Indy 500: de Ferran Dragon Racing pre-qualifying report

QUALIFYING EXPERIENCE The de Ferran Dragon Racing team may be new in name, but it does have experience at the Indianapolis 500. In three appearances in Indianapolis, the team has delivered three strong qualifying runs, including seventh...

QUALIFYING EXPERIENCE

The de Ferran Dragon Racing team may be new in name, but it does have experience at the Indianapolis 500. In three appearances in Indianapolis, the team has delivered three strong qualifying runs, including seventh in 2007, 11th in 2008 and 12th in 2009. Ryan Briscoe posted a four-lap average of 224.410 in the first season, while Tomas Scheckter grabbed the final spot on pole day in 2008 with a time of 223.496. Raphael Matos delivered a nearly identical time with a 223.429 to earn the 12th spot last year. Davey Hamilton has qualified for nine Indy 500s during his racing career. He has qualified in the top 10 three times and 11th once. His career-best start was eighth in 1997 and again in 1998.

TOP 12

Qualifying 12th at the 2009 Indianapolis 500 was one of the highlights of Raphael Matos' rookie season. Matos recorded the fastest time of the second day of qualifying with a four-lap average of 223.429 to clinch a spot in the field of 33 for the first time. "Qualifying was very special. I drove well and we got everything out of the car. It allowed us to run up front for most of the day."

GIL'S PRACTICE WEEK GAMEPLAN

"We felt it was important to recognize where we were as a team prior to arriving here. We are still a relatively young and inexperienced team with a relatively young driver and Davey, who has a lot of experience but doesn't drive on a regular basis. We wanted to take a gradual approach to the week. It has been a top priority to understand every step we take and not go backwards. We have not had any major dramas and we have been picking up speed as we have progressed through the week. We have checked off 90% of the boxes we had planned so that's good. Davey has come up to speed fast and Rafa drives very well here."

NEW TEAMMATES, OLD FRIENDS

Nearly 20 years separate Raphael Matos and new teammate Davey Hamilton, but the way they have been working together during the first week in Indianapolis you would never suspect that they first started getting to know each other in Sao Paulo during the first week of the season. "Honestly, it's like they have known each other for 20 years," de Ferran said. "They understand each other very well and they are quite happy to collaborate. They both know it is good for them individually and good for the team."

RAFA ON DAVEY

"It's an incredible experience for me to have a teammate like Davey. He sees things I can improve and I see things he can improve and we both push each other which only raises the bar for the whole team."

DAVEY ON RAFA

"I have obviously seen him for awhile, but now that I'm working with him I feel like Rafa is really good. He brings a lot to the table. I am just trying to catch up so that I can give him some valuable information. We work very well together and we pull for each other. If I don't win I want him to win."

SAME TIME NEXT YEAR

For the fourth consecutive year, Davey Hamilton makes his return to the racetrack for the Indianapolis 500. Hamilton revived his racing career at the 2007 Indy 500 after suffering debilitating injuries in a horrific 2001 crash at Texas Motor Speedway. The now annual trek back to Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a thrill for Hamilton, but provides its share of challenges, especially this year with a shortened schedule. "I haven't raced for a year so it always takes some time for me to get comfortable and confident in the car. In the past we had a couple weeks of practice for me to do that, but with the shortened schedule and the rain we've had this year we don't have that luxury."

STAYING FIT

Hamilton does not get to race every weekend, but he trains like he does, especially as the Indy 500 approaches. He works out on his own much of the offseason doing an hour of lifting and an hour of cardio training on the bike, elliptical or treadmill each day. He reunites with his long time trainer, Steve Hoffacker one month before Indy in order to ramp up his program. Aside from light weights and cardio, Hoffacker runs Hamilton through an intense stretching program to enhance flexibility. "I work on the race all year long. By staying physically fit it helps keep you mentally fit and you need that in this race. The stretching really frees you up and that helps me relax."

NEW FORMAT

Qualifying for the 2010 Indianapolis 500 has changed and will feature a shootout for the pole position between the fastest nine qualifiers on day one. The first 24 spots will be filled on Pole Day, while 25-33 will get placed on day two. Bumping will begin once the field reaches 33. Change isn't always well received, but the de Ferran Dragon drivers are open to the adjustment. "I think it's going to be exciting," Matos said. "It's going to add another twist to a very competitive day." "One of the hardest things to do is qualify for the Indianapolis 500," Hamilton said. "It's a bit of an unknown for everyone, but if you make that top 9 it means you're fast."

DRIVER-OWNER

The last time Gil de Ferran was at the Indianapolis 500 in an official IndyCar capacity he was drinking milk and kissing the bricks as the winner of the 2003 race. He returns in 2010 as co-owner and president of de Ferran Dragon Racing, which actually puts him in good company. De Ferran becomes only the fifth former Indy 500 champion to enter the race as an owner of an IndyCar team since 1961. He joins Eddie Cheever, AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones and Bobby Rahal on that list. Now de Ferran sets out to join another list. Cheever, Foyt and Rahal have all won the race as both driver and owner. Cheever won in 1998 as owner and driver.

FAST FRIENDS

When Raphael Matos collided with Vitor Meira in turn 1 of the 2009 Indianapolis 500, it not only ended the day for both, but it also knocked Meira out for the season with a fractured back. What made the incident even more difficult for Matos was that it was with perhaps his best friend in the series. The two live near one another in Miami and often train together throughout the year. They have already gone on one long bike ride together here in Indianapolis this week. "It bothered me a lot especially at the banquet when he wasn't there. He's a very dedicated guy and it hurt me that he wasn't able to race anymore. It has been great having him back. The first time I drove through turn 1 this week I thought about him and the accident. I'm guessing he thought about it too."

-source: de ferran dragon racing

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Series INDYCAR