Chicagoland: Luczo Dragon Racing preview

RETURN TO CHICAGOLAND Luczo Dragon Racing and Raphael Matos will each be making their second appearances at the Chicagoland Speedway. Matos' initial visit was much more memorable than his team's debut a year ago. Matos started on pole, led...


Luczo Dragon Racing and Raphael Matos will each be making their second appearances at the Chicagoland Speedway. Matos' initial visit was much more memorable than his team's debut a year ago. Matos started on pole, led for 66 laps and finished third to claim the Firestone Indy Lights crown in 2008. Later that same day, Luczo Dragon closed its season with a 26th place finish. Tomas Scheckter qualified seventh but debris from a Vitor Meira crash damaged the car and ended the team's day after 87 laps.

28 ON THE 28TH

Raphael Matos will celebrate his 28th birthday at the track with his racing family on Friday, August 28. Last week while in Brazil visiting his family, his mother put together a surprise party with some of his closest friends in Belo Horizonte. The invitation list went as deep as his first Go Kart mechanic.


"I have a lot of good memories of the track because I won the Indy Lights Championship there. The car needs to be fast in qualifying because it is very tough to pass. Everybody races in one big pack pushing each other at 200 plus miles an hour. It's quite bumpy on higher lines. Sometimes you see 4 wide even with the Indy cars. I would say respect for the driver you are battling with is the most important thing."


Count Raphael Matos as an avid reader. On airplane rides during the IndyCar season Matos has been known to devour novels in one sitting. Most recently he finished Garth Stein's book The Art of Racing in the Rain. "It was very spiritual and I felt like I had experienced many of the same things like racing at Dayton and serving as a driving coach. I own a lab named Sofia too. I felt a real connection, I couldn't put it down." He is now reading The Shack by William P. Young.


The Luczo Dragon Racing team has added a pink ribbon to the car in support of Raphael Matos' mother, Maria Clorinda, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in May. Following the two day test in Sonoma, Matos flew to Brazil to spend the off week with his mother as she completed her third round of chemotherapy.


Undaunted by his 18th starting position on a difficult passing track, Raphael Matos avoided trouble, received great pit stop support from the Luczo Dragon Marines crew and climbed a season best nine spots to finish ninth at the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma. It was Matos' second consecutive top 10 finish and sixth of the season and increased his lead in the Rookie of the Year standings to seven points over Robert Doornbos. Matos had a chance to finish seventh but lost two spots on a mis-shift in turn 11 on the final lap, allowing Justin Wilson and Tony Kanaan to squeeze by. Matos had lost his telemetry system and push to pass capability with seven laps to go.


Raphael Matos increased his lead by two points in the Rookie of the Year race with his second consecutive ninth place finish and 22-point haul. Matos held the lead for back-to-back weeks for the first time since weeks 7 and 8 (Iowa and Richmond). Matos' seven-point edge (252-245) over Robert Doornbos matches his biggest lead of the season. The back and forth race has changed hands five times now. Doornbos led the first four weeks before Matos took over the following four weeks. Matos' biggest lead has been seven points and Doornbos has led by as many as 11. They have been separated by just one point three times. While it has been a two-way race for most of the season, Mike Conway's third place finish in Sonoma has narrowed his gap to 22 points.


While Raphael Matos recorded his sixth top 10 finish of the season with a ninth place finish in Sonoma, it was the seventh top 10 in team history. It was also the first back-to-back top 10 effort in team history. The most ever top 10s by a rookie was 10 by Felipe Giaffone in 2001. Last year's Rookie of the Year, Hideki Mutoh had eight top 10s. Matos will need to reach the top 10 in the final three races to surpass Mutoh's mark.


All it takes is a look at the statistics to see that Raphael Matos has proven to be a very strong driver on road and street courses. During his time in the IRL, Matos has raced on road and street courses 17 times, including 11 in the Firestone Indy Lights series, and has registered five victories and 12 top 10 finishes. His qualifying record is also impressive and includes three poles, eight top fives and 14 top 10s in 17 tries. Until qualifying a career-low 18th at Watkins Glen, Matos had run off 10 consecutive top 10 starting positions, including eighth in St. Petersburg and third at Long Beach this season. He qualified ninth in Toronto and eighth in Edmonton. If you add in the 2007 Champ Car Atlantic Series, Matos had qualified top 10 in 22 consecutive road course races. He also added six wins, 11 top fives and finished top 10 in all 12 Atlantic races.


The 2009 IndyCar season marks the fifth time Raphael Matos has been a rookie in an American racing series. He has proven to be quite competitive in each of his debut seasons. Matos was Skip Barber Rookie of the Year after winning the Formula Dodge National Shootout in 2002. He was a Star Mazda series rookie in 2004, finishing seventh in the standings despite not starting until week two. He claimed one pole at Mosport and had a season- best second place finish at Road America that year. Matos made the jump to the Champ Car Atlantic Championship Series in 2006 and finished fourth in the point standings for the Sierra Sierra team. He recorded one win (San Jose), three poles, four podium finishes and was second in laps led. With Andretti Green Racing in 2008, Matos secured the Firestone Indy Lights crown with three wins, eight top 5s and 13 top 10s. He led the league in poles (5), top 10 finishes (13), laps led (190) and races led (5).


By partnering with champion athletes each year, Luczo Dragon Racing has established a unique charity drive that has delivered more than $1 million to charitable organizations Worldwide. In 2009, they have added Shaquille O'Neal to their team of champions. "We are proud to have Shaquille O'Neal join our team of champions," Steve Luczo said. "Shaq has demonstrated that leadership, competitiveness, winning and compassion can all be achieved at the same time. As one of the most recognized Champions in sports, and as a positive role model through his many community and social efforts, Shaq is the ideal individual to help Luczo Dragon Racing further its success. On top of that, his father is a military veteran, which is particularly relevant to our expanded mission of supporting wounded and fallen soldiers and their families."

With the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Marine Corps as their primary partners in 2009, much of the team's charitable focus will turn to organizations that support wounded and fallen heroes and their families. The LDR community development program was designed by team co-owners Jay Penske and Luczo to raise money, increase exposure to the sport of auto racing and encourage a philanthropic spirit that inspires others to make an impact in their communities.


As one might guess, Raphael Matos was happy to learn that the IndyCar series would open its 2010 schedule with a race in his native Brazil. "I am very excited and I think it's a big opportunity for the league to explore the Brazilian market. There is a big fan base in Brazil, they love racing. They know all about Formula One and IndyCar. You will see a lot of excitement. Brazilian people have a lot of energy and I think it's going to be a very special event."

-credit: ldr

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Justin Wilson , Felipe Giaffone , Tony Kanaan , Robert Doornbos , Skip Barber , Mike Conway , Hideki Mutoh , Vitor Meira
Teams Dragon Racing