Edmonton: Luczo Dragon Racing preview

RETURN TO EDMONTON Raphael Matos likes Edmonton a lot. He enjoys the city, likes the restaurants and is especially fond of City Centre Raceway. Matos returns for the fourth time after recording two wins in his first three appearances on the...

Raphael Matos likes Edmonton a lot. He enjoys the city, likes the restaurants and is especially fond of City Centre Raceway. Matos returns for the fourth time after recording two wins in his first three appearances on the Edmonton circuit. In 2007, Matos put together back-to-back victories on July 21 and 22 in the Atlantic Grand Prix of Edmonton, his fifth and sixth wins of the season en route to the Atlantic championship. He made his debut on the track in 2006, his rookie season in the Atlantic series.

Raphael Matos recorded his fourth top 10 finish of the season by withstanding a flurry of activity during the final 26 laps to finish 10th on the streets of Toronto. After starting ninth and climbing as high as fourth, the rookie from Brazil drove like a veteran in overcoming two collisions with Ryan Briscoe and Mario Moraes, a broken front wing and a flat left rear tire in locking up his third top 10 in the last six races. Matos collected 20 points and moved up to 12th in the overall standings with 182 points.

Raphael Matos and Robert Doornbos are in the midst of a seesaw race for Rookie of the Year honors, a race that has changed hands three times now. With a 10th place finish in Toronto, Matos regained the lead and moved seven points in front of Doornbos (182-175), his largest lead thus far. Doornbos has led by as many as 11 points and twice they have been separated by just one point. Doornbos led the first four weeks before Matos took over the following four weeks.

While some drivers used the week off to travel and get away, Raphael Matos didn't break away from home and was never far from the track. Instead of darting off to Brazil to visit family, Matos stayed in Miami, spending three days at the GoKart track with Marco Andretti and taking advanced spinning classes to maintain his fitness routine. Cycling is part of my training because it makes me feel better in the car. When you are strong on the bike your cardio will also be good while you are racing cars. It definitely keeps my mindset right."

As a rookie, Raphael Matos is always looking for ways to improve his performance. Perhaps the most consistent area of improvement this year has been efficiency in the pits. Having raced in Champ Car Atlantic and Firestone Indy Lights the last three years, Matos' only prior pit stop experience was in endurance races. "I had some experience, but the IndyCar pit stops are faster and much more competitive as well, so you've got be on the top of your game. Every race I think I'm improving, but from now on the improvements are going to be smaller since we are already finding the limits."

RAFA'S EDMONTON SCOUTING REPORT "I like the track in Edmonton, it's very challenging. It is fast and wide open and quite bumpy. The last chicane is one of the fastest corners of all the tracks we've raced. Turn 1 is probably the most challenging part of the track. It has a very fast entry and a big bump in the middle of the corner. It's a very wide entry as well, not a lot of references."

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 15 times, including 11 in the Firestone Indy Lights series, and has registered five victories and 10 top 10 finishes. His qualifying record is also impressive and includes three poles, eight top fives and 13 top 10s in 15 tries. Until qualifying a career-low 18th at Watkins Glen Saturday, 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. 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.

Race strategist - Jay Penske; Engineer - Eric Zeto; Engineer/Fuel data - Brian Page; Data engineer/Fuel deadman - Daniel Louks; Chief Mechanic/outside front - John Piccinotti; Inside front - Simon Morley; Outside rear - Josh Junge; Inside rear - Tim White; Jackman - Pete Bloathner; Fueler - Rick Campbell; Front tire pass - Jason Hurless; Rear tire pass - Scott Simpson; Stop Sign - John Cummiskey; Front hose pull - Darren Newport

While Raphael Matos recorded his fourth top 10 finish of the season with an 10th place finish in Toronto, it was the fifth top 10 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.

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.

-credit: ldr

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Felipe Giaffone , Robert Doornbos , Ryan Briscoe , Skip Barber , Marco Andretti , Mario Moraes , Hideki Mutoh
Teams Dragon Racing