Q&A with IndyCar rookie leader Raphael Matos
Rafa, you've had a pretty strong rookie season so far. What has been the highlight of your season?
RAPHAEL MATOS: Well, I think the highlight was leading the race in Long Beach, qualifying third on the grid Long Beach. I think that's the highlight of the season, I believe.
THE MODERATOR: What are your goals for the remaining 11 races of the season?
RAPHAEL MATOS: My goal is to win a race. I really believe we're capable of winning a race this year if we get everything right. I think performance-wise on road courses we have what it takes. It's going to take a lot of effort from me, a lot of effort from the team. There's a lot of work to be done. But I think I truly believe in the people we have on our team, and I think we can do it.
THE MODERATOR: Talk about the transition going from the Firestone Indy Lights to the IndyCar Series this year. Do you think you could have made the jump last year without the experience of racing on ovals?
RAPHAEL MATOS: I think would be possible, but certainly much more difficult for me. (Racing in) Indy Lights, it's been a very smooth transition because I'm more acclimated with the ovals. I know how the dynamics of the car work on ovals, I know how to translate things to the engineers better today than two years ago, for sure.
I think if you ask me if there was only road course in the schedule, I believe I was ready last year to make this step. But since we have many ovals, I think it was necessary (to have) a year in Indy Lights, for sure.
THE MODERATOR: What about your team? I know you have a lot of good, experienced people on the team. Are they doing a good job of teaching you about the IndyCars, how to drive them in the IndyCar Series?
RAPHAEL MATOS: Oh, yeah, for sure. I mean, the engineering group has tons of experience. The mechanics are top-class guys. They've been around for a long time with top teams and they have a lot of experience. And I feel, especially on oval racing, I'm getting a lot more information out of them.
I feel in the road course that I'm able to naturally give them a lot more information about the car and about how to make the car fast.
THE MODERATOR: Next week starts off a stretch of four in a row for the IndyCar Series. You have the short oval at Iowa, followed by Richmond where you are testing tomorrow, then the road course at Watkins Glen and the street course at Toronto. How do you mentally and physically prepare yourself for that stretch of racing?
RAPHAEL MATOS: You know, I went back home (to Miami) for one day. I may go back to Brazil for two days just to see my family and recharge the batteries. Working out physically, making sure I'm healthy and I'm the best shape so I can be mentally prepared.
I think the approach will be the same as far as, you know, taking it race by race, practice by practice, qualify, taking the same approach every race, and not letting things upset our performance, be 100 percent focused on the car and on the engineering group and on my health.
THE MODERATOR: Last year you passed up the opportunity to go to Champ Car to run Firestone Indy Lights with Andretti Green. Do you have any regrets passing up the chance to get a Champ Car ride?
RAPHAEL MATOS: Not at all. I didn't really pass up the opportunity. The opportunity for me, I felt that by the time I signed with Andretti Green, the opportunity was not longer there because a week later Champ Car filed bankruptcy. So, I truly believe I made the decision at the right time and I think I went to the right team because for me (the move) was going to be a sidestep coming from Atlantic Series.
But it was certainly an important decision for me to go to a team I knew I could win the championship with in my rookie year because I needed to prove everyone one more time that I was capable of winning in that kind of level, and finally I go to IndyCar.
THE MODERATOR: Earlier this year you had a crash with Danica Patrick at St. Pete. The TV cameras showed you two talking, using your hands as lot. What exactly were you saying to each other?
RAPHAEL MATOS: I was trying to show her my point of view, and she was obviously trying to show her point of view. It was a very unfortunate race incident. I don't think it was anybody's fault. I truly believe Danica. I think she is a great driver. It's just something that both of us, I'm sure, learned about - especially myself - about being a rookie. It's something that as long as you learn, as long as you get everything out of it, you make sure you don't do it next race or never again.
THE MODERATOR: I know last week at Texas, Luczo Dragon Racing hosted Shaquille O'Neal. Did you get a chance to talk to him? What was he like?
RAPHAEL MATOS: He was a great guy. A very humble person. Very simple. Very open, funny. You can see that he's got a big heart and he helps a lot of people with charity programs. He's got a very similar philosophy than Luczo Dragon. I think that's why Shaq fit our team really well. He knows really well how to be a team player. That's how the whole Luczo Dragon team is.
THE MODERATOR: I know the team made a Shaq-sized team shirt for him. Did he keep it? Does the team plan to use it maybe as an awning for the side of the truck?
RAPHAEL MATOS: No, no, he's keeping the shirt. That's his.
THE MODERATOR: Finally, what do you think it's going to take for a team like Luczo Dragon to be competitive week in and week out with the Penskes, Ganassis, and Andretti Greens of the IndyCar world?
RAPHAEL MATOS: I think time. I think we have the personnel. I think we have the best people we can possibly get in the team. We have the best mechanics. We have the best engineers. Hopefully they believe they have the best driver (laughter).
And I think it takes time to build up a team, especially to fight against Andretti Green, Penske and Ganassi. They've been doing this for a long time. They've had this car for a long time. So there's a lot of catch-up work, I believe.
But we're ready for the challenge. We put ourselves in that position and against the best. And I'm sure (team co-owners) Steve (Luzco) and Jay (Penske) and everyone on the Luczo Dragon team are just as competitive as I am, and I'm sure they want to win really bad. We're doing everything we can to get the performance out of the car, and I'm doing everything I can to learn as much as I can and to improve every day.
THE MODERATOR: All right, Rafa, that's all the questions we have for you today. Thanks for taking the time to join us.
RAPHAEL MATOS: Okay, thanks. Have a good day.
Five Questions with Raphael Matos:
1. What's your best memory from racing?
"Winning the Firestone Indy Lights championship last year."
2. And your worst memory from racing?
"Probably the latest one, hitting the wall at Kansas."
3. What's your favorite movie?
"Into the Wild. It's about a guy who moved to Alaska with nothing and lived off of nature. It teaches you a lot about the good things in life."
4. What's you dream car?
"A Ferrari 430."
5. Favorite thing to cook?
"Pasta with fish."
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