Raphael Matos is making his mark in the Champ Car Atlantic Championship this season, the Brazilian nearly took the full points total available this weekend with two bonus points in qualifying (pole) and a victory at Cleveland, missing out only on...
Raphael Matos is making his mark in the Champ Car Atlantic Championship this season, the Brazilian nearly took the full points total available this weekend with two bonus points in qualifying (pole) and a victory at Cleveland, missing out only on the point for the fastest race lap.
Matos was able to resist late-race pressure from J.R. Hildebrand, including a restart after a mid-race full-course caution period, to take a solid but hard-fought victory by a margin of 0.506 seconds over the American.
"I believe that J.R. (Hildebrand) had better tires in the end of the race, but even having this problem, I was able to pull a gap on the restart," Matos recounted. "I was able to manage to get that gap. I made a mistake here last year. I was pushing way too hard to win the race and I just didn't want to make the same mistake. I knew that with that pace that I was going, I was able to keep my gap with J.R."
The standing start saw the full field make it safely through the first-turn funnel, with Matos heading the field in his Sierra Sierra Enterprises car -- never to look back until the checkered flag was flown -- followed by Franck Perera, Hildebrand and James Hinchcliffe.
Hinchcliffe, who had lost two positions at the start, was intent on clawing those back and moved past Hildebrand back to third place. However, with Perera, Hinchcliffe and Hildebrand running three cars wide through turn three there were more cars than track; a disaster waiting to happen. In the event, it was Hildebrand precipitating it, the American moving left into Hinchcliffe and punting "Hinch" off the track.
Hildebrand didn't make much of the incident, though. "I just thought I'd try and get a good run out of the first corner," the 19-year-old said. "I got a great run down into (Turn) 3 and we all jostled around a little bit. I was able to get by a couple of guys."
While Hinchcliffe spun off and the field streamed past, Hildebrand moved past Perera to slot in behind Matos and while Hildebrand continued to apply pressure on Matos, they held position until the checkered flag.
Perera could not quite keep up with the leading duo, finishing 9.192 seconds adrift of Matos. His Condor Motorsports car was suffering from some handling problems as he too complained of being punted by Hildebrand.
"At the second corner, Hildebrand came from nowhere and touched my rear and I was close to spinning," the young Frenchman explained. "We fought again in the other chicane and maybe he touched me again. Then, my rear was not broken but bent. I saw that in the end, because all the race my steering was off, and I had to fight a lot with the car."
Perera was able to easily keep fourth-placed Giacomo Ricci at bay, though, and had a four-second gap to the Italian at the checkered flag while Ricci was shadowed to the finish by Robert Wickens.
"I got behind (Jonathan) Bomarito and his car seemed to cause a lot of understeer on my car when I got close, but I made some roll bar adjustments and it was better," the Canadian rookie recounted. "I got past at Turn 1 and managed to get right on the gearbox of Ricci at the checkered flag but ran out of time. But it was a good result considering we started 11th."
Behind Ricci and Wickens there were more fireworks. Matt Lee, who had worked his way up from seventh starting position to fifth, was attempting to lap his erstwhile Formula BMW rival Adrien Herberts when the two made contact in turn one on lap 16. The contact launched Herberts' car in the air but the Canadian escaped injury in spite of a spectacular barrel-roll. However, his day was over and Lee too slipped down the field.
Meanwhile, Hinchcliffe had been on a charge from the back of the field and by the time the full-course caution flags came out for the Lee-Herberts incident, Matos' chief challenger had worked his way from 26th to 13th -- an impressive feat in a field filled with identical cars and lots of young driving talent.
He continued his pursuit after the restart and finished the race in fifth place, a little over a second adrift of Wickens. He also set a fastest lap in the process, further mitigating the damage from the first-lap collision.
"The first lap was gutting but I put my head down and concentrated on making up some space," Hinchcliffe said. "The corners here make it pretty hard to pass but my engineer, Dave Bushmeyer, gave me such a quick and consistent race car so I was really able to put it where I wanted to without making mistakes. That was probably the most fun I've had in a race car -- I felt like I had won!"
Still, with Matos taking the pole position and the victory, the Brazilian further grew the advantage to his Sierra Sierra teammate. Matos now leads Hinchcliffe by 30 points in the championship, 173-143. Wickens is only three points behind Hinchcliffe and Perera, at 134, is in the fight for the championship lead as well at the halfway point of the season.