IRL: Pikes Peak: Mo Nunn Racing preview

TEAM NOTES This weekend's Indy 225 on the Pikes Peak International Raceway mile oval is the sixth 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, ...

TEAM NOTES

This weekend's Indy 225 on the Pikes Peak International Raceway mile oval is the sixth 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 new teammate Tora Takagi, a Formula 1 and CART series veteran from Japan who most recently earned Bank One Rookie of the Year honors at the 87th Indianapolis 500 on May 25.

Last weekend, Takagi and the #12 Pioneer/Mo Nunn Racing Toyota-powered Panoz G Force brought home a third-place finish, his best to date, at the Bombardier 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. Giaffone and the #21 Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing Toyota-powered Panoz G Force also appeared headed for a top-three finish before a late-race accident nine laps from the finish that involved Takagi.

At last month'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 last weekend's third-place finish by Takagi, 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 Pikes Peak International Raceway. He finished fourth here from the third starting position with Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing last June, when he recorded the fastest lap of the race (20.830 seconds; 172.824 mph). Giaffone was seventh here from the ninth starting position in 2001 with Treadway/Hubbard Racing enroute to Rookie of the Year honors.

At last weekend's Bombardier 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, Giaffone appeared headed for his third top-three finish of the season when, just nine laps from the finish, 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 fourth at the time.

The month of May did not turn out to be particularly kind to Giaffone. He fought handling problems through Pole Qualifying weekend at the 87th Indianapolis 500 and managed a starting position of only 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.

Giaffone is currently ninth in the IRL IndyCar Series driver standings with 106 points. He is currently 10th on the earnings list at $505,714 through five events. He has led 66 laps this season.

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 33 career IndyCar starts, Giaffone has 25 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 think Pikes Peak this weekend is going to be a big change of pace that we probably need right now so we can sort of hit the reset button and start getting some good results again. The month of May at Indy is such a big thing, and then we go to Texas for a night race where there's always a lot of electricity in the air and the race is always exciting. Pikes Peak is a nice breath of fresh air after all that. Unfortunately, we didn't come out of Indy and Texas with very good results so we need a good result at Pikes Peak so we can move back up in the championship. There are still a lot of races to go, and Pikes Peak would be a great place to start turning things around. The good thing is, the Hollywood team has given me an excellent car all year long -- good enough to possibly even win the last two races. But things just didn't work for us in the end. Let's change that this weekend."

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.

This weekend marks Takagi's first career race at Pikes Peak International Raceway.

Takagi is currently eighth in the IRL IndyCar Series driver standings with 115 points after his IRL career-best finish of third at Texas Motor Speedway last Saturday. He is seventh on the earnings list with $571,365 through five events in 2003.

At last month's 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

"We are getting better and better every week. We had our best result of the season, so far, at Texas. Maybe we can make it even better at Pikes Peak. It's a small, flat oval where the car setup will be very important if you will be successful in the race. My engineers and my team have been giving me a good car for the races, lately. That is exactly what a driver wants so you can get in the car and drive to the best of your ability. It will be a challenge to get a good setup for the track at Pikes Peak, but as our results show, we are very capable of finding it. I have never been there before, so I am looking forward to it."

-mnr-

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing