Birmingham: de Ferran Luzo Dragon Racing preview

PREPARING FOR BARBER After recording two top 10 performances and one top five to start the IZOD IndyCar season, the Luczo Dragon/de Ferran Motorsports team heads to Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, AL hoping to maintain that momentum on ...

After recording two top 10 performances and one top five to start the IZOD IndyCar season, the Luczo Dragon/de Ferran Motorsports team heads to Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, AL hoping to maintain that momentum on a track that has proven to be tricky for them thus far. With temperatures in the low 50s, LDR/DFM turned in limited track time during the IndyCar test at Barber in February. The team ran just 12 outings during the two-day session, which ended when Raphael Matos made contact with the wall in turn 9 on day two. The highlight was finishing sixth in the first practice session. "Frankly, we didn't have the best of tests earlier at Barber," team president and managing partner Gil de Ferran said. "Nevertheless we have learned a few things since then, so it would be nice if we could once again figure at the sharp end of the field."

For the sixth time in the last seven IZOD IndyCar Series races, Raphael Matos finished better than his starting position, climbing from 23rd to finish eighth at the Honda Grand Prix in St. Petersburg. He has climbed 23 spots in the first two races of the 2010 season combined, including an eight spot improvement in Sao Paulo (12th to 4th). The ability to make up ground not only shines a light on Matos' talent as a driver working his way through traffic, but also speaks volumes about a resourceful engineering team and pit crew. The 15 positions gained in St. Pete were a career-high for Matos and the best in team history, topping the previous high of nine in Sonoma (18-9) last year. At the close of 2009, he also climbed six spots in Mid Ohio (15-9), eight at Chicagoland (17-9) and three at Motegi (12-9). "So far we have made good choices in strategy and executed well on race day," de Ferran said. "We have to continue to improve all aspects of our operation. Improvement is a never-ending process as far as I am concerned, but we'll do it in baby steps. It is more important to have great confidence that you are moving forward than to try to progress in great leaps and lose your way."

By finishing eighth in St. Pete, Raphael Matos collected 24 points to push him to 56 and into fifth place on the season. The 56 points after two races is the best two-race output in team history, topping the 46 points Matos produced back to back in Milwaukee and Texas last season. After the first two races in 2009, Matos ranked 15th with 36 points.

"We are working hard to catch up. Considering the fact that we started our preparations late and that we are such a young and relatively small team, being fifth in the championship at this point speaks volumes for the work both the team and Rafa have done so far. We have a team with very talented people. However, what I love the most is everyone's attitude. "Can do" doesn't begin to describe it."

A back row start did nothing to distract Raphael Matos or the Luczo Dragon/de Ferran Motorsports crew from producing a 15 spot improvement to finish eighth in the rain delayed Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. By rallying from 23rd to eighth, Matos only delivered a second straight top 10 finish and he also led the race for the second time in his career. The dramatic turn around was evident from the start when Matos moved up four positions on the first lap. He continued his climb all the way to the top, jumping into third on lap 27 and surging into the lead on lap 34 and holding it for three laps until coming in for the team's second stop. Matos' strong run received quite a scare on the 65th lap when Mike Conway tried to squeeze out a daring pass in turn five only to clip the front wing of the #2 HP LDR/DFM car. The contact eliminated Conway, but Matos survived with minimal damage and later held off Graham Rahal and Tony Kanaan to finish eighth.

The Luczo Dragon/de Ferran Motorsports team struggled for much of the weekend in St. Petersburg searching for the proper balance in the car and it eluded them, for the most part, until post-qualifying data analysis by the engineering team uncovered some key information just in time to assemble a strong racecar. But the challenges were obvious. For only the second time in team history the Luczo Dragon/de Ferran Motorsports team did not advance beyond the first round of qualifying on a street course (Belle Isle in 2008) when it qualified 23rd in St. Pete. It was the worst qualifying spot for LDR/DFM since starting 25th in Belle Isle during the 2008 season. After several hours of analysis and discussion, the engineering team made some adjustments to the rear springs in advance of Sunday's final practice and the improvement was dramatic. Matos jumped from 23rd to fourth quick in the pre-race warm up Sunday morning with the most obvious boost coming in the sector 2/turn 3 areas where he jumped from back of the pack to P2. Even though the struggles left the team in the back of the field at the start of the race, Matos believed all along that the tide was going to turn. "I believe we have the best crew in the paddock. I trust them completely and even when we struggle like we did in St. Pete I have the confidence that we will turn things around. We started in the back, but I just knew they would put me in the front. It just gets me even more excited for the next one at Barber."

"If you think about it, the only guy on the team who hasn't won an IndyCar race is me. Gil, the engineers, the mechanics have all won. Our mechanics are very experienced and have worked on the big teams. They work hard, they work together and they're great in the pit stops. We have never had a mechanical failure in the car since I've been here and that says everything about the team."

With just two races complete in 2010, there is obviously a long way to go before crowning a new IZOD IndyCar Series Champion in October. The fast top five start for Raphael Matos and the Luczo Dragon/de Ferran Motorsports team has provided some early season momentum for the young team and a boost in driver confidence, but everyone knows it will take consistency to stay in the top group. A look at the drivers' standings for the last five seasons combined shows that it will take an average of 26.4 points to crack the top five and 36.4 to win it. In 2009, Dario Franchitti won the title with an average of 36.2 points over the 17 races, while Danica Patrick took fifth at 23.1 points per race. Vitor Meira, driving for Panther Racing in 2006, was the last single car team driver to crack the top five, finishing fifth with a 29.1-point average that season.

Raphael Matos stuck to his rigid 7-day a week workout regimen during the off week, but he did increase the intensity of the training sessions to prepare for the rigors he will face on the physically demanding Barber circuit. He added extra miles and sprints to his daily cycling programs and increased the lifting and core training sessions with Ed Downs. "The track is very demanding because of all the g-forces in the corners," Matos said. "I focused all week on intensifying my cardio, raising my heart rate and really working my core. I had to make sure I was lean and mean for this one, because it's a very physical track."

"Hopefully for Barber we will be able to carry what we learned in St. Petersburg and continue to make progress from the test in February. It's a wide open and fast track and very different from the first two races. It's a typical road course with lots of elevation and fast corners. One mistake can be very costly so you need to make sure the car is underneath you at all times so that you can push."

"Gil has been there and knows exactly what I'm experiencing. If I do something wrong he tells me what I need to do right away to change it. He understands everything with the car and because he's so technical he can help me translate everything about the car back to the engineers. If I miss something he is very good at asking all the right questions to make sure they have all the information. He is very helpful and gives me a lot of confidence. He's been a huge plus for me and the team."

The Luczo Dragon/de Ferran Motorsports crew features eight returning members and five new faces on race days, including data engineers Scott Raymond, Carlos Gutierrez and Casey Eason and mechanics Chris Lovely and Shawn Ford. Everyone else returns, although there are two position changes. Josh Junge moves from outside rear tire changer to inside front, while Jason Hurless makes the move to outside rear after handling front tire pass duties a year ago.

-source: de ferran motorsports

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Gil de Ferran , Dario Franchitti , Tony Kanaan , Graham Rahal , Mike Conway , Danica Patrick , Vitor Meira
Teams Panther Racing , Dragon Racing