IRL: Fontana: Mo Nunn Racing preview

California Speedway here we come for Teammates Takagi, Giaffone Sunday's Toyota Indy 400 on the 2-mile tri-oval at California Speedway is the 15th event of Mo Nunn Racing's fourth season of existence, which in 2003 is taking place exclusively in...

California Speedway here we come for Teammates Takagi, Giaffone

Sunday's Toyota Indy 400 on the 2-mile tri-oval at California Speedway is the 15th 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, returned to the cockpit of the #21 Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing Toyota-powered Panoz G Force two weekends ago at Chicagoland after missing five races as the result of injuries suffered in a racing accident at Kansas Speedway July 6. 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, has been entered this weekend in the #12 Pioneer/Mo Nunn Racing Toyota-powered Panoz G Force.

Two weekends ago at Chicagoland, Giaffone was looking at a potential storybook ending to his first race back since his July 6 accident before a black-flag penalty late in the race spoiled his fight for a top finish. Takagi, meanwhile, benefited from four superb pit stops by the Pioneer crew to overcome an ill-handling car in traffic and came home in ninth place. Giaffone started third and was headed toward the front when, on Lap 177 of the 200-lap race, he was sent to the pits to serve a drive-through penalty for allegedly blocking another car. He ended up finishing 15th, one lap down.

American Alex Barron subbed for Giaffone during his five-race absence and scored a fifth-place finish at Nashville on July 19, followed by the team's second-ever victory on the 2-mile tri-oval 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 pit lane impact by Roger Yasukawa damaged Barron's gearbox at Gateway and ultimately ended his day. A broken fuel pump drive at Kentucky and a collision with the Turn 3 wall at Nazareth put him out at those two events.

Last year here at California Speedway, Giaffone and the #21 Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing entry qualified 10th and finished sixth in the inaugural IRL Indy Car Series event here. At last November's CART event, the Pioneer/Mo Nunn Racing entry of Tony Kanaan qualified on the pole and finished fourth after battling understeer problems in traffic late in the race.

Barron's victory at Michigan on July 27 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. 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. He 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

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 third career race at California Speedway, his first as an IRL competitor.

In 2001 and 2002, Takagi competed in the CART-sanctioned events here at Fontana driving the Walker Racing Toyota-powered and Pioneer-sponsored entry.

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.

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 top finishes 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

"As it became obvious for all of us at Chicagoland, the competition is very close. Just a small difference in downforce and drag makes a big difference between cars at the end of the race. We need to find an optimum downforce and drag combination for the race at Fontana. We have been reviewing all of our settings together with my engineer and we have some ideas to try and find more speed. I believe we will find it. When I started American open-wheel racing, I had a base at the Newport Beach, near TRD USA, so I am very familiar with the area. It's good to come to a place I am familiar with, especially as far as Japanese restaurants in the area are concerned. Southern California is so great from a choice of food standpoint compared with what is available at some tracks of middle of nowhere! And, I plan to visit both TRD USA and Pioneer headquarters during the weekend and spend time with the people who have supported me the last few years. I am really looking forward to seeing these people and showing my best in front of them at the racetrack."

FELIPE GIAFFONE

This weekend marks Giaffone's second IRL IndyCar Series start at California Speedway. Last year, in the inaugural IRL-sanctioned event here, he started 10th and battled for a top-six finish with Helio Castroneves and Gil de Ferran in the closing laps.

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 involved rookie 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 watch 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 two days of testing Aug. 27-28 at Chicagoland Speedway. On race weekend a week-and-a-half later, Giaffone qualified third and was running a solid fourth on Lap 177 of the 200-lap race when he was black-flagged for an alleged blocking violation. He ended up 15th.

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 37 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

"I think we had a very good test at Fontana at the beginning of the year. We were the fastest, by far. But the cars have changed since then. There is more downforce dialed in for some of the other types of tracks we run on. Fontana is very similar to what we had to work with at Chicago. It's a low-downforce track. Whoever can free the car up more will have the best car, at least for qualifying. Our team certainly knows how to do that. I'm looking forward to going back there. We had a good car at Chicago. I wouldn't expect anything to be any different for Fontana. Hopefully, I will get my seat all fixed up. At Chicago, I had a hard time with it. If the car wouldn't have been as good as it was, I probably would have parked it because of the problems we were having on race day. My earplug was coming out of one ear, my helmet was moving around all over the place, and it was a real struggle. My shoulder was really hurting because the seat wasn't properly fitted on the right side. It was one of the worst races I've had in terms of comfort. The good part was that my leg was okay, but the rest was really bothering me. So much attention was paid to my leg injury that I might have forgotten about everything else that needed to be done. For the first 100 laps, everything seemed great. But then, I was really struggling. At Fontana, we run 400 miles, so we really have to make sure I have my seat and everything fixed up a little better. It was a shame we got nailed with a black-flag penalty at Chicago because I think we had a car that was good enough to win the race. That would have been a dream come true my first time back in the car since the accident."

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