Portland: Raphael Matos preview

Raphael Matos Eager for the Pressures of Portland PORTLAND, Ore., June 13, 2006 -- In a series full of potential open wheel superstars, Raphael Matos has stood out in the opening rounds of the 2006 Yokohama Presents the Champ Car Atlantic ...

Raphael Matos Eager for the Pressures of Portland

PORTLAND, Ore., June 13, 2006 -- In a series full of potential open wheel superstars, Raphael Matos has stood out in the opening rounds of the 2006 Yokohama Presents the Champ Car Atlantic Championship powered by Mazda season. However, a brief turn of fortune has kept the driver of the No. 6 ProWorks/Sierra Sierra Enterprises entry off the podium in the last two rounds of the championship, though he did win his first series pole position at Houston. Having slipped to ninth in the season-long championship battle, the native of Belo Horizonte, Brazil, now living in Miami, Fla., is putting pressure on himself to perform in the Trinity Carpet 100k at the Grand Prix of Portland on June 18. Pressure that the young, Brazilian talent thrives on.

"Now we just need to be attacking all the time," commented Matos. "We need victories to get up there [to the point lead] again. Now we are not conservative anymore. I think I work a little bit better under pressure. I proved that last year. I feel very strong for Portland. I know the track already and we're going to be testing one day before the weekend starts; that is also going to help us. I think we have a pretty good baseline on the car. Portland's surface is pretty abrasive so we need to manage the tires even though the Yokohama tires are very good. The team has always been fast in Portland. I think Portland fits my driving style very well. I feel very strong there."

Perhaps Portland is the best place for Matos, Sierra Sierra and fate to come together. The 1.964 mile Portland International Raceway is the first track this season that Matos, who is better known as Rafa (pronounced "Hoffa") in the paddock, has driven in his career. His most recent start on the Northwest's most famous race course came as he finished fifth on his way to the 2005 Star Mazda Series Championship.

Growing the confidence of the 2003 Formula Dodge National Champion is a recent two day test at California's Buttonwillow Raceway Park. The Sierra Sierra team, led by team manager Richard Raeder, used the test days to focus not only on finding a base setup for Portland but for the string of street races which follow.

"We tested the old car for eight or nine days and had a good reference for data and setup at Buttonwillow," said Matos of a pre-season test marathon. "It was good to take the new car there and get two days of testing this week. We got a lot of good information. We tested a lot of good setups for Portland and the street courses. We were one second quicker than the old car but in much worse conditions. It was very, very hot this time and when we tested the old car it was very, very cold. We made a lot of improvement with car. Richard and I were very happy and we were happy to get to Portland to turn our luck around."

Matos, who continues to surpass expectations at each level of the racing ladder as he climbs it, set the stage for the year by finishing second at the season-opening Long Beach Grand Prix. He went on to lead every session at Houston, including winning his first career pole position, before contact with another competitor during the race dropped him to 11th at the checkered flag. Monterey, Mexico, the most recent race on the Atlantic Series schedule, met with more frustration as the ProWorks/Sierra Sierra Enterprises car finished a disappointing and unexpected 23rd.

"The team is P9 [position nine] in the championship but we were the quickest car in Long Beach and Houston," remarked a philosophical Matos. "In Mexico we struggled. The whole team struggled. We are very strong right now, especially after those two days of testing. I have my confidence again with myself, with the team, my engineer Gerald [Tyler] and David Empringham, my driving coach. I think Portland will be a very good race for Sierra Sierra."

A tape delay broadcast of the Trinity Carpet 100k at the Grand Prix of Portland can be seen on SPEED Channel at 4 PM (ET), Saturday, June 24. A re-airing of the race can be seen on SPEED, Wednesday, June 28th at 3 PM (ET). Live Timing and Scoring can be found at www.ChampCarAtlantic.com.

-www.RafaMatos.com

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Series Atlantic
Drivers David Empringham