IRL: Nazareth: Mo Nunn Racing preview

Short oval time for Takagi, Giaffone's sub Barron, at Nazareth TEAM NOTES Sunday's Firestone Indy 225 on the mile tri-oval at Nazareth Speedway is the 13th event of Mo Nunn Racing's fourth season of existence, which in 2003 is taking place ...

Short oval time for Takagi, Giaffone's sub Barron, at Nazareth

TEAM NOTES

Sunday's Firestone Indy 225 on the mile tri-oval at Nazareth Speedway is the 13th 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, will be replaced for the fifth race in a row by American Alex Barron, who drove to victory last month at the Firestone Indy 400 at Michigan Speedway. Barron once again joins 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.

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 a Dallara chassis for the first time at the Emerson Indy 250 at Gateway International Raceway near St. Louis two weekends ago and brought home his seventh top-eight finish in nine races. At last weekend's Belterra Indy 300 at Kentucky Speedway, 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. Barron and the #21 Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing Toyota-powered Panoz G Force, meanwhile, was rear-ended by Roger Yasukawa during a Lap 40 pileup in the pit lane at Gateway in an impact that led to Barron's DNF some 90 laps later due to gearbox failure. And Barron was forced out of last weekend's race early with a fuel pump drive failure.

Giaffone returned from his native Brazil, where he had been rehabilitating from his injuries under the care of renowned sports physician Dr. Moises Cohen, to watch last week's race at Kentucky in-person. He returned to his Orlando home this week to continue rehabilitation and plans his return to the cockpit during the next IRL IndyCar Series event at Chicagoland Speedway (Sept. 5-7). 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.

Last year here at Nazareth Speedway, Giaffone qualified fifth and finished second behind race-winner Scott Sharp for his and the team's best IRL IndyCar Series finish to that point in the season. Giaffone went on to score the team's first and his career first series win at Kentucky later in the season.

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. He did it in dramatic fashion, 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 weekend by Hornish at Kentucky. Takagi qualified 11th and finished sixth at Michigan and flirted with the leaders during the latter stages of the race before getting shuffled back to sixth place. It was Takagi's fourth top-six finish in his first 10 IRL IndyCar Series starts.

For the 33-year-old Barron, this weekend marks his sixth event this season with the Mo Nunn team and his seventh IRL IndyCar Series race of the year after subbing for the injured Gil de Ferran and Team Penske at Japan's Twin Ring Motegi in April, and then for injured Meijer/Mo Nunn Racing driver Arie Luyendyk at the Indy 500 in May. At Indy, 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. Barron drove a full IRL IndyCar Series season in 2002 for Blair Racing, recording his first career series win at Nashville. He also was fourth at last year's Indy 500 and shared Bank One Rookie of the Year honors with Tomas Scheckter.

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.

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. Nunn engineered Montoya's victory from the pole here at Nazareth in 1999, as well as Emerson Fittipaldi's victory from the outside-front-row starting spot in 1989.

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 second career race at Nazareth Speedway. He started 18th and finished 14th here in 2001 with Walker Racing in the final CART series event ever held here.

Takagi is currently 10th in the IRL IndyCar Series driver standings after qualifying 12th and finishing 18th at Kentucky Speedway last weekend in a race that saw him run out of fuel on course just prior to his second of three scheduled pit stops.

When Takagi qualified third at Nashville last month, 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 have been looking forward to going to Nazareth since our Pioneer Toyota team switched to the Dallara chassis. I am interested to see how it will do there on the small oval. We had success in qualifying with the (Panoz) G Force on the small ovals at Pikes Peak (fifth) and Richmond (third), so we hope we can be right there on the grid with the Dallara and also make it a great race car. We had a very good car on race day at Kentucky last weekend. I thought for sure we might be fighting for a podium finish, but then we ran out of fuel for some reason when we were preparing to make our second pit stop. That hurt a lot. I know everybody on the Pioneer team can't wait to get back out there on the racetrack so we can finish the job."

