Motegi: Luczo Dragon Racing preview

FOREIGN TERRITORY As a rookie in the IndyCar Series, Raphael Matos has experienced many firsts in 2009, but the race in Japan offers the Brazilian's most foreign track experience of the season. Twin Ring Motegi is the only track on the schedule...

As a rookie in the IndyCar Series, Raphael Matos has experienced many firsts in 2009, but the race in Japan offers the Brazilian's most foreign track experience of the season. Twin Ring Motegi is the only track on the schedule that Matos has not driven on either in a test or a previous race. He will arrive in Japan with some momentum as the Luczo Dragon team has delivered three consecutive top 10 finishes, including a ninth place finish in Chicagoland.

While Raphael Matos has not physically been on the Twin Ring Motegi circuit, he has some experience on the track thanks to modern technology. Matos has used the GT3 video game on PlayStation 3 over the last two weeks to try to gain some familiarity with the Motegi track. "It gives you a real layout of the track with all the angles so it's been very helpful to me. I have a little better idea of what to expect when I finally get there."

"The new aero package will make the racing very exciting in Japan. I haven't been there but have been told by the other drivers that it is a tough track with two completely different corners. One is a wide and fast corner and the other is tight with high elevation. It should be very challenging, but very fun."

While Raphael Matos has been to many countries during his 28 years, he has never been to Japan. However, having been to A1 GP races in China, New Zealand, Malaysia and Indonesia with Team Brazil he does expect some familiar turbulence in the first day or two. "Jet lag will be tough the first two days. You feel tired, especially at the end of the day those first couple days. I have always woken up too early and very hungry because my body tells me it's lunchtime at 2 am. But with a little FRS and some rest I'll get through it."

"I am really excited about this trip. I have always wanted to go to Japan and learn more about Japanese culture. The best part is I get to experience it while doing what I love to do the most and that's racing IndyCar. Tokyo is a unique city and I'm really looking forward to checking out downtown. The Honda museum at the track will be interesting to see also."

In one of the most dramatic races of the season, one that featured 18 lead changes and plenty of side-by-side racing, Raphael Matos recorded his third consecutive top 10 finish by crossing the line ninth at Chicagoland Speedway. After a weak qualifying run on Friday, Matos started 17th, but predicted that he would have a much better racecar. He was right. The Brazilian rookie, buoyed by strong pit stop performances from the Luczo Dragon crew, climbed as many as 13 positions to fourth place with just two laps left. A close encounter with Graham Rahal leading up to the final lap caused Matos to lift allowing four others to slip by on the final lap.

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 three races, Matos has had an average starting position of 16.7 and has finished ninth in all three races. He has improved a combined 23 positions in those races to top all drivers. Ed Carpenter is second with 19 positions and Oriol Servia is third at 16. Matos has averaged a 7.6 position improvement in the three races. Mario Moraes has the second highest average at 7.5 during the three races. He missed the Mid Ohio race.

With three weeks between the race in Joliet, IL and the race in Japan, Raphael Matos has had some down time or in his case Downs time would be more accurate. 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."

Raphael Matos increased his lead to a season-best 17 points in the Rookie of the Year race with his third consecutive ninth place finish and 22-point haul. The three top 10 finishes in a row has allowed Matos to wrest control of what has been a seesaw battle with Robert Doornbos. The back and forth race has changed hands five times. Doornbos led the first four weeks before Matos took over the following four weeks. Matos' biggest lead is now 17 points and Doornbos has led by as many as 11. They have been separated by just one point three times. Mike Conway is 40 points back.

Three consecutive ninth place finishes gives Raphael Matos 64 points in the last three races. Matos ranks seventh in points since the streak began in Mid Ohio. The only IndyCar Series drivers with more points during the last three races are Ryan Briscoe (134), Dario Franchitti (120), Scott Dixon (109), Hideki Mutoh (72), Mario Moraes (67) and Graham Rahal (66).

While Raphael Matos recorded his seventh top 10 finish of the season with a ninth place finish in Chicagoland, it was the eighth top 10 in team history. Matos is now tied for 10th in the series for most top 10s this season and has posted four on road/street courses and three on ovals. 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 two races to surpass Mutoh's mark.

-credit: ldr

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Felipe Giaffone , Dario Franchitti , Scott Dixon , Oriol Servia , Graham Rahal , Robert Doornbos , Ryan Briscoe , Mike Conway , Mario Moraes , Hideki Mutoh , Ed Carpenter
Teams Dragon Racing