven days after his season-high third-place finish at the Bombardier 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. 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. Two weekends ago, at the Pikes Peak International Raceway Indy 225, Takagi started fifth and finished sixth. He is seventh on the earnings list with $620,965 through six events.

* At last month's 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.

* At Japan's Twin Ring Motegi, Takagi qualified a season-high third and was running with the leaders until being penalized for leaving the pits with a broken fuel vent hose probe stuck in his car. He recovered to finish eighth. Takagi opened the season with a 12th-place finish at Homestead and second-lap race day crash while trying to avoid the spinning car of Gil de Ferran at Phoenix.

* 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.

"Obviously, it is tough for me to race where I never raced, especially a track like Pikes Peak, which was a one-mile oval. It took some time to get used to. As for Richmond, I was able to run there for two days after the Indy 500, so I do not need to waste my time and tires just getting used to the track, which is good news. I was low in the timing and scoring sheet at the test, but this was because of a brand new tire run ruined by Helio (Castroneves') and Tony (Kanaan's) accident at the end of testing. Our Pioneer team succeeded in finding a fairly good balance there, so I am hoping I will have a competitive car. However, Chip Ganassi's guys and the Penske guys and Tony were quick all day, so it will be tough to fight against those guys. In another words, we are getting used to the races everywhere we go to fight each other since the Indy 500. I am quite happy to be in the races thanks to the consistent engineering of my team. Because of the penalty I got at Texas (23 points taken away for involvement in a late-race accident), I am now only 11th in the championship and need to fight back. It will not be easy, but I need to hang in there, and I am sure I can do it together with my Pioneer team."

-mnr-

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