Raphael Matos Fights Conditions in Indy Pro Series Return
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y., June 4, 2006 -- Young Brazilian phenom Raphael Matos (Belo Horizonte, Brazil) returned to the IRL Indy Pro Series this weekend for the Corning 100 at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International. The event marked the second weekend and third race that the 2005 Star Mazda Champion has competed in the IRL IndyCar support series. Matos, known universally by his nickname Rafa, had reason to smile entering the weekend. In his only other Indy Pro Series start, Matos had earned the pole position in the No. 41 Guthrie Racing/ Car Crafters Special for the first race of a double-race weekend on the St. Petersburg, Fla. street course. He sailed on to victory in his Indy Pro Series debut. In the second race at St. Pete, he qualified sixth and battled the crowded confines of the tight track to take his second victory of the weekend. However, a variety of problems out of Matos' control would dampen this weekend's visit to the historic 3.7 mile, 11-turn "Long Course" at Watkins Glen. He would fight throughout a difficult weekend to take 13th at the end of the 100 mile/ 27 lap event.
"It was one of those weekends," commented a contemplative Matos. "We found we had a bad shock after qualifying which was masking the setup all weekend. In warm-up we found that the shock settings were completely opposite of where they needed to be because of the bad shock. Once we had it fixed, the car was actually really good. Once I got used to the car I was running the pace with the leaders. I think we had a car that could run in the top-three. It is disappointing for sure. Not just for me but for the whole Guthrie/ Car Crafters team. It was a really tough weekend for the whole team."
Difficult weather plagued the upstate New York track from the first practice. From session to session, even lap to lap, the track would dampen with rain, then dry, and then be flooded again. The conditions proved a challenge for all in the open wheel formula car series. The bad shock magnified the difficulty for Matos. He qualified a surprising, and disappointing, 11th. Following Saturday's qualifying for Sunday's race, it was discovered that the uncharacteristic low grid position was the result the front shock which had lost all its oil. Despite replacing the shock, the problems would not end there. The Sunday morning warm-up allowed Matos and the Albuquerque, NM race team to see the need for a complete setup change. Now with the car better, Matos faced a damp track in a car completely unfamiliar to him.
It was that first lap of the race that bit the 25 year old driver with a spin as he came to terms with the new handling characteristics of the car.
"I made a mistake on the first lap," said Matos about the first lap incident. "Once we found out the problems with the car, the car was so different. I had to drive it differently. It had been pushing so badly before that when I went into turn nine I entered it like I had all weekend. The car reacted totally different and I went off."
He would earn back several spots before a damaged suspension ended his day seven laps down to the winner.
"I love the track," said Matos of the Watkins Glen circuit. "It is super cool. It was good to be back in the Indy Pro Series again. It is always good to be here. Hopefully we can put something together to run at Indy [the Indy Pro Series visits the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in conjunction with the United States Grand Prix on July 1st] or Infineon [Raceway, Aug. 27]. I really enjoy racing the Indy Pro Series cars."
Matos now returns his attention back to the No. 6 ProWorks/Sierra Sierra Enterprises entry in the Yokohama Presents the Champ Car Atlantic Championship powered by Mazda. Matos and Sierra Sierra currently sit ninth in the championship standings after three events. Matos started third and finished second at the season-opening round at Long Beach, Calif. He led every session at the bumpy Houston street circuit earning his first Atlantic pole position before contact with another car relegated him to 11th. He would again be taken-out of competition by another driver at Monterey, Mexico finishing 23rd. Despite those frustrations, his early season success has him sitting ninth in the championship standings in the No. 6 and is considered a constant threat in the Series. He will test the ProWorks/Sierra Sierra Enterprises car this week at Buttonwillow Raceway in California before heading to Portland international Raceway for Round Four of the Atlantic Championship on June 18th.
A tape delay broadcast of the Corning 100 at Watkins Glen International can be seen on ESPN2 at 2 PM (ET), Thursday, June 8. Complete box scores of this event, as well as the St. Petersburg event, can be found on the Indy Pro Series web site at http://www.IndyCar.com/Pro.
For more on Rafa Matos, please visit www.RafaMatos.com.
To find out more about Guthrie Racing, click on www.Guthrie-Racing.com.
To learn more about Rafa's Champ Car Atlantic Series team, Sierra Sierra, log-on to www.SierraSierra.com.