Rafa Matos - Living the Dream at Full Throttle With Top Tools in Hand Rafa Matos is Ready to Challenge His Dreams MIAMI, March 27, 2008 - Everyone dreams. Whether your daydreams take you around the world in a hot air balloon or around the ...
Rafa Matos - Living the Dream at Full Throttle With Top Tools in Hand
Rafa Matos is Ready to Challenge His Dreams
MIAMI, March 27, 2008 - Everyone dreams. Whether your daydreams take you around the world in a hot air balloon or around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at 230 miles an hour, not one of us goes a day without a wistful thought of where we would rather be. But, what of those that see their dreams as probable destinations instead of wishful thinking? What do men like Andretti Green Racing's Raphael Matos dream of? More victories, more championships and "the Big One", of course. When the IndyCar and American Le Mans Series powerhouse signed the native of Belo Horizonte, Brazil to a contract in January, Rafa, as he is best known is the sport, knew it was not a dream come true. Instead, the young hot shoe who calls Miami home knows the strength of his new ride gives him the ingredients to make his dreams come true. It is the opportunity to one day live his dream with one of the elite racing programs in the world.
"Coming to Andretti Green Racing means a lot professionally," offered Rafa on signing with the Indianapolis-based program. "I am arriving in the Indy Pro Series with the most successful IndyCar team and that is very exciting for the future. I have to concentrate on winning the Indy Pro Series championship but, in the big picture, I will also be preparing for 2009. I am trying to develop and build a good relationship with the whole team. I am trying to take all the information I can from the IndyCar drivers and crew to learn everything that I can so that I am ready if I get an IndyCar ride in '09. But my main focus is to do my best for AFS and Andretti Green Racing this season."
Each year Rafa has relied on his own hard work and fierce determination to move forward in his career. He has made his way up each rung on the motorsports ladder not with big sponsor dollars but by winning; and winning a lot. In true racers' fashion Rafa has never gone two racing seasons without capturing a title.
In his youth he drove to local, regional and state-wide karting titles in his native Brazil before stepping-up into cars and winning the 2001 Chevrolet Formula Junior, Brazil championship. Not even a dramatic move to the United States could derail the consistent pattern of 'race one year, win the championship the next' that has become common for the focused driver. Rafa spent one year in the Skip Barber Series before earning the Formula Dodge National Championship in 2003. 2004 was spent becoming accustom the Star Mazda Pro Series with IndyCar racer Richie Hearn's first-year team. In 2005, he added that spec formula car series cup to his trophy case. '06 brought the move to the highly competitive Champ Car Atlantic Championship where his skill immediately made the rookie a top contender for race victories and the title. He missed out on the championship in the historic development series that first year but put up a dominant performance in 2007 that paled most recent accomplishments. He won the Champ Car Atlantic Championship in 2007 with six victories, including the first three races of the year, and four pole positions.
The success drew the attention of team owners far- and-wide. However, it was a call from Indianapolis that offered the greatest potential for future success. Despite having his full attention on following the natural progression from Atlantics to Champ Car, when owners Michael Andretti, Kim Green and Kevin Savoree ask a young driver to come to their multi-car, multi-series team to develop for the future, it is a wise challenge to answer. Despite knowing he would face heavy criticism from certain corners of the motorsports world, it was obvious that the best career move Rafa could make was to join the inviting arms of the Andretti Green Racing (AGR) family. He closed his ears to the critics and did what he knew was right for his career. He has embraced the new challenges with no second thoughts, just continuous examples of why it was the right choice.
Taking into account the strength of the Andretti Green Racing program and its professional approach, Rafa knew that it was an opportunity any smart racer would relish. The AGR operation is flush with potential. Its shops house not only Rafa's No. 27 AFS Dallara/Firestone for the Indy Pro Series but also a second Pro Series entry for Arie Luyendyk Jr. In adjoining bays sit the 2007 Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar Series Championship-winning entry and three other top contenders in the premier North American open wheel racing series. Nearby is the American Le Mans Series LMP 2 prototype that won the 12 Hours of Sebring in its debut in 2007 and looks for even greater results in 2008. Few other teams in the world can boast such a roster of machines.
