Homestead: Luczo Dragon Racing preview

SEASON FINALE When Raphael Matos arrived in the United States in 2002 to begin his racing career he settled in Miami and dreamed of making it to the IndyCar Series one day. Fast-forward seven years and, fittingly, Matos completes his rookie ...


When Raphael Matos arrived in the United States in 2002 to begin his racing career he settled in Miami and dreamed of making it to the IndyCar Series one day. Fast-forward seven years and, fittingly, Matos completes his rookie campaign as an IndyCar driver in the place where he got his start - Miami. Homestead-Miami Speedway will host the 2009 IndyCar finale and Matos will look to secure Rookie of the Year honors in his hometown. The 28-year old Matos has raced once in Homestead, starting on pole and finishing eighth in last year's Firestone Indy Lights season opener.


Raphael Matos increased his lead to a season-best 25 points in the Rookie of the Year race with his fourth consecutive ninth place finish and 22- point haul in Japan. Now Matos is in prime position to claim his third Rookie of the Year award in his fifth American racing series. Matos was the top rookie in the Skip Barber Formula Dodge Series in 2002 and Firestone Indy Lights in 2007. The four consecutive top 10 IndyCar finishes has allowed Matos to wrest control of what had been a seesaw battle with Robert Doornbos. The back and forth race changed hands five times prior to the late surge by Luczo Dragon. Doornbos led the first four weeks before Matos took over the following four weeks. They have been separated by just one point three times. With a 25-point lead Doornbos would need a spectacular finish and major Luczo Dragon collapse to upset Matos. Doornbos will need to win or finish second at Homestead and have Matos finish in the back of the pack in order to make up the point spread.


Raphael Matos' steady improvement throughout his rookie campaign has allowed him to record four consecutive top 10 finishes, joining Dario Franchitti as the only two drivers to have top 10 finishes in each of the last four races. Mario Moraes has three consecutive top 5s, but missed the Mid Ohio race. Oriol Servia also has three in a row after finishing 11th in Ohio.


Aside from locking up the Rookie of the Year race, Raphael Matos' other focus heading into Homestead will be trying to climb up one more spot in the point standings. Matos enters the race in 13th place just seven points behind Ed Carpenter. However, overtaking Carpenter will be no easy task given Carpenter's success on ovals this season. He has posted six top 10 finishes in the nine oval events in 2009 and has finished in front of Matos in all but three of the oval races. Matos has four top 10s on ovals, including two in a row (Chicagoland and Motegi). In the three oval races Matos did finish ahead of Carpenter (Milwaukee, Richmond, Motegi) he made up 14, 7 and 5 points respectively.


The Luczo Dragon Racing team was one of seven cars to practice at Homestead last week. Raphael Matos joined Justin Wilson, Danica Patrick, Tony Kanaan, Sarah Fisher, Mario Moraes and Alex Lloyd for the test session. Matos turned 119 laps and finished with a top lap time of 25.34. Wilson recorded the fastest time at 25.25.


"Homestead is a difficult place because the layout is challenging and the conditions change a lot throughout the day. There's not a lot of banking so the cars have less grip and there's less side-by-side racing. The corners are very long so you're pushing a lot and can get loose. Balance is very important at Homestead. It's tough to gain time there but it's easy to lose time if you don't have good balance in the car."


Raphael Matos recorded his fourth consecutive top 10 finish and eighth of the year with a ninth place finish for the Air Force Luczo Dragon team in Japan. Matos started 12th and climbed as high as fourth with just under 70 laps left in the race. He remained in the top six until a full course yellow dropped just after his final pit stop with 46 laps left allowing Danica Patrick, Marco Andretti and Mario Moraes to benefit from fortunate timing. Matos was ninth after the restart and remained there until the end. He was the final car to finish on the lead lap. Matos collected 22 points and increased his lead in the Rookie of the Year standings to 25 over Robert Doornbos heading into the final race of the season.


As a rookie, Raphael Matos has often talked about his learning experiences after races this season. If there's one thing he has shown he has learned it's the ability to climb from the back of the pack. Over the last four races, Matos has had an average starting position of 15.5 and has finished ninth in all four races. He has improved a combined 26 positions in those races to top all drivers. Matos has averaged a 6.5 position improvement in the four races.


Four consecutive ninth place finishes gives Raphael Matos 86 points in the last four races. Matos ranks eighth in points since the streak began in Mid Ohio. The only IndyCar Series drivers with more points during the last four races are Scott Dixon (162), Dario Franchitti (160), Ryan Briscoe (146), Graham Rahal (101), Mario Moraes (97), Marco Andretti (89) and Hideki Mutoh (88).


Raphael Matos recorded his eighth top 10 finish of the season with a ninth place finish in Japan. Matos is now 10th in the series for most top 10s this season and has posted four on road/street courses and four on ovals. The most ever top 10s by a rookie was 10 by Felipe Giaffone in 2001, followed by Dan Wheldon's nine in 2003. If he can notch a top 10 in the season finale at Homestead, Matos will tie Wheldon for second most top 10s by a rookie in a single season. Luczo Dragon Racing now has nine top 10 finishes in team history.


Raphael Matos has started training with Ed Downs, a certified personal trainer, who has worked with many world-class athletes, including NBA stars Carlos Boozer, Baron Davis and Alonzo Mourning. The two will train together three times a week and will focus on strengthen the core and shoulders. "Ed is still figuring out my body, but we will concentrate on building my strength and flexibility. I need to improve my strength in the car."


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 and expect to deliver more than $500,000 to organizations that benefit education, military veterans and the environment. "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."

-credit: ldr

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Justin Wilson , Sarah Fisher , Felipe Giaffone , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Tony Kanaan , Oriol Servia , Graham Rahal , Dan Wheldon , Robert Doornbos , Ryan Briscoe , Skip Barber , Marco Andretti , Alex Lloyd , Mario Moraes , Hideki Mutoh , Danica Patrick , Ed Carpenter
Teams Dragon Racing