Giaffone Realizes Indy Dream

Jan. 20 was a special day for Felipe Giaffone.

That’s when the 26-year-old Brazilian took his first step in making a lifelong dream come true by passing his Indy Racing Northern Light Series rookie test. That means Giaffone is this much closer to competing in the Indianapolis 500.

Giaffone’s desire to take part in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing began when he started watching Formula One and Indy cars at 4 years old in 1979. Rick Mears won the first of his four Indy 500s that year and Jody Scheckter won the F1 drivers championship.

Ten years later came another defining moment in Giaffone’s life. Fellow Brazilian and Giaffone’s hero, Emerson Fittipaldi, won the first of his two Indianapolis 500s. There was no turning back for Giaffone.

"I remember exactly where I was when he won for the first time -- at home with my father because my father knows Emerson," Giaffone said. "I remember when we finished watching the race my father sent him a fax. At that point I remember that was our first fax machine, and that was the first fax we sent through the machine.

"We were really happy."

Imagine the joy Giaffone will experience when he takes his first laps at speed and flashes by the famous yard of bricks, making that 22-year dream a reality.

"For me, Indianapolis was for sure the biggest race that I really wanted to participate in," said Giaffone, who celebrated his 26th birthday last Monday. "When I was younger and just racing cars, it looked so far away to me that I said, 'Who knows?' When you’re young you dream everything: I want to drive Formula One; I want to drive Indy cars; I want to drive everything.

"But then all of a sudden it’s coming true. I still can’t believe that I might be there this year in Indianapolis."

Not only will Giaffone be following his hero’s footsteps, but he’ll also be tracing a path that his cousin, Affonso, took to Indianapolis.

Affonso drove for the Chitwood Racing team during the 1997 IRNLS season and drove in his first and last Indianapolis 500 that year. He finished 32nd after crashing in the fourth turn just prior to the beginning of the first lap.

Even so, Giaffone is depending on his cousin to give him some advice.

"I’ve been speaking with Affonso that last two weeks, and he’s trying to give me a little help," Giaffone said. "He has participated twice there, but he never took the start actually because the last time he crashed before the start-finish line.

"But for sure he’s giving me some help on that."

He added with a laugh: "Not on how to start, just how to run in Indy."

If his cousin’s advice isn’t enough, Giaffone will have teammates Davey Hamilton and Arie Luyendyk to rely on. Hamilton will be Giaffone’s teammate for at least the first four races of 2001, and Luyendyk will join them in Indianapolis.

Between them, Hamilton and Luyendyk carry a wealth of experience. Hamilton, 38, has started every IRNLS race and has been the championship runner-up twice. Luyendyk, 47, is a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner and the 1985 rookie of the year.

"For me that’s my greatest opportunity," Giaffone said. "Just to have Dave and Arie in the Indy 500, it couldn’t be better. I’m a rookie, and I still have a lot to learn. I’m going to try to suck all the information possible.

"I’m pretty sure they’re going to help me quite a lot."

Giaffone will also have his experience in the Dayton Indy Lights Championship Series to draw from.

Giaffone had his best performance of his Indy Lights career on the high-speed, 2-mile oval of Michigan Speedway. He won the Detroit News 100 there by leading from start to finish after starting on the pole. In Fontana, Calif., at California Speedway’s even-higher-speed oval, Giaffone grabbed another pole on his way to fourth in the season standings.

A couple weekends ago, however, Giaffone may have logged his most important experience behind the wheel when he passed his rookie test. During the test with the Treadway-Hubbard Racing team, Giaffone compiled more than 300 miles in a Dallara-Aurora.

Important seat time, sure, but it seems the most important time in Giaffone’s career was with his father 22 years ago in Sao Paulo, Brazil. He learned to dream then, and in May he’ll wake up on the front stretch of Indianapolis Motor Speedway with more than 300,000 fans watching his every move.

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