IRL: Chicagoland: Mo Nunn Racing preview

Giaffone back, rejoins teammate Takagi at Chicagoland Indy 300 TEAM NOTES Sunday's Delphi Indy 300 on the 1.5-mile tri-oval at Chicagoland Speedway is the 14th event of Mo Nunn Racing's fourth season of existence, which in 2003 is taking place...

Giaffone back, rejoins teammate Takagi at Chicagoland Indy 300

TEAM NOTES

Sunday's Delphi Indy 300 on the 1.5-mile tri-oval at Chicagoland Speedway is the 14th 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 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, returns to the cockpit of the #21 Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing Toyota-powered Panoz G Force this weekend after being replaced for the past five events by American Alex Barron. 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, will begin the weekend in the #12 Pioneer/Mo Nunn Racing Toyota-powered Dallara for the fourth race in a row after piloting a Panoz G Force chassis at the first 10 events this season, and on race day two weekends ago at Nazareth, Pa.

Giaffone returned to the Hollywood race team after a seven-and-a-half-week absence when he joined Takagi for a two-day test here at Chicagoland last week (Aug. 27-28). The Mo Nunn Racing driving duo both achieved competitive laps by the end of the test at roughly 24.8 seconds per lap around the high-speed tri-oval.

During his five-race run subbing for Giaffone, Barron scored a fifth-place finish at Nashville on July 19, followed by the team's second-ever victory at Michigan on July 27, but then was plagued by DNFs at Gateway on Aug. 10, Kentucky on Aug. 17, and Nazareth on Aug. 24. A rear-end impact in pit lane courtesy of Roger Yasukawa damaged Barrons' gearbox at Gateway and ultimately ended his day later in the race. A broken fuel pump drive at Kentucky and a collision with the Turn 3 wall at Nazareth were the culprits at the last two events.

Takagi, who had been driving the #12 Pioneer/Mo Nunn Racing Toyota-powered Panoz G Force at the first 10 events in this, his inaugural season on the IRL IndyCar Series, switched to the Dallara chassis for the first time at Gateway and brought home his seventh top-eight finish in nine races. The following weekend at Kentucky, Takagi and his Dallara's bid for a top finish was thwarted when he ran out of fuel on course prior to his second of three scheduled pit stops. Two weekends ago, at Nazareth, Takagi switched back to the Panoz G Force on race day and was fighting his way into the top 10 when he lost electrical power on Lap 205 of the 225-lap race.

Last year here at Chicagoland Speedway, Giaffone and the #21 Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing entry qualified 10th and was fighting with several cars for the race win but was ultimately shuffled back to sixth at the finish.

Barron's victory at Michigan last month was the second of his career and the second IRL IndyCar Series victory ever for Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing. Giaffone got the team's first at Kentucky in 2002. Barron did it in dramatic fashion at Michigan, qualifying sixth and running with the leaders throughout the race until a Lap 164 spin after contact with the car of Tomas Scheckter while fighting for the lead. Undeterred, Barron 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 to that point, surpassed only last month by Hornish at Kentucky.

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.

Barron subbed for injured Meijer/Mo Nunn Racing driver Arie Luyendyk at the Indy 500 in May. 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.

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 came from Giaffone's first career front-row qualifying performance. Takagi qualified for the third starting spot at Motegi, and he followed that up with his near flawless performance during the month of May at 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, boosted by his and the team's first-ever series win at Kentucky, finished fourth in the driver championship. On the CART side in 2002, 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 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.

TORA TAKAGI

#12 Pioneer/Mo Nunn Racing Toyota-Dallara

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 Chicagoland Speedway.

Takagi, who has been residing in Chicago since winning Rookie of the Year honors with a fifth-place finish in this year's Indy 500, actually raced twice on the Chicago Motor Speedway mile oval in the 2001 and 2002 CART events. He finished a CART career-best fourth at CMS in 2002 while driving for Walker Racing.

When Takagi qualified third at Nashville in July, it was the third race in a row and the fifth time this season that he qualified third. The others came at Japan's Twin Ring Motegi in April, at Texas and Richmond in June, and at Kansas in early 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 2001 and 2002 CART seasons. His best qualifying effort was the 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 eighth at Japan's Twin Ring Motegi in 2002.

