An interview with Raphael Matos and Tony Kanaan
THE MODERATOR: We have two guests joining us today. Joining us in a few minutes be will be IndyCar Series driver Tony Kanaan, and with us to start the call is Indy Pro Series driver Raphael Matos. Good afternoon, Raphael.
RAPHAEL MATOS: Good afternoon, how is everybody.
THE MODERATOR: We're doing great, thank you. Sounds like you are back in Brazil. This kind of a last trip home before the start of the season?
RAPHAEL MATOS: Exactly. We have a week off now before the season starts, and you know, I just came back to Brazil to see my family. And it's going to be tough to come back to Brazil for a few months, so I'm just chilling out in Brazil a little bit.
THE MODERATOR: Raphael will be driving the No. 27 AFS Racing/Andretti Green Racing entry in the Indy Pro Series in 2008. He made four starts with Guthrie Racing in 2006, winning both races at St. Petersburg, and finishing fourth on the road course at Indianapolis. Last year, he won the Champ Car Atlantic Championship, recording six victories.
First of all, Raphael, congratulations on your ride. You were a guy that made your decision to come over to the Indy Pro Series during the winter even before the unification announcement. Tell us a little bit about that process and about your decision to come compete in the Indy Pro Series full‑time.
RAPHAEL MATOS (1:30): Well, it was basically, you know, I won the Atlantic Championship and the prize was going to Champ Car World Series. And it was difficult for me to get the deal done in Champ Car on time, and I was getting afraid that I was not going to get the deal done in time. And they made me a really good offer and one of those things I just couldn't refuse the offer they made.
And it was really good for me in terms of long‑term future, and that's the main reason I took the offer. AGR, they have put so much effort into this program. I knew it would be a winning program and that was the biggest thing for me being a winner on a team that I knew I had the chances of making a career in Indy Racing League, I believe.
THE MODERATOR: Now one of the things obviously as you transition to the Indy Racing League will be racing on ovals. You have limited experience on ovals, but you were the fastest driver at the recent Open Test at Homestead-Miami. What are some of the things you feel you're going to need to learn to be competitive on a regular basis on ovals?
RAPHAEL MATOS (3:00): Well, I believe the learning curve on the ovals is, and there is one for sure, I have to learn to drive in traffic especially. That's the biggest thing for me, how to learn how to drive in traffic. And we are able to learn that in Homestead and I was able to work in traffic and we were able to complete our program very, very successfully in Homestead and we were able to simulate qualifying runs and simulate some long runs in traffic.
I believe there's a lot I have to learn, and I feel I have good people behind me. I have TK (Tony Kanaan) helping me quite a bit and I have Michael (Andretti), those guys, they are just the best guys helping me. And I have a great team supporting me, and I do believe that's the best way to learn, to learn from the drivers and the engineers.
THE MODERATOR: And you touched on it just there for a second but maybe you can expand on it a little bit. You're with one of the powerhouse teams on the IndyCar side. What's it like to have the opportunity to work with Tony and Danica (Patrick) and Marco (Andretti), too. What exactly are you doing with Tony? You both are based in Miami; what are you guys doing to work together?
RAPHAEL MATOS (4:30): Well, to arrive in the Indy Pro Series with the best (IndyCar Series) team, it's just the opportunity I believe that every driver is looking for. Having a guy like Tony, and Danica, they have so much experience, and now the engineering side, as well, and Michael Andretti, as well.
So I'm hoping to get all the information this year and try to use it as IndyCar ride next year. Basically, Tony he helps me a lot and gives me a lot of tips about setting up the cars and driving‑wise, as well.
You know, I try to be as close as I can to the debriefing, to try to learn the communication with the engineers. I think that's the best thing to do, trying to suck out the information from the drivers. And every one on the team, they have been very, very helpful and they have been very open and that's a great thing for me, I believe, in order to prepare me for next year.
THE MODERATOR: This year you're coming off a championship and I'm sure the goal is to win another championship here in the Indy Pro Series, tell us about that, and any other goals that you set for yourself along the way for 2008.
