Rafa Matos Comes to Houston Looking for Third-Straight Atlantic Win Young, Brazilian Opens Atlantic Season with Near Perfect Results HOUSTON, April 18, 2007 - Raphael "Rafa" Matos knew entering the 2007 Cooper Tires Presents the Champ Car...
Rafa Matos Comes to Houston Looking for Third-Straight Atlantic Win
Young, Brazilian Opens Atlantic Season with Near Perfect Results
HOUSTON, April 18, 2007 - Raphael "Rafa" Matos knew entering the 2007 Cooper Tires Presents the Champ Car Atlantic Championship powered by Mazda Series he had a strong combination to win races. The native of Belo Horizonte, Brazil, who now lives in Miami, knew he was returning to the No. 6 ProWorks/Sierra Sierra Enterprises Mazda that he raced to three pole positions, four podiums and one victory in 2006. He knew that Sierra Sierra had added renowned race engineer Lee Dykstra to work with he and driving coach David Empringham. The team also brought on Rafa's friend and one of his strongest competitors, James Hinchcliffe as a teammate and Dave Bushmeyer as Hinchcliffe's engineer. With all the drivers and engineers working as one, they now had all the parts assembled to make Rafa one of the leading candidates for the 2007 Championship. However, even the confident but humble second-year Atlantics racer didn't expect to sweep the first two races of the season. Now, entering the third race of the year, and the third street course, confidence is high that he could do a three-peat to open the year. Despite all the previous success, Rafa knows that the competition, and the hard concrete walls of the 1.7- mile, 10-turn JAGFlo Speedway at Reliant Park in Houston, can take away a win in a blink of an eye.
"We won't change our approach or anything just because we won the first two races," Rafa. "We just need to keep working and doing what we are doing. There is a lot of work left to do. We need to keep trying to make the car better. I need to feel a little bit better, a little more comfortable in the car. The only way to do that is to work with the engineers and crew and to work on myself as a driver. Our approach will stay the same until the end; trying to score points but taking the wins when they are there. The team's hard work over the winter and pre-season testing is paying off and we want to keep the momentum going."
Knowing that he needs to get off to a strong start if he hopes to pocket the $2 million purse and a Champ Car Series ride in 2008, Rafa has followed his plan to the letter. Pushing when he needs to and holding something back when it is wise.
To date, it has been a nearly picture perfect season for Rafa. He opened the year in fine style pacing testing early on and never falling outside the top-five quickest times. He then proved it was no fluke by running consistently in the top-five in each practice and qualifying session for the season-opening Vegas Grand Prix in Las Vegas, Nev. Smarter and more race savvy in '07, Rafa started fourth and ran one of the smartest races of his young career to take the Vegas victory in the events inaugural running. In an impressive display of intelligent driving, Rafa earned a position on every re-start of the event eventually taking the top-spot and crossing the finish line first while those around him cracked under his unrelenting pressure.
Most recently, at the Grand Prix of Long Beach, Rafa showed that he could be the hunted rather than the hunter, by controlling the entire weekend. He was quickest in the first session and second practices and then went on to win the pole position by setting fast time in both qualifying sessions. In race day morning warm-up, he was third but quickly sprang back to the top of the list when he held-off all comers in a wire-to- wire victory in the race itself.
Now, Rafa, who is the poster-child for how to progress through the ranks of professional motorsports based on talent, returns to Houston, site of his first Atlantic's pole position in 2006. He holds an 11 point lead in the point championship entering the third race of the 12 race season.
"Coming off of two victories I have a lot of confidence, obviously, and a lot of momentum. I had a really good weekend last year at Houston until the moment I got hit from behind in the race. Other than that, I only have good memories of Houston. I heard they repaved the track so we will have to see what we will do with the setup from last year. Houston is a little bit easier to pass on than Long Beach. There are probably two or three passing zones in Houston and only one really tough one in Long Beach. Starting at the front is always an advantage on a street course but if you don't start up front you can still win. It is tougher, but you can still win."