IRL: Texas II: Felipe Giaffone preview

Felipe Giaffone ...

Felipe Giaffone
#21 Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing Chevrolet G-Force

Felipe Giaffone is making his 28th career Indy Racing League start and his 15th with Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing at Sunday's season-ending Chevy 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

At last weekend's Delphi Indy 400 at Chicagoland Speedway, Giaffone qualified ninth and finished sixth to lock up at least a fourth-place finish in the 2002 IRL driver championship. Unfortunately, that finish, coupled with the race victory by defending series champion Sam Hornish, Jr., mathematically eliminated Giaffone for title contention.

Giaffone is currently fourth in the points with 419. Hornish is atop the list with 481 points, followed by Helio Castroneves at 469 and Gil de Ferran with 443.

Last month, Giaffone entered the Gateway Indy 250 trailing then-leader Hornish in the standings by just 17 points. But an untimely DNF on Lap 106 of the 200-lap event-- only the second of the year for Giaffone-- put a serious dent in his championship hopes. Meanwhile, de Ferran and Castroneves finished 1-2, while Hornish finished fourth behind Alex Barron.

Giaffone earned his first IRL victory earlier last month at the Belterra Casino Indy 300 at Kentucky Speedway. The 27-year-old Brazilian open-wheel driving veteran and 2001 IRL Rookie of the Year's victory was also the first in the 2-1/2 year history Mo Nunn Racing, which came to life with the 2000 CART FedEx Championship Series and added Giaffone and the Hollywood Chevrolet G-Force effort to its stable this season. Giaffone started a season-high third on the grid at Kentucky and led a race-high 124 of 200 laps over the 1.5-mile tri-oval. He held off Hornish to win by 0.932 of a second.

In this year's June race here at Texas Motor Speedway, Giaffone struggled in qualifying, but charged to the front from his 18th starting position and finished fifth.

With just this weekend's race remaining, Giaffone remains among the leaders in a number of season statistical categories. His $1.27 million in earnings is third only to Indy 500 winner Castroneves' $2.43 million and Hornish's $1.31 million. Giaffone's eight top-five finishes is surpassed only by Hornish's and de Ferran's 10 top-fives and Castroneves' 11 top-fives. And his 12 top-10 finishes is second only to Castroneves' 13 that leads the category. Giaffone's 2,491 laps completed out of a possible 2,900 on the year is fifth on a list led by de Ferran at 2,692.

Before his DNF at Gateway last month, Giaffone had a streak of 10 consecutive top-seven finishes. His only other DNF this season came at the second race of the season at Phoenix in March.

At the Michigan Indy 400 on July 28, Giaffone started 12th but got off to a great start and found himself in sixth after the first tour around the 2-mile high-banked tri-oval and ran with the leaders the rest of the way. Giaffone was fourth by Lap 7, and took the lead for the first time by Lap 70. He led five times for a total of 24 laps, including Laps 190-193 of the 200-lap, 400-mile event. Tomas Scheckter passed him on Lap 194 and pulled away for an easy victory. Scheckter's teammate Buddy Rice, making his first-ever IRL start, passed Giaffone for second place on the very last lap. It was Giaffone's third third-place finish of the season, the others coming at the Indy 500 in May and Richmond on June 29.

Prior to that DNF at Phoenix, Giaffone opened the season with a seventh-place performance in his Mo Nunn Racing debut at Homestead, Fla.

Giaffone won 2001 Indy Racing League Rookie of the Year honors with 10 top-10 finishes and three top-fives with Treadway/Hubbard Racing last season, including a season-best finish of second here at Texas Motor Speedway in June.

At the 86th Indy 500 on May 26, Giaffone made a bid for his first career IRL victory. He started fourth, led for 11 laps in all, and was running second when he made a late-race bid to overtake then-leader and eventual race-winner Castroneves, only to be held up by lapped traffic and dropped back to third.

For the first and only time this season, Giaffone ran with a teammate at Indy. CART series regular Tony Kanaan drove a second team car, the #17 Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing Chevrolet G-Force, and appeared headed to a victory himself. Kanaan started fifth (the fastest rookie qualifier in the 33-car field), alongside Giaffone on the second row, and led 23 laps before crashing while leading after spinning in the oil of fellow CART regular Bruno Junqueira.