TORA TAKAGI

"I'm looking forward to racing at Chicagoland for a lot of reasons. First, we had a great two days of testing there (last) week. It was the first time we really got to focus all of our energy on working with the Dallara chassis on a high-speed oval since we started racing it at the beginning of August. We collected lots of information that will be very important for the last three races of the season. We were struggling a little bit to find the speed, at first, but by the second day we were able to run a very competitive 24.8-second lap. We definitely found some good setups with my Pioneer engineers. We did lots of full-tank runs, too, so we should be in good shape for race day starting at Chicagoland. I wish we could've done that kind of testing before Kentucky and Nazareth, because I'm sure our results would have been very different, despite the fact we're stuck practicing with the first group every weekend. Anyway, I also call this race my home-away-from-home race. Of course, Twin Ring Motegi is my true 'home' race. But I spent the summer here in Chicago for the second year in a row and I just love it here. My wife and I have an apartment near Ohio Street and the downtown is so great. It's very convenient to fly and drive to many tracks over the summer from Chicago. Unfortunately, I'm leaving for Japan and then the West Coast after this race, so I will have to say goodbye to Chicago, for now. But I'll be back!"

FELIPE GIAFFONE

#21 Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing Toyota-Panoz G Force

Giaffone underwent surgery to repair his broken right femur at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis on July 7, the day after his Kansas Speedway accident that also involved Dan Wheldon. He began his recovery at Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana, then traveled to Sao Paolo on July 20 to continue rehabilitating from his injuries under the care of renowned sports physician Dr. Moises Cohen in his native Brazil. Giaffone returned to the U.S. in time to attend the Aug. 17 race at Kentucky Speedway, where he scored his first career IRL IndyCar Series victory a year earlier. He returned to his Orlando home the following week to continue rehabilitation and then returned to the cockpit of the Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing car for the two days of testing Aug. 27-28 here at Chicagoland Speedway.

In his first visit to Chicagoland Speedway, during his IRL IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year season of 2002, Giaffone drove the Hollywood/Treadway-Hubbard Racing entry in which he qualified sixth and led five times for a total of 34 laps. His race ended two laps from the finish, however, as a mechanical problem ended his day on Lap 198. Last year, his first here with Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing, he qualified 10th and finished sixth.

This is Giaffone's third IRL IndyCar Series season and his second with Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing. Last year, he went on to finish fourth in the drivers championship with a solid run of 12 top-seven finishes in 15 events, including the race win at Kentucky, third place at the Indianapolis 500, a runner-up finish at Nazareth, and two other third-place finishes at Richmond and Michigan. In 36 career IRL IndyCar Series starts, Giaffone has 26 top-10 finishes, 13 top-fives, and the race win at Kentucky last season.

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.

At this year's 87th Indy 500, Giaffone fought handling problems through Pole Qualifying weekend and qualified 16th. Despite a promising Race Day outlook, he was out of the race by Lap 6 after suffering terminal electrical problems.

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.

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.

FELIPE GIAFFONE

"It's hard to put into words how great it feels to be back in the Hollywood car. I think I didn't know how much I was really missing being in the car until we tested at Chicagoland (last) week. I was hurt, and every ounce of my energy was spent working hard to get back into driving shape. All that hard work kind of took my mind off of what it was like to race. But, then, when they belted me into the car for the test, it was like magic, and it was almost like I was never gone. We're not fighting for the championship or anything like that, so our first goal this weekend and for the final two races of the season will be to finish the race. That's our goal as a driver and as a team. After that, I will do my best to finish as high as I can. I'm confident that we're going to have a good car to finish well at all three tracks (Chicagoland, Fontana and Texas) to close the season. First things first, I want to see if I can help turn around this streak of bad luck the team has been having the past few races. All three races we have left are on similar kinds of tracks, and we had a good test at Chicago. So if we do well at Chicago, we'll do well at Fontana and at Texas, too. It'll be a little difficult this first race back, I'm sure, because I haven't raced for a while. We did pretty well there last year. We qualified 10th and we were right there at the end. I thought for sure we were going to have a podium finish, but it was one of the wildest finishes of the season and somehow we got shuffled back to sixth at the very end."

-mnr-

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