Fresh off win at Michigan, Barron back with Takagi for Gateway 250
Sunday's Emerson Indy 250 on the Gateway International Raceway 1.25-mile egg-shaped oval is the 11th 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 third race in a row by American Alex Barron, who drove to victory two weekends ago at the Firestone Indy 400 at Michigan Speedway and who finished third here at Gateway last year.
Barron 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.
Barron's victory in the #21 Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing Toyota-powered Panoz G Force at Michigan was the second of his career and the second IRL IndyCar Series victory ever for Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing. Giaffone scored his first and the team's first last August at Kentucky Speedway. At Michigan, Barron did it in dramatic fashion. He qualified sixth and was running with the leaders throughout the race.
He had to overcome a Lap 164 spin after contact with the car of Tomas Scheckter while fighting for the lead and came back to battle Sam Hornish, Jr., during the final 20 laps for the race win. Barron, who led six times for a total of 25 laps, just got Hornish at the finish line by 0.0121 of a second for the fourth-closest finish in IRL IndyCar Series history. His average race speed of 180.917 mph was the fastest series race ever.
Takagi and the #12 Pioneer/Mo Nunn Racing Toyota-powered Panoz G Force qualified 11th and finished sixth at Michigan and flirted with the leaders during the latter stages of the race before getting shuffled back to sixth place. It was Takagi's fourth top-six finish in his first 10 IRL IndyCar Series starts.
At the Firestone Indy 200 on the Nashville Superspeedway 1.33-mile concrete oval last month, Barron subbed for Giaffone for the first time, qualified sixth and finished fifth. Takagi 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.
At the Kansas Indy 300 July 6, 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 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 Gateway International Raceway, Giaffone, the 2001 IRL IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year, qualified seventh and placed 21st after mechanical problems on Lap 106 of the 200-lap event ended his day prematurely.
In the last CART series event here in 2000, the then-first-year Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing team raced here with Tony Kanaan and the #55 Mercedes-Benz powered Reynard. Kanaan qualified sixth and finished 13th.
For the 32-year-old Barron, this weekend marks his fourth event this season with the Mo Nunn team and his fifth 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 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.
In three previous visits here while engineering the Ganassi team's stable of championship drivers, Nunn scored a victory at Gateway with Zanardi in 1998 from the 11th starting position. He started on the pole here with Montoya in 1999, and finished fourth here with Zanardi in 1997.
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.
#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 first career race at Gateway International Raceway.
Takagi is currently 10th in the IRL IndyCar Series driver standings after qualifying 11th and finishing sixth at the Firestone Indy 400 at Michigan Speedway two weekends ago. It was his fourth top-six finish in his first 10 IRL IndyCar Series events.
The week prior (July 19), Takagi qualified third and finished seventh at Nashville Superspeedway. He led twice for a total of 15 laps but employed a slightly different pit strategy than the eventual top-three finishers and had to settle for seventh.
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 July.
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.
"I go to Gateway with a very good feeling because it was nice to have a test there before the race weekend. It's always nice to test before going to a track, but it is especially important when it's only a two-day race weekend, like at Gateway. Plus, it's a track that I never ran before. You have such a short time to set up the car during a two-day weekend, and it is especially difficult if you are in practice Group #1, which I have been lately. I am 10th in the points but for some reason they always put me in Group #1. I really need to get out of that group because you never gain confidence in the car and what you are doing because the track condition is always not as good as for Group #2. I had a good trouble-free test with my Pioneer team at Gateway on July 30. I tried the Dallara chassis for the first time. Even though I could not find great speed, we experienced success in that we were able to correct a lot of information about my setups. My engineers were able to find out some missing pieces in the settings after the test and now we have a good idea for the baseline for the start of practice. Therefore, most probably, I will race with the Dallara. I have to confess that I had a hesitation to decide which chassis (Panoz G Force or Dallara) to race after the test, but I believe there is potential to match the speed with some of the top guys after studying the data with my engineers. It will be a big challenge for all of us to perform well with the Dallara, and I believe we will be able to battle with other top guys out there by race day."
#21 Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing Toyota-Panoz G Force
The 32-year-old Barron, from Menifee, Calif., near San Diego, is competing in his fifth IRL IndyCar Series event of the season this weekend and his fourth 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 (July 19) and Michigan (July 27), where he scored his second career IndyCar win and the second ever for Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing. His first career win was at Nashville while with Blair Racing in 2002, and the team's first was with Giaffone at Kentucky Speedway last August.
Barron's victory at Michigan came by a 0.0121-second margin over two-time-defending series champion Sam Hornish, Jr., the fourth-closest finish in series history. Barron's average race speed of 180.917 mph was the fastest in league history. The victory came despite Barron's Lap 164 spin after contact with the car of Tomas Scheckter while fighting for the lead. Barron led six times for a total of 25 laps.
The previous weekend, at Nashville Superspeedway, Barron qualified sixth and ran with the leaders for most of the race before finishing fifth.
At Indy, Barron was the fastest Bump Day qualifier in the #20 Meijer/Mo Nunn Racing Toyota-powered Panoz G Force, 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.
This weekend marks Barron's sixth career event here at Gateway International Raceway. Last year, while driving for Blair Racing, he started 14th and finished third. In 2001, he made his IRL IndyCar Series debut driving for Sam Schmidt Motorsports, when he started 17th and finished 21st. The three previous outings came as a driver in the CART series. As a CART rookie in 1998, Barron qualified 22nd and finished 14th for Dan Gurney's All-American Racers team, which was powered by a then-developmental Toyota engine program. In 1999, Barron started 23rd and finished 16th for the Gurney team. In 2000, driving for Dale Coyne Racing, he started 16th and finished 17th.
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 fourth at the Indy 500, where he 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.
"What a week and a half it's been. We won a very dramatic race at Michigan, which was one of the highlights of my racing life, for sure. And then we went to Gateway for what overall was a very productive test session, except for the fact that I crashed my car at the end of the day. Talk about going from the penthouse to the outhouse! I felt really bad for all the guys because they worked so hard to make us competitive at both Nashville and Michigan, and things were going so well at the test. This is a very unique track. You have to be on top of your game for every lap. I finished third last year after starting all the way back in 14th. It's a track where you can make up some ground if your car is hooked up. I think we'll have a good starting point after all that we learned at the test."