Felipe Giaffone ...
#21 Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing Chevrolet G-Force
Yamaha Indy 400 - Sunday, March 24, 2002
California Speedway - Fontana, Calif. - 2-Mile Oval
Round 3 of 15 on the 2002 Indy Racing League
Felipe Giaffone is making his 16th career Indy Racing League start and his third with Mo Nunn Racing. The 27-year-old Brazilian had 10 top-10 finishes and three top-fives during his 2001 IRL Rookie of the Year season with Treadway/Hubbard Racing last season, including a season-best finish of second at Texas Motor Speedway in June.
Last weekend at Phoenix International Raceway, Giaffone qualified fourth and was running in the top-five when, on Lap 87 of 200, he was sent spinning into the Turn One wall of the 1-mile oval and out of the race, along with three other competitors. Buddy Lazier was to his left, and George Mack was to his right at a point on the track fit for only two-wide racing.
Despite last weekend's DNF, Giaffone remained 10th in the series driver points standings after two events with 37.
Three weekends ago, Giaffone opened the 2002 season with a seventh-place finish from the 17th starting position on the 1.5-mile oval at Homestead, Fla.
This weekend marks the first-ever IRL event at Fontana, but Giaffone is no stranger to the 2-mile high-backed tri-oval. Giaffone has raced here three consecutive years (1998-2000) in Dayton Indy Lights Series competition. In 1998, he started third and finished second. In 2000, he started on the pole and was racing for the win when an accident on the final lap relegated him to a seventh-place finish.
On his way to Fontana from last weekend's Phoenix event, Giaffone and his new wife Alice took detour and drove to Las Vegas. They stayed at Luxor and spent hours making $20 last on the poker machines on Tuesday night, after spending eight hours walking up and down the Strip that afternoon.
During his Indy Lights career, prior to joining the IRL in 2001, Giaffone enjoyed a four-season run in the Indy Lights championship, a run that included a 2000 victory from the pole at Michigan. He was fourth in Indy Lights driver points in 1998 and 2000, and sixth in 1999 driving for Conquest racing.
This is Mo Nunn Racing's inaugural Indy Racing League season after spending the first two years of its existence in the CART FedEx Championship Series with drivers Tony Kanaan (2000-2001) and Alex Zanardi (2002). In addition to Giaffone and the Hollywood car in the IRL, Mo Nunn Racing in 2002 is also campaigning Kanaan's #10 Pioneer-WorldCom/Mo Nunn Racing Honda-Reynard in the CART series, Kanaan's fifth Champ Car season and third with Mo Nunn Racing. The 20-event CART season commenced March 10 in Monterrey, Mexico, where Kanaan placed 16th.
Giaffone's driving coach in 1999 was Brazilian three-time Formula 1 champion Nelson Piquet.
Giaffone began racing go-karts in Brazil at age 12. His father was a longtime Brazilian stock car racer. Giaffone's brother Affonso and cousin Zeca also raced in Indy Lights.
Also new for Giaffone this season: the 2002 season is his first as a married man. He married his longtime girlfriend "Alice" on Jan. 15 in Brazil. As the story goes, Giaffone won the favor of his new bride back in 1994 singing karaoke.
Engineering Giaffone's #21 Hollywood Chevrolet this season is Eric Cowdin, who moved to Mo Nunn Racing's IRL program after engineering Kanaan in the CART series during the team's first two seasons. Cowdin, in fact, engineered Kanaan's entries dating back to the 1996 and 1997 Dayton Indy Lights Rookie of the Year and series championship seasons, respectively, at Tasman Motorsports, as well as Kanaan's inaugural Champ Car season with Tasman (later Forsythe Championship Racing) in 1999. Kanaan won that year's U.S. 500 and sat on the pole at Long Beach.
Peter Parrott, longtime Penske Motorsports and International Speedway Corp., executive, joined Mo Nunn Racing this past offseason to take on the role of team manager of the IRL program. Parrott was team manager at Vince Granatelli Racing in the early 1990s when Mo Nunn Racing team owner Morris Nunn was then engineer for Granatelli's entry for driver Arie Luyendyk.
David Popielarz, Giaffone's crew chief at the Homestead season opener, left Mo Nunn Racing last week to pursue other interests. Popielarz was Kanaan's CART series crew chief the past two seasons with Mo Nunn Racing. Tom Vasi, lead mechanic on Giaffone's Hollywood-sponsored IRL entry, will assume crew chief responsibilities this weekend, as well as next weekend at Fontana. Don Lambert, crew chief on Kanaan's #10 Pioneer-WorldCom/Mo Nunn Racing Honda-Reynard in the CART series, will join the crew here this weekend with a primary focus on pit stop duties.
Prior to starting his own team in 2000, Morris Nunn was technical director at Target/Chip Ganassi Racing during four consecutive CART championships won by the team for drivers Jimmy Vasser (1996), Alex Zanardi (1997-98) and Juan Montoya (1999). Nunn also engineered Emerson Fittipaldi's 1989 Indy 500 victory and CART series title. The former driver and Formula 1 team owner came to the U.S. in the early 1980s and over the years engineered such notable CART drivers as Eddie Cheever, Arie Luyendyk and Michael Andretti. Nunn's list of Formula 1 drivers includes Clay Regazzoni, Roberto Guerrero, Chris Amon, Jackie Ickx, Patrick Tambay, Nelson Piquet, Johnny Cecotto, and Derek Daly.
Race time for Sunday's 200-lap event is 12:30 p.m. PST (3:30 p.m. EST) and it will be broadcast live by ESPN and the IMS Radio Network. Pre-race programming includes "Indy Racing 2Day" Sunday at 2:30 p.m. EST on ESPN2. Practice begins Friday morning with qualifying set for Saturday at 11 a.m. PST (2 p.m. EST).
"I love Fontana. It's fast, and it's a great place for us to race these cars. The last time I raced at Fontana, I was on the pole in the Indy Lights race (in 2000). Unfortunately, there wasn't a very happy ending to that day as I crashed on the last lap and finished seventh. I finished second there in Indy Lights two years before that, so obviously that has a lot to do with why I like the place so much. We didn't have a whole lot of track time at the Test in the West last month. We lost an engine and that took a lot of track time away from us. But the engineers learned a lot about what we're going to do there this weekend. We definitely know our way around the track. The team has raced there for a few years in the CART series, so the place is very familiar. It will be interesting to run on a superspeedway the very next week after we ran on a 1-mile oval (at Phoenix). But I think it's better than if it was the other way around. We'll get to stretch our legs on the big track at Fontana. Hopefully we'll be able to start up front and finish up front. I'm more confident after last weekend than I was after Homestead, even though it was the first time I ever did not finish an IRL race because of a crash. We got our setup right and we were on top of things all through the weekend. I hope we can continue that momentum this weekend."