Rafa Matos Races Through the Winter Young Brazilian Full Speed Ahead Entering '07 Season MIAMI February 5, 2007 -- For most in motorsports, the winter months bring a welcome rest after long hours at the track and longer hours preparing for the...
Rafa Matos Races Through the Winter
Young Brazilian Full Speed Ahead Entering '07 Season
MIAMI February 5, 2007 -- For most in motorsports, the winter months bring a welcome rest after long hours at the track and longer hours preparing for the next race. For young, Brazilian race driver Raphael "Rafa" Matos November through February are just more days on a calendar to spend behind the wheel of a racing car. While Rafa's primary job is as driver of the No. 6 ProWorks/Sierra Sierra Enterprises Mazda in the Cooper Tires Presents the Champ Car Atlantic Championship powered by Mazda Series, this winter he has found himself driving some of the world's fastest racing machines all over the globe. Since the close of the 2006 Atlantic season in September, the native of Belo Horizonte, Brazil, who now lives in Miami, has competed in three A1GP races as lead driver for A1 Team Brasil, has been asked to drive the Mazda factory entry in the P2 class at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring and marked himself as one of the top contenders for the 2007 Champ Car Atlantic title.
It was his recent return to the Sierra Sierra Enterprises seat, which he will campaign for the second-straight year in the Atlantic Series, which grabbed Rafa headlines for his impressive speed and precision driving. Buoyed by new team engineer Lee Dykstra, a legend in motorsports engineering, Rafa set a blistering pace on the first day of open testing for the Champ Car Atlantic Series on the "short" course (1.669-miles in length) at Sebring International Raceway on January 27. His lap of 58.587 seconds not only set the first day's high- water mark, but it also set the standard for the weekend that no one would better. In the second day of testing, Rafa set the fourth fastest time of the 24 cars present with a time of 58.907 seconds.
"The car is much better than last year," enthused Rafa. "The team is much stronger than last year. We have the benefit of a full year together and with this car. But Lee Dykstra really made a big difference. He seems to know what I want in the car and I felt very comfortable from the start. I think it is going to be a very good year for the Sierra Sierra team. Having a teammate will also be good. Hinch [James Hinchcliffe (Toronto, Canada)] and I are good friends and we have raced together a lot including in Atlantics last year and in A1GP. Sometimes when you have someone that you race against so hard join you as a teammate, it doesn't work. But this is like having a brother on the team. We are making each other and the team better every lap. I am very excited about the new season."
Rafa and his ProWorks Mazda will now travel to MSR Houston in Texas for more testing. The February 9 test on the 2.4-mile road course marks the second of three official "open" tests for the Atlantic cars. The third will take place at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca on March 7.
Immediately prior to the Sebring Atlantic test, Rafa represented his nation in the A1GP World Cup of Motorsports at Taupo, New Zealand, January 19-21. He finished 16th in the sprint race on the Taupo circuit and followed that with a 14th-place result in the feature. It was his third time leading the Brazilian team in the A1GP championship. He debuted in the green, yellow and blue entry in Beijing, China in mid- November earning A1 Team Brasil its first points of the season with a sixth-place finish in the sprint race and a seventh in the feature after flirting with the lead for several laps. A second race weekend at the Sepang International Circuit proved more frustrating. The Malaysian races on November 24-26 saw him fall to 19th in the sprint race and 18th in the feature. Rafa acted as reserve driver in the Indonesian race in early December for Brazilian national team. The next round of the A1GP comes this weekend in Australia. Due to his hectic schedule here in the United States, Rafa will not participate as primary or reserve driver for A1 Team Brasil. He is hopeful his schedule will allow a return to the Emerson Fittipaldi-guided team in one of the four remaining races this year.
"It has been a privilege to represent Brazil in the A1GP," said Rafa. "The cars are very fast and fun to drive. We are still working on the setup and finding the right chemistry with the team. Emerson has been great to work with and I hope that I can race a few more times in A1GP before the season is over."
By virtue of his longstanding relationship and success with Mazda-powered cars, Rafa has again been tabbed to compete in the prestigious Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring this year. The 2005 Star Mazda Champion raced in the American Le Mans Series P2- class Mazda prototype last year at Sebring finishing 22nd overall, eighth in class, after a mechanical issue sidelined the car. For 2007, the BK Motorsports/Mazdaspeed team is back with a new Lola chassis and a new Mazda-derived powerplant to contend for class honors. Rafa will join Jamie Bach and Ben Devlin behind the wheel of the Mazda.
"Being asked to race the Mazda prototype at Sebring again is a real honor," continued Rafa. "The new car looks very fast and the new engine should be very good. There will be a lot of work to do because the car and engine are so new and Sebring is so tough. But, anytime you can race a car as fast as a prototype in a big race like Sebring you learn a lot and it is a big honor. I am looking forward to it even though it is going to be a lot of work for the whole BK and Mazda team."
Once the "off" season is complete at Sebring, Rafa will target his full attention to winning the Atlantic Championship for Sierra Sierra. He finished fourth in his rookie season in 2006 winning one race, three pole positions and leading the second most laps throughout the year. The 2007 Atlantic season starts in earnest on April 8 with the new 2.4-mile street course in Las Vegas. That is followed immediately by round two, the Long Beach Grand Prix on April 15 and the Grand Prix of Houston on April 22.