While a driven competitor with little else other than victory on his mind, the historic relevance of the program and what it can mean to his future is a very real element in the decision to sign with the multi-time IndyCar Series champions.
"I had one offer in Champ Car with a team that I don't think I could have fought for victories with and I had the offer from Andretti Green," reflected Rafa on his decision to join the Indy Pro Series. "I think it would have been risky if I had taken the ride with the Champ Car team because it would have been difficult to get a ride in 2009. With Andretti Green, they are willing to put together a really good team that I can win races and the championship with and I will be learning for my future. There are no guarantees but the decision, at the end of the day, was pretty easy for me to make. The toughest part was that I had to let the two million dollars and my relationships in Champ Car go. But, as it turned out, had I gone with the Champ Car team I would have been unemployed right now. When you are offered an opportunity with a team like Andretti Green there really is no other choice. They are the best in the business and it would not be very smart to say 'no' to that."
To follow the thrill of signing with Andretti Green, Rafa was asked to join the Mazda factory effort for the Rolex 24 At Daytona in early January. He made an impressive showing driving the No. 70 SpeedSource RX8 in the GT class of the Grand-Am Series at his first 24 hour race. Always quick despite having never raced a sedan before, Rafa helped lead the team to a dominant victory at one of the most challenging races in the world. The magnitude of the success is so great that, even today, the full impact of a major, international victory such as the world-famous Rolex 24 is still sinking in for the young driver.
With one challenge put to rest behind him, Rafa fully recognizes the challenges before him in the oval- heavy Indy Pro Series. With only one oval race on his resume (a Star Mazda start at Pikes Peak International Raceway in '04) the learning curve is a steep one. However, in true Rafa style, he has stepped-up again with a successful test program in the No. 27 AFS Andretti Green Pro Series car leading pre-season testing at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. His natural skill and style as a driver have shown themselves in testing on the short ovals. Few expect the speed of the larger ovals, such as his Indianapolis Motor Speedway debut in the Freedom 100 on May 23, to prove any more of a hurdle.
"I have a very good feeling about racing on the ovals," said Rafa. "You need to be very sensitive to the car. To find the fine line on the ovals makes the difference in the drivers. The best ones can find that line. In testing, I have been able to find that. I was able to change the car so my style would fit the car better. My communication with the engineers is really good. Now it is just a matter of running in traffic and getting more experience in traffic. It is a challenge I am looking forward to."
Matos continues with a noticeable excitement and respect in his voice when discussing the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "It means a lot to me. I think Indy is the temple of motor racing. I have been there one time on the road course but to be racing on the oval has a lot of emotion. There is so much tradition at Indy. I am looking forward to it because I think we will be really strong there. I have a lot of desire to race in the '500' in the future but my main focus right now is to win the Pro Series title for AFS and Andretti Green."
2008 moves the super-fast Brazilian ever nearer to his dreams. A victory in one of the major races in the world; the Rolex 24 At Daytona. A seat with a team that can place him in any one of seven, dominating cars across three series. A primary drive in the Indy Pro Series, where he has won two of the three races he has entered prior to this year, with the top team in the League. It all builds a confidence that leads to victories and championships- the real dream.
"It helps to get off to a strong start like we have in 2008," Rafa closed his thoughts. "Everything you are driving, if you are being successful, helps your confidence. It makes you feel like you can get the job done. I believe that if you drive an Atlantic car, a GT car or an Indy Pro Series car fast it is just a different machine. Success in one helps a lot in the others."
Rafa's next opportunity for success comes on Saturday, March 29th at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The Homestead event marks his Andretti Green Racing debut driving the No. 27 AFS Dallara on Firestone tires.