St. Pete: de Ferran Luczo Dragon Racing preview

FAST START Raphael Matos and the new Luczo Dragon/de Ferran Motorsports operation recorded its best finish ever by taking fourth in the IZOD IndyCar Series season opener on the streets of Sao Paulo. Matos started 12th, but jumped all the way to...


Raphael Matos and the new Luczo Dragon/de Ferran Motorsports operation recorded its best finish ever by taking fourth in the IZOD IndyCar Series season opener on the streets of Sao Paulo. Matos started 12th, but jumped all the way to sixth after a first turn accident at the start of the race. He remained in the top 10 the entire afternoon thanks to a strong car and three flawless pit stops. Only a late rally by Vitor Meira kept Matos off the podium for the first time in his IndyCar career. Matos will try to maintain the team's momentum at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, one of his favorite race circuits.


The 32 points Raphael Matos collected for fourth place in Brazil moves the team to the front of pit lane in St. Petersburg, it's best starting position ever. "That's very important because now we will be able to go out in qualifying and not worry about all the traffic ahead of us," Matos said. Last year, the team was in the second to last pit box in St. Pete. Only Stanton Barrett was further back.


If there is one thing Raphael Matos has proven to be good at since the close of the 2009 season, it's his ability to work his way through traffic. The second-year IndyCar pilot started 12th and moved up eight positions to finish fourth in Sao Paulo. It was the fifth time in his last six races that Matos has finished better than his starting position. He climbed six spots in Mid Ohio (15-9), a career-best nine at Infineon (18-9), eight at Chicagoland (17-9) and three at Motegi (12-9).


One year ago, Raphael Matos made his rookie debut at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg only to see it end prematurely when he crashed trying to squeeze by Danica Patrick 31 laps into the race. The collision with Danica generated plenty of publicity, but not the kind Matos was looking for in St. Pete, especially having won three of the previous four races he entered on that track. "I was just way too excited," Matos said. "I was a rookie and didn't realize that I could take my time and make the pass later on in the race. I wanted everything right now. You are always learning, but that was a big lesson in my first race."


While the race in St. Petersburg did not deliver the results the team had hoped for, there were several encouraging signs before the collision with Danica Patrick. After two difficult days of practice, the team adjusted and put together a car that helped Raphael Matos qualify ninth. Matos jumped from ninth to sixth in the very first turn, but debris from the first turn accident between Graham Rahal and Tony Kanaan slashed his right front tire and forced an early pit stop on lap three, dropping Matos to 16th. Undeterred, Matos went to work, making six passes from laps 4-31, the third best improvement of the day, trailing only Rahal and Kanaan, who made up nine positions each.


While he will be making his second IZOD IndyCar Series appearance at St. Pete, Raphael Matos has enjoyed a great deal of success on the streets of St. Petersburg. The 28-year old Brazilian has won three of the four times he has raced in St. Petersburg, including back-to-back wins in his very first Firestone Indy Lights races in 2006. Matos' other win in St. Pete came last year when he claimed the Indy Lights pole and held the lead from start to finish.


"I love this race, it's a beautiful place. The track really fits my style and I won three out of four Indy Lights races there. It's a typical street course, but it's different than Brazil. You have different kinds of pavement and paint on the pavement so mechanical grip will be an issue in some parts of the track. It has bumpy corners and fast corners. Brazil didn't have any fast corners."


"We just finished fourth and the whole team is motivated. We see we have the capability of getting on the podium so we are all focused on improving our performance. Our confidence gets higher and higher with every race. The team really did a great job making changes and putting things together in Brazil. We will have the same approach in St. Pete. We learn different things at every race. I was able to run with all the fast cars in Brazil so now we can study that data and find ways to improve the car so I can push it more and hopefully run in the top five consistently."


"Communication is so important and it's a fine line. One word can change the direction of everything so I push myself very hard to give the engineers the best possible information so that we don't go in the wrong direction. I have been talking a lot to Gil on the technical side and he's been providing me with a lot of advice that will help my performance, like dealing with pressure. We all have pressure, but you have to find a way to separate from it when you're on the track so that your concentration level is where it needs to be. Gil has been very helpful in providing good advice."


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.

Race strategist - Jay Penske; Engineer - Eric Zeto; Engineer/Fuel data - Carlos Gutierrez; Data engineer/Fuel deadman - Casey Eason; Chief Mechanic/outside front - John Piccinotti; Inside front - Josh Junge; Outside rear - Jason Hurless; Inside rear - Tim White; Jackman - Shawn Ford; Fueler - Rick Campbell; Front tire pass - Chris Lovely; Rear tire pass - Scott Simpson; Stop Sign - John Cummiskey; Front hose pull - Scott Raymond


No matter who you ask, whether it's Steve Luczo, Jay Penske or Raphael Matos, the answer is almost always the same - Gil de Ferran will have a significant impact on the development of the Luczo Dragon/de Ferran Motorsports Racing team, especially with Matos, the driver. "I think adding someone who's actually been in a race car before and has raced at so many of the venues to provide that tutelage and leadership will be great for us," Penske said. "It'll be a huge - clearly coming from the same country, someone he respects so much, I think this is really a match made in heaven." Said Luczo: "Plus Gil can say "stay calm" in Portuguese much better than Jay or I can."


"If you look at Rafa's career he has gotten where he is by being successful on the track. He has won every single step of the way and in every single form he has participated in. It's been a long hard struggle, but certainly I feel he has unique credentials to be here and we are fortunate to have such a promising talent on our team. No question about it our goal this year is to improve on the results, which frankly weren't bad, but we have to realize that we are racing against some formidable opponents that have a huge amount of experience in the series with this equipment. Having said that we are going to do our best to compete with those teams but that's a process and will take some time."


After a bumpy start that saw him not finish three of the first four races in 2009, Raphael Matos rebounded nicely in his rookie campaign, finishing all but one of the remaining 13 races and racking up eight top 10 finishes along the way. Aside from claiming the Apex Brasil Rookie of the Year crown, Matos learned many lessons along the way. "The most important thing I learned was not to put my race in the other drivers hands. I was fortunate to run the full season last year and I was able to learn a lot of the tracks, but I still have a lot to learn. You can't learn everything in just one year. There is a lot of work for me and a lot of hard work for the team ahead. Experience is always good and I will definitely benefit from last year. Hopefully I will also use some of Gil's experience to my advantage."


With one race in the books, the standings atop the IZOD IndyCar series are dramatically different than the same standings after once race in 2009. Ryan Hunter-Reay is the only driver to be in the top five after one race in both 2009 and 2010. Will Power, Vitor Meira, Raphael Matos and Dan Wheldon join Hunter-Reay in this year's top five.

-source: de ferran motorsports

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Gil de Ferran , Tony Kanaan , Graham Rahal , Dan Wheldon , Ryan Hunter-Reay , Stanton Barrett , Will Power , Danica Patrick , Vitor Meira
Teams Dragon Racing