Raphael Matos has Momentum a Mile High Entering Denver Atlantic Race Thoughts of Friend da Matta Close to Heart and Mind DENVER, August 8, 2006 -- Fresh off his first Yokohama Presents the Champ Car Atlantic Championship powered by Mazda series...
Raphael Matos has Momentum a Mile High Entering Denver Atlantic Race
Thoughts of Friend da Matta Close to Heart and Mind
DENVER, August 8, 2006 -- Fresh off his first Yokohama Presents the Champ Car Atlantic Championship powered by Mazda series victory and a week of rest, Raphael Matos is invigorated in his first trip to the "Mile High City" of Denver. Matos, or Rafa as he is better known, has had an impressive rookie season driving the No. 6 ProWorks/Sierra Sierra Enterprises Mazda thus far. Entering the final three-race stretch, his momentum and attitude have never been higher. He has three pole positions and two podium finishes including the win in 2006 and much of that success has come on the street courses that the Champ Car support series has competed on. Denver's 1.65-mile, nine-turn street course again plays into the hands of the native of Belo Horizonte, Brazil, who now lives in Miami. Rafa has earned all three of his Atlantic pole positions on street courses, the last two coming in the two most recent events. The 2005 Star Mazda Series champion has also led the most laps of any competitor in the last two rounds including flag-to-flag domination at San Jose on July 30. Sunday's Grand Prix of Denver Atlantic race starts at 1:15 PM (ET).
"Everything feels good," offered an enthusiastic Rafa. "The atmosphere on the team is great. I have been talking to my engineer and he is pretty confident with the setup. It is hard to say what the track will be like but the approach you take with a street course is the same. For sure it will be a bumpy with lots of walls to hit. Setup-wise we're hoping to be very close right out of the box so it is just a matter of adapting to the conditions. A street course is all about adapting yourself because you don't get that much track time and the tracks change so much between sessions. The car can be close setup-wise but most of the time it is a little bit off because the track has changed so much."
"Every time I go to these street courses I am proving my driving skills," continued Rafa. "Before Long Beach my only experience on a street course was at St. Pete [where he won the two Indy Pro Series events] so it is a learning experience for me too. This year, because the cars are new, we are still developing the baseline for everything. I still have to learn the tracks as well. But, every time we go out there we have been one of the fastest cars."
The San Jose victory launched Rafa from tenth to seventh in the 2006 Driver's Championship. The No. 6 ProWorks team is currently 71 points out of the points lead and five points out of the top-five. Another 33 points are available this weekend. The Denver event will be followed by one more street race, Montreal, a track that Rafa raced and won on in '05 in Star Mazda. The season-finale will come at the renowned Road America facility. Matos has raced there multiple times in his career.
Rafa continued; "The win at San Jose makes me more confident, obviously. We've been strong the last two or three races and at San Jose we delivered the results. As a driver you always have that in you're mind. You're the fastest guy but you're not winning so it builds confidence to win. For me as the driver and for the team it is a huge advantage."
The high altitude of the Denver course is a concern to several drivers but not Rafa. "The town I grew-up in, Belo Horizonte, is very high altitude. I'm just working very, very hard training. I'm doing about three hours a day cycling. I am also going a few days earlier to get adapted to it but I am not too worried. The street courses are not as physical as the high speed courses. You have a lot of bumps but as far as g-forces and steering effort it is not that bad. Edmonton was, by far, the most physical track in the championship. On the street courses you don't generate as much downforce so it is easier to turn the wheel so I don't expect the altitude to be a problem."
The week has not been full of celebration for the young Brazilian. Rafa, like all of the sport, has followed closely the progress of his countryman Cristiano da Matta. Following da Matta's head injuries in a testing accident at Road America, Matos traveled to the hospital in Neenah, Wisc. to spend several days by his friend's side. Rafa will carry a special decal on the No. 6 ProWorks car this weekend in Denver to help spur the progress of da Matta's recovery.
"It is a sad week for me," remarked Rafa. "I went to visit Cristiano in the hospital for a few days. All my thoughts and prayers are with him that he will get well soon. He'll definitely be in all of our thoughts this weekend in Denver."