RAPHAEL MATOS (6:00): No, definitely the goal is to win the championship. I believe I have to take the same approach that I used last year. You know, just can't go out there and say I have to win the championship no matter what. You've got to go and you've got to have the mentality of going race‑by‑race and working as hard as you can with your engineer in order to develop your car as best as possible
And as I said just go race-by-race and try to work on your car in passing and try to predict what the car is going to do at the race, what it's going to do in that type of weather. There's so many things that can change, and the more things that you have from the past drivers, more data you have from your engineer, I believe the better the chance to make your equipment better.
So just trying to work as close as possible with the team, with the whole team.
Q. You've had a chance now to drive the Indy Pro Series car, and of course you have a lot of experience in the Champ Car Atlantic Series car. Can you describe to me some of the similarities and differences between those two machines?
RAPHAEL MATOS (8:00): Well, the Atlantic car is a lighter car with less horsepower.
So I would say it's more ‑‑ it's kind of a more nimble car, a little bit maybe easier to drive than the Indy Pro Series car. The Indy Pro Series is heavier; it's a bigger engine. It kind of prepares you better, I believe, for IndyCar racing. So it's more like a bigger F3 car. The Atlantic car obviously is a ground effect car, so we have big tunnels there. The Indy Pro Series is a flat bottom car. The Atlantic car is around 300 horsepower. The Indy Pro Series car has around 450 horsepower.
So I would say that the Indy Pro Series car is a much faster car on the straightaways, and the Atlantic car is a bit slower than the Indy Pro Series car and on the straightaways, but maybe a little bit quicker in the low speed corners.
But they just are totally different machines. You just have to adapt your driving style to the car.
Q. How have you found the time that you've spent on the oval, it's a more difficult style of driving?
RAPHAEL MATOS (9:00): No, I don't think so. I think road courses are much more physical than ovals. The ovals may be a little bit hard in the beginning on your neck, but you know, you just have to be more relaxed and more focused on the oval. And on the road course, you have to muscle the car a lot more, I believe.
Q. Since you've made the switch to Indy Pro Series, have you talked to any of your Champ Car Atlantic peers, any of them thinking about making the switch to Indy Pro Series, can you identify anybody that may be talking like that or talking to you that you would like to change or maybe try to convince to change?
RAPHAEL MATOS (10:00): No, I haven't spoken to anybody yet, no.
Q. How do you think the schedule make-up will suit your background in road and street racing, and if the idea had stayed with more oval space format at this time, do you think would you have made the switch over to IPS?
RAPHAEL MATOS (10:45): Yeah, I think so. Since I have a very strong car on the oval, I'm very happy if they have more ovals than road course. But I believe we will be strong either way. Road course or ovals, I think we are very strong. So very pleased that we have a very good car on ovals. The car was very good right out of the box, and we'll see how the car will be on the street course and the road course, but I am sure the car is going to be good.
Q. Did you have any oval experience at all other than the practices you got since coming over?
RAPHAEL MATOS (11:30): I had two starts in the Mazda series, one race in 2004 and one race in 2005. That's the experience I have.
Q. So what is your thought on oval racing?
RAPHAEL MATOS: I like it very much. It makes racing very exciting because obviously you're going ‑‑ you're following the car in front of you for the whole race. So it makes the race really close and it makes racing good for the fans, and that's why we're racing, right, we're racing for the fans.
So I like very much ovals. Ovals I believe you have to rely a lot more on your car, and so you need to make sure you have a good car, and we have a really good car so far
Q. So where is home now that you're backup in the States?
RAPHAEL MATOS: Miami.
Q. I read you had some interest in racing this year in the Indy 500, how do you feel your chances are?
RAPHAEL MATOS (13:00): It's too early to talk about that. Right now I'm 100 percent focused on the Indy Pro Series championship. If the chance ‑‑ if I have the chance to race in the Indy 500, it would definitely be a dream come true for me.
It's one of the races I dream about racing. There's a lot of work to do in order to prepare to race over there, and I'm just 100 percent focused on what I need to do, which is win the championship in IPS.
Q. You mentioned possibly next year maybe going up to IRL, the IndyCar Series, and also mentioned Indy. For a driver that's looking to move up, is it harder or easier now, do you think, with one series, as opposed to two series?
RAPHAEL MATOS (14:00): That's a tough question. I think we'll be ‑‑ for the champion, it may be a little bit easier because we'll only have one place to go. But obviously there's going to be a lot more challenge for everybody to keep their seats because it's going to be a lot of competition out there.
