IRL: Takagi named Indy 500 Rookie of the Year

INDIANAPOLIS (Tuesday, May 27, 2003) -- Tora Takagi became the first Japanese native to be named Bank One Rookie of the Year at last night's 87th Indianapolis 500 Victory Celebration, capping an eventful month for him and Mo Nunn Racing teammates...

INDIANAPOLIS (Tuesday, May 27, 2003) -- Tora Takagi became the first Japanese native to be named Bank One Rookie of the Year at last night's 87th Indianapolis 500 Victory Celebration, capping an eventful month for him and Mo Nunn Racing teammates Felipe Giaffone, Alex Barron and Arie Luyendyk.

Takagi, a CART series and Formula 1 driving veteran, started seventh and finished fifth in Sunday's Indy 500 behind the wheel of his #12 Pioneer/Mo Nunn Racing Toyota-powered Panoz G Force, making him the top-finishing Indy 500 rookie among nine first-time starters in the 33-car field. The top finish made him the favorite to receive the Rookie honor, which also recognizes each driver's performance during the entire month of practice and qualifying and is voted upon by a panel of motorsports media and IRL IndyCar Series officials. Takagi led two laps during Sunday's race, posted the fourth-fastest practice time of the month at 232.007 mph on May 8, 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.

Coupled with his fifth-place finish on Sunday, it was enough to garner more Rookie votes than several other outstanding candidates, including Scott Dixon and Dan Wheldon, both of whom crashed out of the race in the closing laps, and Tony Renna, who finished seventh. It also puts Takagi in the elite company of some of the greatest names in racing to have received Bank One Rookie of the Year honors at the Indy 500, including Parnelli Jones, Jim Clark, Mario Andretti, Jackie Stewart, Donnie Allison, Rick Mears, Jacques Villeneuve, Tony Stewart, and his teammate at the outset of the month, Luyendyk.

Takagi brought home $363,515 in winnings from this month's race, $25,000 of which comes with the Rookie honor. Barron, subbing for the injured Luyendyk after the two-time Indy 500 winner crashed in practice on May 9, did a stellar job of his own in the #20 Meijer/Mo Nunn Racing Toyota-powered Panoz G Force. With less than two full days of practice in the car, Barron was the fastest Bump Day qualifier, then drove from the 25th starting position on race day to a sixth-place finish. Barron netted $297,265 in winnings for his efforts. Giaffone and the #21 Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing Toyota-powered Panoz G Force started 16th but was forced to retire in the opening laps after an electrical problem that proved to be terminal. Giaffone nonetheless brought home $242,815 from last night's banquet.

The IRL IndyCar Series takes a weekend off before resuming with Round 5 of 16 races this season on Saturday night, June 7, at Texas Motor Speedway near Fort Worth.

TORA TAKAGI

"It is a big honor for me to get this Rookie of the Year award at the Indy 500. In any other race, fifth place is just fifth place. But, here at Indy, this particular fifth place is different. It is something very special. Now, I realize it. It's not even the same as other 500-mile races. I was able to battle from Lap 1 to Lap 200 with the top guys right in front of me. I tried to overtake Tomas (Scheckter) on the last two restarts, but I could not get enough momentum to catch him.

"Probably, he was running less downforce than me. But, all in all, I would like to thank to my Pioneer crew for doing a great job throughout the month of May. And this award is a reward for all of us for all of the hard work. I would like to thank my sponsors Pioneer, Denso, Togo, Toyota, and my newest sponsor Takagi Industrial, for all of their support. Certainly, I had a winning car out there on Sunday. I tried, but just could not bring to the car home in first.

"And I'd like to thank the Rookie of the Year panel for choosing me for this honor, even though I have a lot of top-level open-wheel racing experience to be called 'rookie.' It was a tough race -- very difficult to stay in the top group. There were great spectators, and we were surrounded by big history. So it's worth it to be called a 'rookie' when you consider all of that!

"You get only one shot at this honor, and I got it. Most drivers never get it, but for me it was possible thanks to a great team like the Pioneer/Mo Nunn team."

-mnr-

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Tony Stewart , Jacques Villeneuve , Felipe Giaffone , Scott Dixon , Tora Takagi , Alex Barron , Jackie Stewart , Dan Wheldon , Mario Andretti , Jim Clark , Rick Mears , Parnelli Jones , Tony Renna , Mo Nunn