IRL: Kansas: Mo Nunn Racing preview

It's back to the 1.5-Mile ovals as Giaffone, Takagi eye Kansas TEAM NOTES Sunday's Kansas Indy 300 on the Kansas Speedway 1.5-mile oval is the eighth event of Mo Nunn Racing's fourth season of existence, which in 2003 is taking place...

It's back to the 1.5-Mile ovals as Giaffone, Takagi eye Kansas

TEAM NOTES

Sunday's Kansas Indy 300 on the Kansas Speedway 1.5-mile oval is the eighth 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 Panoz G force effort featuring 2001 IRL IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year Felipe Giaffone and 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.

Last Saturday night, at the SunTrust Indy Challenge on the Richmond International Raceway three-quarter-mile oval, Giaffone and the #21 Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing Toyota-powered Panoz G Force qualified eighth and finished sixth despite early-race contact in the pit lane with Sam Hornish, Jr. Tora Takagi and the #12 Pioneer/Mo Nunn Racing Toyota-powered Panoz G Force qualified third for the third time in seven tries this season. He crashed his primary car in final practice, however, and had to start the race from the back of the pack (22nd). Takagi improved nine positions -- more than any other driver in the race -- to finish 13th in the event shortened from 250 laps to 206 due to rain.

Earlier last month, Takagi finished sixth in the Pikes Peak International Raceway Indy 225 while Giaffone finished 13th,, losing valuable ground early in the race as the result of pit violation and subsequent penalty.

At Texas Motor Speedway in early June, Takagi qualified third and brought home a third-place finish, his best to date, at the Bombardier 500. Giaffone also appeared headed for a top-three finish before a late-race accident nine laps from the finish that involved Takagi. Seven days later, while the series had moved on to Pikes Peak, Takagi was stripped of 23 championship points and the team lost 23 entrant points by IRL IndyCar Series officials, not approving of Takagi's late-race move at Texas.

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. In a third team entry, Alex Barron, subbing for an injured Arie Luyendyk, was the fastest Bump Day qualifier in the #20 Meijer/Mo Nunn Racing Toyota-Panoz G Force and finished sixth from the inside-ninth-row starting position. The 16 positions Barron picked up on race day was the biggest move among the 33 starters and earned MCI Long Distance award honors.

In addition to Takagi's third-place finish at Texas, season highlights thus far for the Mo Nunn driving duo include Giaffone's back-to-back third-place finishes at Phoenix and Japan's Twin Ring Motegi, the Phoenix run coming from his first career front-row qualifying performance, and Takagi's qualifying for the third starting spot at Motegi followed by his near flawless performance during the month of May in Indy.

In 2002, Mo Nunn Racing participated in both the IRL IndyCar and CART Champ Car series. Giaffone and the Hollywood-sponsored IRL IndyCar Series entry won the team's first-ever race at Kentucky enroute to fourth place in the driver championship. On the CART side, 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 Giaffone 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.

FELIPE GIAFFONE

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

Felipe Giaffone, 28-year-old Brazilian open-wheel driving veteran and 2001 IRL IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year, is in his third IRL season in 2003 and his second with Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing. This weekend marks his third visit to Kansas Speedway, where he finished fourth in each of his first two outings, the first with Treadway/Hubbard Racing enroute to 2001 IRL IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year honors, and last year with Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing.

Last weekend, Giaffone qualified eighth and finished sixth on the Richmond International Raceway three-quarter-mile oval despite early race contact in the pit lane with Sam Hornish, Jr. He is currently ninth in the IRL IndyCar Series driver points standings.

Last month, at the Pikes Peak International Raceway Indy 225, Giaffone started third on a grid decided by Saturday practice times after qualifying was rained out. He stayed in the top five until a pit mishap on the first round of stops on Lap 93 of 225 led to a drive-through penalty that set Giaffone back almost two laps, a deficit he could not overcome. He finished 13th.

At the Bombardier 500 at Texas Motor Speedway the first weekend of June, Giaffone appeared headed for his third top-three finish of the season when, just nine laps from the checkered flag, he was caught up in the aftermath of contact between his teammate, Tora Takagi, and Scott Sharp. It was his second DNF in a row. He was running fourth at the time, working on passing Sharp for third place.

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.

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.

The 2001 IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year had an impressive inaugural season with Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing in 2002, scoring his first career IndyCar Series win and the team's first-ever race win last August at Kentucky Speedway.

He went on to finish fourth in the 2002 drivers championship with a solid run of 12 top-seven finishes in 15 events, including third at the Indianapolis 500, a runner-up finish at Nazareth, and two other third-place finishes at Richmond and Michigan.

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.

In 35 career IndyCar starts, Giaffone has 26 top-10 finishes, 13 top-fives, and the race win at Kentucky last season.

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'm hoping we are ready to have our breakthrough race for the season. We started the season pretty well, but then we got into a little slump for a few races. Finally, we got a satisfying result at Richmond even though it was a pretty weird kind of night. We got hit in the pit lane (by Sam Hornish) early in the race, the lights went out in the backstraight at one point, and then the rain came. This weekend, a lot of important people from my sponsor Hollywood are making the trip to Kansas from Brazil, so I can't think of a better situation for us to have a great result. I think we are ready. We had good pit stops where the guys improved my position each time at Richmond. And we made good adjustments to the car so I could go racing at the end. Unfortunately, the rain put a stop to it a little too early. I like the track at Kansas a lot. It will be a good chance to go out there and stretch our legs a little bit after the short tracks at Pikes Peak and Richmond."

TORA TAKAGI

#12 Pioneer/Mo Nunn Racing Toyota-Panoz G Force

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 Kansas Speedway.

Takagi is currently tied for 10th in the IRL IndyCar Series driver standings after last Saturday night's 13th-place finish in the SunTrust Indy Challenge at Richmond International Raceway. Takagi qualified third at Richmond for the third time this season but had to start from the back of the pack (22nd) in his backup car after crashing his primary car during final practice.

Takagi had 23 championship points stripped by IRL officials seven days after his season-high third-place finish at the Bombardier 500 at Texas Motor Speedway last month. 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.

At Japan's Twin Ring Motegi, Takagi qualified a season-high third and was running with the leaders until being penalized for leaving the pits with a broken fuel vent hose probe stuck in his car. He recovered to finish eighth. Takagi opened the season with a 12th-place finish at Homestead and second-lap race day crash while trying to avoid the spinning car of Gil de Ferran at Phoenix.

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 past two seasons on the CART circuit. His best qualifying effort was 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 the eighth place at Japan's Twin Ring Motegi in 2002.

TORA TAKAGI

"I think our Pioneer car will be very well suited to the track at Kansas. The Toyota motor and the G Force chassis should be a good package there, just like it was at Texas for our team. Richmond was very interesting. We should have been fighting for the race win with a very good car. But instead, we had to go to our back-up car and start from the back, and that was just too much of a challenge, especially since the rain would not allow us to go the (scheduled) race distance. It will be another 1.5-mile track like Texas for us this weekend. We will work very hard to put together a very successful weekend from the very first practice session until the checkered flag on Sunday."

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