IRL: Texas II: Mo Nunn Racing preview

TEAM NOTES Sunday's Chevy 500 on the 1.5-mile tri-oval at Texas Motor Speedway is the 16th and final event of Mo Nunn Racing's fourth season of existence, which in 2003 has taken place exclusively in the IRL IndyCar Series with a two-car, ...


Sunday's Chevy 500 on the 1.5-mile tri-oval at Texas Motor Speedway is the 16th and final event of Mo Nunn Racing's fourth season of existence, which in 2003 has taken place exclusively in the IRL IndyCar Series with a two-car, Toyota-powered effort. 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, winds up his first career IRL IndyCar Series season this weekend in the #12 Pioneer/Mo Nunn Racing Toyota-powered Panoz G Force. He'll be joined once again by teammate Felipe Giaffone, the 2001 IRL IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year, in the #21 Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing Toyota-powered Panoz G Force.

At the last IRL IndyCar Series event, three weekends ago on the California Speedway 2-mile tri-oval, Giaffone and Takagi started eighth and 11th, respectively, but both fought ill-handling cars throughout the race and came home 16th and 18th.

Here at Texas Motor Speedway this past June, Takagi scored a third-place finish, his best of the season, while Giaffone also appeared headed for a top-finish before an accident involving Takagi and Scott Sharp during the closing laps ended his bid. Takagi was subsequently penalized 23 championship points, and the Mo Nunn team 23 entrant points, because his passing move inside Sharp and Giaffone was deemed inappropriate by IRL IndyCar Series officials.

At Chicagoland Speedway last month, two weeks prior to the Fontana event, Giaffone returned to the cockpit of the Hollywood car after missing five races with a broken right femur and pelvis suffered during a racing accident at Kansas Speedway on July 6. Giaffone was looking at a potential storybook ending to his first race back in the car before a black-flag penalty late in the race spoiled his fight for a top-three finish. Takagi, meanwhile, benefited from four superb pit stops by the Pioneer crew to overcome an ill-handling car in traffic and came home in ninth place at Chicagoland. Giaffone started third and was headed toward the front when, on Lap 177 of the 200-lap race, he was sent to the pits to serve a drive-through penalty for allegedly blocking another car. He ended up finishing 15th, one lap down.

American Alex Barron subbed for Giaffone during his five-race absence and scored his and the team's second-ever victory on the 2-mile tri-oval at Michigan on July 27. (Giaffone got the team's first-ever win at Kentucky in 2002.) Barron also drove to a fifth-place finish at Nashville on July 19, but following the Michigan victory was plagued by DNFs at Gateway on Aug. 10, Kentucky on Aug. 17, and Nazareth on Aug. 24.

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.

Barron subbed for injured Meijer/Mo Nunn Racing driver Arie Luyendyk at the Indy 500. 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.

In addition to Takagi's third-place finish at Texas in June, other top finishes for the Mo Nunn Racing team in 2003 include Giaffone's back-to-back third-place finishes at Phoenix and Japan's Twin Ring Motegi in March and April. 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 the 1989 Indy 500 victory and that year's CART title at Patrick Racing.

Team manager Peter Parrott returned for his second season in 2003 with most of the Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing team from last year's IRL 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 has been the crew chief. On the Pioneer side, David Cripps joined the team to engineer Takagi's car. Don Lambert is finishing his third year as crew chief on the Pioneer side.


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

Formula 1 and CART series veteran Toranosuke (Tora) Takagi of Shizuoka, Japan, is finishing his inaugural IRL IndyCar Series season this weekend and his first with the Pioneer/Mo Nunn Racing team. Sunday marks Takagi's second career race and third career visit to Texas Motor Speedway.

Takagi finished third here in June, his best result of the season, although he was penalized 23 driver championship points because IRL IndyCar Series officials deemed his late-race pass of Scott Sharp and teammate Felipe Giaffone as inappropriate. Takagi also drove here while with Walker Racing during the aborted CART series event in 2001.

When Takagi qualified third at Nashville in July, 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.

At the 87th Indianapolis 500 in May, Takagi started seventh, finished fifth and led two laps enroute to Bank One Rookie of the Year honors. It was a solid month 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 top finishes 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.


"I can't believe we are already at the final race of the season. The year has gone by very quickly. I know there is a championship race going on out there between three or four other drivers, but I am going to push 100 percent because I really feel like I need to finish the season with a victory. We had a great race car when we were at Texas in June, and we had our best result of the season there. We have studied, together with our engineers, why we could not get the speed we wanted at Fontana, and I think we found something to solve the problems we had. Instead of testing on the track, we decided it would be better to do a suspension data test, instead, and I think it was worth it. So, with the new information we have, and the good result we had at Texas in June, I think we should be okay for the final race of the season."


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

This weekend marks Giaffone's sixth IRL IndyCar Series start at Texas Motor Speedway. In June, he appeared to be headed for a top-three finish before, in the closing laps, he was involved in a three-car accident with Scott Sharp and teammate Tora Takagi that ended his bid. Last year, enroute to a fourth-place finish in the driver championship in the Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing car, Giaffone led five laps and finished fifth in the June race, and in the season finale retired with mechanical problems 14 laps from the finish. During his series Rookie of the Year season with Treadway/Hubbard Racing, Giaffone finished second in the June race and retired with mechanical trouble in the season finale.

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 involved rookie Dan Wheldon. He began his recovery at Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana, then traveled to Sao Paolo on July 20 to continue rehabilitating from his injuries under the care of renowned sports physician Dr. Moises Cohen in his native Brazil. Giaffone returned to the U.S. in time to watch the Aug. 17 race at Kentucky Speedway, where he scored his first career IRL IndyCar Series victory a year earlier. He returned to his Orlando home the following week to continue rehabilitation and then returned to the cockpit of the Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing car for two days of testing Aug. 27-28 at Chicagoland Speedway. On race weekend a week-and-a-half later, Giaffone qualified third and was running a solid fourth on Lap 177 of the 200-lap race when he was black-flagged for an alleged blocking violation. He ended up 15th. At Fontana, two weeks later, Giaffone started eighth and finished 16th.

This has been Giaffone's third IRL IndyCar Series season and his second with Hollywood/Mo Nunn Racing. Last year, his run to fourth in the drivers championship came by way of 12 top-seven finishes in 15 events, including the race win at Kentucky, third place at the Indianapolis 500, a runner-up finish at Nazareth, and two other third-place finishes at Richmond and Michigan. In 38 career IRL IndyCar Series starts, Giaffone has 26 top-10 finishes, 13 top-fives, and the race win at Kentucky last season.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Prior to this season, Giaffone and his wife Alice moved from Indianapolis to Orlando, Fla.


"I have every reason to believe we will be alright for the Texas race. We had a very good race going there in June before the accident at the end. I think I had at least a top-three car, for sure. We haven't tested there during the daytime, so we won't know for sure how we stand until we get there and put the Hollywood car on the track. But I'm pretty sure we'll be alright. It's a shame we have had such a long break since the Fontana race. It was not a great showing for such a good team like ours. I can't get it out of my head what a long and disappointing day that was. It would have been great to have another race the very next weekend so I wouldn't have to sit on a result like that for so long. But the team did some serious analysis at a research center in Michigan last week and they told me they found some things that should help us. We'll start with our basic Texas setup and build upon that with our new information. After we had such a good race car at Chicago, it was very tough to accept what happened at Fontana. But enough about that. We can go out and have a great weekend in Texas and then all the good memories from that can carry us through the winter."


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Series IndyCar
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing