Hearn Motorsports Closes Rookie Season
LAS VEGAS, Nev., October 27, 2004 -- IndyCar star Richie Hearn, of Las Vegas, Nev., made the decision to look towards his future when, one day, he decides to retire as a driver. In the process, he decided to help aspiring, talented drivers by offering a team in the entry levels of professional racing.
To accomplish these tasks, Hearn started a team in the ultra-competitive and growing Star Mazda Series North American Championship presented by Goodyear. He also hired one of the sports most promising up-and-coming drivers, 2003 Formula Dodge Skip Barber National Champion Raphael 'Rafa' Matos of Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
As part of his business plan, the 1996 Las Vegas 500 IRL IndyCar Series winner added a second car at the mid-point of the season. Brian Thienes, a second-year driver in the series from Huntington Beach, Calif., brought the No. 77 Thienes Engineering Mazda under the Hearn Motorsports banner at the Portland-round in July. Each move Hearn made came from his own experiences and, in the end, that experience paid off as the team suffered no mechanical failures with either car. Matos won a pole and took two podium finishes on his way to seventh in the season driver standings after missing the first race of the season. Thienes would end the year 14th overall, third in the Expert Class. In a year-end surprise, Hearn's fellow owners gave him one of the most coveted prizes in the Star Mazda Series, the President's Award.
Hearn plans to continue his team's forward motion in 2005. The Southern California native is working to add a third Star Mazda team under his shop roof and will contest the full 2005 season including the opening round at Sebring International Raceway in March. Time constraints kept the team from competing at Sebring in '04. With three drivers and additional manpower and equipment, Hearn is aiming at the 2005 Star Mazda championship. The father of two will also add one more step in his long-term goal of creating a one-stop stepping-stone team for aspiring race drivers by adding a karting effort. Hearn got his start destroying the competition in karts before moving-on to the SCCA Atlantics title in 1995, and will use that knowledge to add the karting team. As a driver, Hearn is negotiating with teams which could see his fulltime return-- he competed in his fifth Indy 500 in 2004-- behind the wheel. While Hearn is in no hurry to hang-up his helmet, the first year as a team owner has given him the confidence that he will be as successful as a car owner as he has been as a driver when he does.
Richie Hearn: "I thought it was a pretty good year. I am a little disappointed we finished on a weak note. Overall it was a good season, though. We never had a mechanical failure in any session and got some podiums and a pole. For our first season, I would say we did well but we have much higher goals for next season. We are going to build on what we have done this year. We hope to organize another car over the off-season and come back with a three-car program in '05. We want to win some races and hopefully win the championship next season with what we have learned from this season."
team season-long breakdown
No. 70 Showtime/ Samsung/ Skip Barber Mazda, Raphael Matos, driver:
final standing: 7th, 244 pts., highest finish: 2nd, highest start: 1st
Hearn Motorsports made its debut at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in June and immediately made its presence known. Matos qualified in the top-five and took a fifth-place finish in his debut. July Fourth weekend at Lime Rock would start with a strong qualifying run but end early with a brutal-looking accident resulting in what would tie Matos' worse finish of the year, 22nd. Two top-ten finishes would follow at Infineon Raceway and Portland. Mosport and Road America would mark the high-water mark for the Showtime/ Samsung/ Skip Barber entry. Matos won the pole position for Mosport and finished third for the team's first podium.
The longest track on the circuit, Road America, earned the team its highest finish of the year, a second-place. Hearn had made a top-five finish in the point standings as a goal for the No. 70 when he announced his team. However, two accidents while racing for top-five finishes hurt the team in its final chase for points. The first disappointment came at Road Atlanta in September when Matos was struck from behind eliminating him less than a half-mile from the checkered flag. The team would leave Atlanta with a 15th. In the only oval race of the season, Matos and Hearn Motorsports each made their oval debuts at Phoenix International Raceway. Matos qualified tenth but was in the top-five by the first turn and third by the end of the first lap. However, the No. 70 was damaged by a car that Matos was lapping dropping him to 22nd and out of the race. The season-finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca looked strong for the Showtime/ Samsung car but Matos would be disappointed in qualifying 13th and finishing 7th ending hopes of a top-five spot in the final standings.
Richie Hearn, team owner/manager: "Rafa is a very good driver. He is just very new to how to setup the car. He has never had to do that before this season and I think he learned a tremendous amount. One of the things he learned is how to make the most of his weekend. Hopefully we'll be able to put the sponsorship together to have him back with us in 2005 to take advantage of what we have done together this year. He showed a lot of people he has the talent to run upfront. He helped put our team up there right away."
No. 77 Thienes Engineering Mazda, Brian Thienes, driver:
final standing: 14th, 203 pts., highest finish: 8th, highest start: 7th
Brian Thienes made his debut with Hearn Motorsports at the Grand Prix of Portland. In the remaining six races, the No. 77 found a home with Hearn Motorsports matching and then bettering his finishes from the first four races. Thienes earned a 28th in his first effort with a Hearn prepared car. The Thienes Engineering entry made a strong run into the Portland Festival Curves on the first lap but made contact and flipped in dramatic fashion out of the race. Thienes was unhurt. An 11th at the fast Mosport track was followed by a 14th at Road America and a 12th at Road Atlanta on Petit Le Mans weekend. At the Phoenix oval, Thienes had his best finish of the year, eighth. A disappointing finale at Mazda Raceway in his "home" event ended with a 13th place finish. While finishing 14th in the overall season-long driver rankings, Thienes took third in the hotly contested Expert Division for drivers ages 30-44.
Richie Hearn: "Brian came in after the first few races where he really didn't get the results he wanted. He got me going on running two cars and how to organize that. He doesn't have a lot of experience and he learned a lot from Rafa and myself. We are going to do a lot of testing over the winter to get him better prepared for 2005. We have a goal for Brian to finish in the top-ten in points and to win the Expert Championship next year. I think with some testing we can do that."
The season finale of the Star Mazda Series North American Championship from Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca can be seen on SPEED, at 2pm (EDT), October 31st.
For more on Hearn Motorsports and its 2004 Pro Formula Mazda Series' effort please visit www.richiehearn.com. To learn about Raphael Matos, visit his bilingual site at www.rafamatos.com. More on Brian Thienes can be found at www.thieneseng.com. For information on the Star Mazda Series, please visit www.starmazda.com.