ALEX BARRON

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

The 33-year-old Barron, from Menifee, Calif., near San Diego, is competing in his seventh IRL IndyCar Series event of the season this weekend and his sixth with Mo Nunn Racing. He subbed for the injured Gil de Ferran and Team Penske at Japan's Twin Ring Motegi in April, for injured Mo Nunn Racing driver Arie Luyendyk at the Indy 500 in May, and then for the injured Felipe Giaffone in the Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing machine at Nashville (July 19), at Michigan (July 27), where he scored his second career IndyCar win and the second ever for Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing, at Gateway (Aug. 10) and at Kentucky (Aug. 17).

Barron's first career win was at Nashville while with Blair Racing in 2002, and the team's first was with Giaffone at Kentucky Speedway in 2002.

Last weekend at Kentucky Speedway, Barron qualified 17th but found himself running with the leaders by the first of three scheduled fuel-and-tire stops. But on Lap 105 of the 200-lap event, Barron was forced to retire with a fuel pump drive failure. He was the first car out of the race, but the 104 laps he completed was the most of any car that was the first out of a race in series history. The previous record was 101 laps by Rick Treadway, first out at Kansas in 2002.

At Gateway International Raceway near St. Louis two weekends ago, Barron qualified eighth but suffered what turned out to be an ill-fated bump from behind from Roger Yasukawa during a pit lane pileup on Lap 40 of the 200-lap Emerson Indy 250. Ninety laps later, Barron was forced to retire with a gearbox failure.

Barron's victory at Michigan last month came by a 0.0121-second margin over two-time-defending series champion Sam Hornish, Jr., the fourth-closest finish in series history. Barron's average race speed of 180.917 mph was the fastest in league history until Hornish clocked a faster victory at Kentucky last weekend. The Michigan victory came despite Barron's Lap 164 spin after contact with Tomas Scheckter while fighting for the lead. Barron led six times for a total of 25 laps.

The previous weekend, at Nashville Superspeedway, Barron qualified sixth and ran with the leaders for most of the race before finishing fifth.

At Indy, Barron was the fastest Bump Day qualifier in the #20 Meijer/Mo Nunn Racing Toyota-powered Panoz G Force, started 25th overall and finished sixth. The 19 positions he gained during the race was the best move of the race and earned MCI Long Distance Award honors.

This weekend brings Barron back to the scene of his 1997 Toyota Atlantic Championship victory at Nazareth, his first of five victories that season enroute to the series championship. Last year here, while driving for Blair Racing, he started 10th and finished sixth. In the 1999 CART series event here, driving for Dan Gurney's All-American Racers, Barron started 18th and finished ninth.

Last season, Barron finished fifth in the season-ending driver points standings for the Blair team. He was running at the finish in 14 of the season's 15 races, was fourth in top-10 finishes with 11, and completed 2,959 of a possible 3,100 laps, second only to 2002 series champion Sam Hornish.

Other top finishes for Barron with Blair Racing last season included fourth at the Indy 500, where he shared Bank One Rookie of the Year honors with Tomas Scheckter. Barron added a fifth-place finish at the season-ending event at Texas Motor Speedway.

After winning the 1997 Toyota Atlantic Championship, Barron made his CART series debut with Dan Gurney's All-American Racers in 1998. He split time in 1999 between Gurney's team and Team Penske on the CART circuit. In 2000, Barron made six CART starts for Dale Coyne Racing before moving to Blair Racing on the CART circuit in 2001.

ALEX BARRON

"Nazareth has always been one of my favorite tracks. I won the Toyota Atlantic race there in '97 (enroute to the series championship) and I finished ninth there in '99 for Dan Gurney's CART team, which I believe was their best-ever finish. It should be an all-out war on the short track with the kind of racing we've seen lately at the faster tracks. Everybody's in a groove, now, as the season is in the home stretch. I know the Hollywood crew has given me a good race car the entire time I've been here. Unfortunately, we had problems that put us out of the last two races. I'm sure hoping those kinds of things don't happen in threes! I would count on seeing a great race on Sunday, win, lose or draw."

-mnr-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Team Penske , Chip Ganassi Racing , Dale Coyne Racing