IRL: Giaffone enjoys phenomenal rookie run

INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2001 - On March 18, a young rookie quietly kicked off his Indy Racing career by starting ninth and finishing an impressive sixth in the season-opening Pennzoil Copper World Indy 200 at Phoenix International ...

INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2001 - On March 18, a young rookie quietly kicked off his Indy Racing career by starting ninth and finishing an impressive sixth in the season-opening Pennzoil Copper World Indy 200 at Phoenix International Raceway.

The name? Giaffone, Felipe Giaffone.

Giaffone, 26, from Sao Paulo, Brazil, dominated the Chevy Rookie of the Year chase in the Indy Racing Northern Light Series with 10 top-10 finishes in 13 Indy Racing events. He finished sixth in overall points and clinched the Chevy Rookie of the Year Award at the Delphi Indy 300 at Chicagoland Speedway on Sept. 2.

Giaffone picked up the $50,000 check from Chevrolet at the Indy Racing League Championship Banquet on Oct. 7. The event took place at The Speedway Club at Texas Motor Speedway the day after the season-ending Chevy 500.

"When I first put the deal together with the IRL, I was expecting to finish in the top 10," said Giaffone, driver of the No. 21 Hollywood G-Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone. "That was my goal, and we ended up a lot better than that."

While Giaffone consistently finished in the top 10 in 2001, his goal was to be at the front, something he did in Chicago, leading 34 of the 200 laps before his engine expired on Lap 198 while running second to eventual winner Jaques Lazier.

"For me, it's important to be up front," Giaffone said. "I'd rather break up front than just hang in there all day and finish seventh or eighth. When I lost the engine the last race (Chicago), I wasn't really mad, of course, I was mad just because at the worst we could have finished second, but at the same time I was really happy to be up front."

While Giaffone did not score a win, he came close many times, including a second-place finish at the Casino Magic 500 in June at Texas Motor Speedway.

That runner-up finish came after a tough month of May at Indianapolis. He was bumped from the qualified field but ultimately started 33rd after replacing Raul Boesel, who had qualified the car on Bump Day. Because Giaffone was not the driver who qualified the car, he was forced to start 33rd. He wound up 10th, one lap down.

"It was the best and worse month," Giaffone said. "The best, because I really love the ritual of every day waking up and going to the track. My home is in Indianapolis. You wake up, and you go to the track, and then you're done and you come back to your place."

After Giaffone qualified with a four-lap average of 221.100 mph, his Treadway-Hubbard team felt that speed would hold up and thus starting working on race set-ups. The team even left to go to Richmond International Raceway in Richmond, Va., after the first weekend of qualifying to test.

"We tested Monday and Tuesday in Richmond, and then Monday night we starting talking, saying, 'Maybe we might not make the show,'" Giaffone said. "They we're still pretty sure we were going to make the show, but they weren't 100 percent sure."

The team had small problems with race setups but never could find a fast qualifying setup that would allow Giaffone to find enough speed to make the race.

"I'm not sure what really happened," Giaffone said. "We pretty much never found out."

Giaffone and the team rallied from a tough month at Indy to record seven top-10 finishes in the next nine races.

While Giaffone had over a month to ponder what might have been after the Delphi Indy 300 at Chicago before heading to Texas for the season finale, he kept busy by entertaining his close friend Rubens Barrichello during the SAP United States Grand Prix on Sept. 28-30 at Indianapolis. Ferrari driver Barrichello is married to Giaffone's cousin Silvana, and he stayed at Giaffone's Indianapolis apartment during the event.

"He was here last year, he knows the way around," Giaffone said. "He knows where the supermarket is."

And Giaffone showed all year that he knew his way around Indy Racing.

-IRNLS/IMS-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Felipe Giaffone , Jaques Lazier  , Raul Boesel