I believe in order to step up next year, I have to do the same thing I did last year. I to try to dominate the championship and learn as much as I can from the (IndyCar Series) team so I can help the team in the future. So it's a lot of work to do, but I can only control certain things right.
Q. I noticed from all your answers and everything, you seem to be really technically oriented, as well as driver oriented. Where does all your technical knowledge come from?
RAPHAEL MATOS (15:30): Well, I've been racing since I'm 10 years old. I've been trying to learn everything. You never stop learning, I believe. I believe in the past five years, I've learned a lot, especially when I moved to the United States, especially translating what I feel about the car to the engineers.
So I feel that I'm mature enough and that I can win the Indy Pro Series title. And technically I know a lot of things, but I believe that I can learn a lot more than I know.
My background, I come from go‑karting in Brazil and I believe that gives you a very, very strong base as a driver, and I believe all the good drivers, they come from a very strong go‑karting in Brazil, so that's how you start to learn.
THE MODERATOR: All right, Raphael. Thanks again for joining us and we look forward to seeing you in a couple of weeks down in Homestead Miami.
We're joined now by Tony Kanaan. Tony, of course, returning for his sixth season in the Indy Car Series. Other than his 2002 debut in the Indy 500, all of his races have been with Andretti Green Racing. Tony won the Indy Car Series championship in 2004 and has never finished lower than sixth in the standings. Last year, he led the series with five race victories and a third‑place finish overall.
Before we talk too much about racing, we obviously want to congratulate you for the offseason birth of your son, Leonardo. Tell us a little bit about having him as part of your life now.
TONY KANAAN (18:30): Well, first of all, good afternoon, everybody. It definitely has changed my life. I think it's something that I wanted it for a very long time, and with his arrival, definitely made me rethink about a lot of things that I wanted to do for my life and for him. It was the best feeling I ever had, joy in every day and every moment.
THE MODERATOR: On the racetrack we just wrapped up two days here at Sebring, where you were the fastest both days, followed closely by your teammates. You talked about how you share information, but at the end of the day you said 'the old man's still got it.' Talk about the team dynamic at AGR and your role as a leader.
TONY KANAAN (19:30): Well, the team dynamics, we are trying to build it up again the way it was in the past. We have new drivers coming in, but we still have Danica and Marco. I would say they are left from the old lineup.
So we're just working, trying to understand what everybody wants, what's the team goals for the team, what we need to achieve, what we work over the winter that can translate just in simulation on the computer but we can actually simulate it back to the track. That's what we did. I made a joke that the old man has still got it, just because if you put the ages of my three teammates together, they barely make my age I guess. (Chuckling).
I am the old man there on the team, but, you know, I still think I can still pull it out.
THE MODERATOR: We know you can. Also at the Homestead test, you struggled a little bit, and I think part of the time you missed was some equipment problems. Are you concerned at all heading into the race down at Homestead with the results there? Do you think that you'll have things figured out by the time the green flag drops?
TONY KANAAN (20:30): Well, I'm pretty confident, and my team did a pretty good job as far as set-up wise. My teammates ran pretty strong. I didn't run at all. I had many mechanical troubles at the time both days, especially the second day.
I think the luxury of having four cars, it's that. I didn't run but I think Danica was pretty strong, and some of the work that I've done on my car I gave it to her and made it better and she looked pretty good at the end
Obviously I'm not happy that I didn't run a lot, but, you know, that's the way it is.
THE MODERATOR: Give us your take on unification, what you think it will mean both on and off the track this season and down the road.
TONY KANAAN (21:30): Well, being probably one of the few guys who have been on both sides. So I couldn't wait to listen ‑‑ to hear the news, and, you know, I think it's great. I do believe we have a lot of work to do, though.
It's going to be a big transition time for all of us, especially for the Champ Car teams, but also us as a series, just really adapting, changing some things, not just this year, but for the future. But the biggest thing, it's done. The unification, it's done.
Now it's just up to us now. There's no excuses from anybody, the race community, the journalists, the drivers, the teams; we have one goal now, make the series grow more and more each year which we have been doing in the IRL for many years. So finally got it done, so let's go race.
Q. You've been doing very well with testing so far this season. How is this season going to be different for you and AGR than the last couple of years?
TONY KANAAN (22:45): It's tough to say. I mean, you know, we had a very good season in '05 and then we came to the '06 and we had a disaster season, and then we turned the situation around. It's hard to predict.
But I'm confident that, you know the last five years I've been in the championship hunt until the last race, so I'm not expecting any less. I'm fully aware that we're going to have more teams, more cars and some people ‑‑ more good teams, and the competition is probably going to get even higher.
But nothing has changed from the years past for me. We're just working our way, and obviously I feel very confident that I can be one of the championship contenders and just basically doing our job.
It feels good to be at the top of the chart sometimes.
Q. And how has being a new father, has that affected your mind‑set when you get behind the wheel at all?
TONY KANAAN (23:45): I think if you look at the lap times yesterday, I would say no. People expecting me to slow down, I don't think so. I've been saying, I've probably got to win more races to pay for his diapers than any other time in my life.
It's a joy, but once I'm in the race car, I don't think about anybody else besides myself and my team and winning a race. So I don't think ‑‑ it's probably a very selfish way of thinking, but that's the only way you can still have the mind‑set to go win races.
Q. What's different about this year, do you think the changes in the team, do you think that will enhance you or the same old grind as getting out there and competing against everyone?
TONY KANAAN (25:00): Well, obviously I have a big responsibility, and the bigger responsibility on the team now just because, you know, I have three young guys there ‑‑ two young guys and a girl, let me rephrase that, otherwise Danica will get mad at me. They are probably relying on me a lot more than I'm relying on them, but they are very experienced.
I mean, Danica and Marco I think can get the job done, and Hideki (Mutoh) is learning pretty quick. I lost my wing man, Dario (Franchitti). So for me, it's a transition time, but I don't think it's a huge deal. I just think that I'm going to have to work a little more and take a little bit more time to adjust.
Q. It sounds like you guys put in a lot of hard work over the winter to prepare for the test and prepare for the road and street courses entirely. With that in mind and thinking about the Homestead test, how important will be getting a strong start to the season be on such completely different tracks?
TONY KANAAN (26:30): Well, it's always important to start strong, especially with a series like the IndyCar Series, that every result counts. You've got to be very consistent. Even (last year), I won five races and did not win the championship. It's always important. But we can't think about it. We can only do what we did, work over the winter, translate that to the racetrack and go from there, because racing is so unpredictable. There's so many factors that have to fall in place for you to be able to win a race or even to be a championship contender.
So right now, what we've got to do, nothing different than we did in the past, it's just take our time and wait till the season starts and compare ourselves when we get down to Homestead and then after that just go after whoever is better or if we're better than everybody else, just manage the advantage.
Q. I have a couple questions related to the unification. First of all you mentioned your goals to help grow the series every year. What kind of things can you do to help grow the series? And second part, you've been around the sport long enough to see some guys like Dario go to NASCAR and other spears, is unification the main thing that will be needed to prevent drivers from leaving the series or is there something else that has to be done?
TONY KANAAN (28:00): To answer your first question, what we need to do, I think we've done the bigger part, getting together. And then from now on, we've got to put a big show like we've been doing it, and be smart about the following years to pick up some of the races that weren't very successful in the years past with the Champ Car guys and make a very nice and well‑planned schedule to get as many people as we used to get in the past. That's the first step, and I think that's what we should do for now.
Second question, I think with the unification you're going to see a lot less guys leaving. I think a couple of the biggest issues is obviously, well, the split, and you know, people can make more money in NASCAR; NASCAR is more popular. But we're a completely different product.
I think if you go back 15, 16 years ago, we're much bigger than them and all of a sudden they jumped so far ahead. So I'm not trying to compare ourselves right now because I don't think it's even possible.
But I think you're going to see a lot less guys trying to leave now, and especially where it was in the past and you know, we're probably still going to get a couple of people with the desire to go, but not just of the money or because the series is not competitive, it's just like some people are up for new challenges.
I think some race car drivers, I mean, Dario, I totally understand why he did it. He wanted to do it. He wanted to retire from open‑wheel even the year before he won the championship. And I was kind of expecting that. Sam (Hornish Jr.), I guess he had his own reasons. He won a lot and he was up for a new challenge, so you can't blame those guys for that. We have a great series now and it's time for us to go to work and make it better.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks again for joining us today, appreciate your time and we're looking forward to getting the season started down in Homestead with you.