It's been a long winter for Felipe Giaffone, the 29-year-old Brazilian who has been competing in the United States since 1995. After spending the last two years working with Mo Nunn Racing's Indy Racing League IndyCar Series team, he got ...
It's been a long winter for Felipe Giaffone, the 29-year-old Brazilian who has been competing in the United States since 1995. After spending the last two years working with Mo Nunn Racing's Indy Racing League IndyCar Series team, he got downsized.
Giaffone was involved in a couple of bad shunts last year, and the second in Kansas put him out of contention for all but the final three races of the year. The fractures to Giaffone's right leg and pelvis are still evident in his walk.
"He's on my short list," said Robbie Buhl last Friday while acknowledging he was stepping out of cockpit to enhance his management role with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing.
"We couldn't be more pleased to have Felipe join the team," co-owner Dennis Reinbold declared. "He was the first call that Robbie and I made and we're eager to get started with him. We'll work hard to compete for wins all year long."
Giaffone started his American odyssey in the Toyota Atlantic series, earning Rookie of the Year in '95. He did a partial Indy Lights season in 1996, then returned to Brazil to get his program up to snuff the following years.
Giaffone came back to US competition in the Indy Lights series, securing a full-time ride with Eric Bachelart's Conquest Racing. He brought Brazilian cigarette maker Hollywood along and rewarded the company with three second- place finishes in 1998.
The relationship improved in the next two seasons as Giaffone and Conquest earned fourth in the points chase by 2000, along with Giaffone's first Indy Lights victory in a tough Michigan race.
It was time to move on then, and Giaffone knew his future lay with the Indy Racing League. He joined forces with Treadway-Hubbard Racing for the 2001 IndyCar Series season and flat-out dominated Bombardier Rookie of the Year competition that year while taking sixth in the point standings.
With Fred Treadway stepping away from serious IRL team ownership in 2002, Giaffone found a new home at Mo Nunn Racing, which joined the League using a Panoz G Force/Chevrolet package.
The good vibrations yielded fourth in points, victory at Kentucky Speedway, where Giaffone led 124 of 200 laps. Along the way, Giaffone scored five top-three, eight top-five and 12 top-10 results.
Last year Mo Nunn Racing changed to a Panoz G Force/Toyota package and brought Tora Takagi along from CART as Giaffone's teammate. It was a character-building year for Giaffone as he suffered through early mechanical problems, the five-race layoff after the accident and other bad mojo.
But from those misfortunes Giaffone became available when Dreyer & Reinbold needed a driver for their #24 Purex/Aventis Dallara/Chevrolet. And now he'll be back in the driver's seat again.
"It's a great opportunity for me to get back in the car and I'm very excited to be here," Giaffone grinned. "Everything happened really fast, so I'm still learning with the team," which will be on-circuit at Indianapolis Motor Speedway tomorrow and Wednesday for open testing with the #24 car.
"I want to thank Dennis and Robbie for their confidence in me, because they've got a great facility and good people to work with. The team really wants to grow and win races, and we're going to work hard to achieve those goals," Giaffone declared. "I know we're going to have a great time."
The deal to put Giaffone in the #24 Purex/Aventis Dallara/Chevrolet was in place by Friday evening and, during the weekend the team made Giaffone's seat and adjusted the car for his preferences.
DRR team engineer Owen Snyder III was excited by the signing of Giaffone, who has a total of 39 career IndyCar Series starts resulting in a single victory, 13 top-five and 26 top-10 results.
"We couldn't have planned it any better. Starting the month of May, we'll have days and days of running to get acclimated," Snyder said. "With all the rule changes, it's hard to put new combinations together to be ready to win races without track time. Now we've got the whole month to learn from each other and be more competitive."
Commercial partners Purex and Aventis continue with the Dreyer & Reinbold team, and DRR anticipates adding additional allies "soon", team officials said.
"Felipe has proven to be extremely competitive and he'll be a great fit with us," Buhl remarked. "As I told Tony George on Friday, I've got another 20 years in this series on the owner side, and there's no better place to get started than Indianapolis with Felipe and our team."
Robbie Buhl accumulated 78 IndyCar Series starts with two victories and third in points in the inaugural, 1996 campaign. The Michigan native has driven professionally for 21 years and notched championships in the Barber Pro Series (1989) and Indy Lights (1992). Buhl's work with Racing for Kids has taken him to hospitals worldwide in an effort to give relief to ill children.