During his Indy Lights career, prior to joining the IRL in 2001, Giaffone enjoyed a four-season run in the Indy Lights championship, a run that included a 2000 victory from the pole here at Michigan. He was fourth in Indy Lights driver points in 1998 and 2000, and sixth in 1999 driving for Conquest racing.

This is Mo Nunn Racing's inaugural Indy Racing League season after spending the first two years of its existence exclusively in CART with Kanaan (2000-2001) and Alex Zanardi (2001). In addition to Giaffone and the Hollywood car in the IRL, Mo Nunn Racing in 2002 is also campaigning Kanaan's #10 Pioneer-WorldCom/Mo Nunn Racing Honda-Lola in the CART series, Kanaan's fifth Champ Car season and third with Mo Nunn Racing. Kanaan and the CART FedEx Championship Series are at Corby, England this weekend for Saturday's Rockingham 500.

Giaffone's driving coach in 1999 was Brazilian three-time Formula 1 champion Nelson Piquet.

Giaffone began racing go-karts in Brazil at age 12. His father, Jose, was a longtime Brazilian stock car racer. Giaffone's brother, Jose, and cousin Affonso, also raced in Indy Lights.

New for Giaffone this season: the 2002 season is his first as a married man. He married his longtime girlfriend"Alice" on Jan. 15 in Brazil. As the story goes, Giaffone won the favor of his new bride back in 1994 singing karaoke.

Engineering Giaffone's #21 Hollywood Chevrolet this season is Eric Cowdin, who moved to Mo Nunn Racing's IRL program after engineering Kanaan in the CART series during the team's first two seasons. Cowdin, in fact, engineered Kanaan's entries dating back to the 1996 and 1997 Dayton Indy Lights Rookie of the Year and series championship seasons, respectively, at Tasman Motorsports, as well as Kanaan's inaugural Champ Car season with Tasman (later Forsythe Championship Racing) in 1999. Kanaan won that year's U.S. 500 and sat on the pole at Long Beach.

Peter Parrott, longtime Penske Motorsports and International Speedway Corp., executive, joined Mo Nunn Racing this past offseason to take on the role of team manager of the IRL program. Parrott was team manager at Vince Granatelli Racing in the early 1990s when Mo Nunn Racing team owner Morris Nunn was then engineer for Granatelli's entry for driver Arie Luyendyk.

Prior to starting his own team in 2000, Morris Nunn was technical director at Target/Chip Ganassi Racing during four consecutive CART championships won by the team for drivers Jimmy Vasser (1996), Alex Zanardi (1997-98) and Juan Montoya (1999). Nunn also engineered Emerson Fittipaldi's 1989 Indy 500 victory and CART series title. The former driver and Formula 1 team owner came to the U.S. in the early 1980s and over the years engineered such notable CART drivers as Eddie Cheever, Arie Luyendyk and Michael Andretti. Nunn's list of Formula 1 drivers includes Clay Regazzoni, Roberto Guerrero, Chris Amon, Jackie Ickx, Patrick Tambay, Nelson Piquet, Johnny Cecotto, and Derek Daly.

FELIPE GIAFFONE

"Unfortunately, we're not in position to fight for the championship anymore, so we go to Texas with, really, nothing to lose. I can't lose any positions in the points standings, so we're going all out to get the race win this weekend. It would be really great to finish the season with a win, which would be our second of the year, and that's a pretty good record for a first-year team. And, if there's one race that's really great to win, it's the last one of the season because then you have three or four months to celebrate. That would be great momentum for next year. Overall, I'm very pleased with what we've done this year. It all came together pretty quickly for the Mo Nunn team. Of course, you always want more because in this business you're never satisfied with your result ... otherwise, it's time to retire! But, realistically, we've done well as a team. It's going to be tough this weekend because we don't have the package to run with the fastest cars out there, but we're a good bet to be there at the end. With nothing to lose, who knows what we might be able to do. It's not time to be conservative, anymore. It's time to go out and have some fun."

-mnr-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Felipe Giaffone , Arie Luyendyk , Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Jimmy Vasser , Roberto Guerrero , Bruno Junqueira , Alex Zanardi , Tony Kanaan , Alex Barron , Chris Amon , Patrick Tambay , Nelson Piquet , Johnny Cecotto , Buddy Rice , Morris Nunn , Chip Ganassi , Clay Regazzoni , Mo Nunn , Sam Hornis
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing