Mattco Set for Indy Lights Debut at Homestead
New Team Pairs Veteran Simmons With Rookie Renna, The Home Crowd Favorite
Homestead, Fla.; March 6, 1998: The team may be new. The key players may be young. But Mattco Raceworks will load some impressive statistics into its luggage when the team heads to its PPG-Dayton Indy Lights Championship debut at the Miami-Dade Homestead Motorsports Complex on Sunday, March 15, round one on the 14-race Indy Lights schedule.
Matt Cohen, 25, the youngest team owner on the Indy Lights circuit, and drivers Chris Simmons, 24, and Tony Renna, 21, have combined career records that belie their youth. The trio has collected more than 470 race wins, earned 15 racing championships, and amassed more than 35 years of racing experience. And, in spite of being one of the newest teams in the highly competitive Indy Lights series, all three have every intention of adding to the tally this year.
"We've got two very talented drivers," says Cohen of his Englewood Cliffs, N.J., based team, "and we've assembled some very good personnel, so I don't think it's out of the question to expect some good results this year. Chris's Indy Lights experience has proven to be a big asset and Tony wasted no time in getting up to speed in pre-season testing. I'd have to say we're all very optimistic. That's not to say we underestimate the challenge of being competitive in this tough series. But I'm confident we're up to the task."
Driver Chris Simmons, who, with two years of Lights experience is the "veteran" member of the team, has particular reason to look forward to the Homestead event. He has finished 2nd and 3rd in his two previous visits to the 1.5-mile oval in 1996 and '97, respectively. "Homestead has been good to me," says the 1996 KOOL Rookie Challenge winner of East Granby, Conn., "and I've always been very competitive here. I think a top-5 finish is realistic, and it would certainly be nice to take that one step up on the podium. There seem to be a number of teams with new drivers and new personnel, so I think it's probably a good year for a new team like Mattco to come into the series."
Tony Renna is a DeLand, Fla., native who began his career on the short tracks of the Sunshine State in quarter midgets, mini sprints, and micro sprints. He drives the team's No. 77 Mattco Raceworks Lola and will contest for Indy Lights rookie of the year honors in 1998. "The rookie title is certainly going to be on my mind," notes Renna, Barber Dodge Pro Series Rookie of the Year in 1996, "but I'm not going to let it dictate my race. Honestly, I don't think any driver can say in advance what they're going to do in a race. I'm out there to learn, and that doesn't mean just sitting back in the pack. If I'm really fast in practice and qualifying, then I may go out there and think, 'Gee, I have a shot at winning this thing.' But my goal is to just do my best in the race, learn what I can, and let the rookie thing take care of itself.
"I have to admit this race is important, though," Renna continues. "I've developed a good following among the race fans in Florida over the years and any time I race in this state I seem to have a lot of support in the crowd, people rooting for a Florida boy. I don't let it put any extra pressure on me, but I'm certainly aware that there are a gazillion pairs of eyes out there watching me. Just don't expect me to wave when I drive by!"
Mattco Raceworks will participate in the Indy Lights open test session at Homestead on March 10-11. Official practice begins on March 13 with qualifying on March 14, and the one-hour Indy Lights race will take place on Sunday, March 15 at 11:00 a.m. EST. The race will air in same-day coverage on ESPN2 at 10:00 p.m. PST. East Coast viewers will see the race at 1:00 a.m. EST, Monday, March 16, on ESPN2.