Four IndyCar rookies ready for battle Raphael Matos has won four championships in the last six seasons, working his way through the developmental racing ranks to a full-time ride in the IndyCar Series. While a fifth title might be a bit ambitious for 2009, Matos will be a top contender for Bombardier Learjet Rookie of the Year honors.
Matos is one of four rookies entered full time in the IndyCar Series in 2009, joined by Stanton Barrett, Mike Conway and Robert Doornbos. All four will be contenders for the $50,000 prize.
Of the four, Matos should have the easiest learning curve. The 27-year-old won the 2008 Firestone Indy Lights championship, competing on many of the same circuits as the IndyCar Series in a race car that is the most similar to the one used in the IndyCar Series.
“I feel comfortable and I have been successful at pretty much every road course that we will be racing at, so it’s just a matter of having all the pieces together,” Matos said.
Matos moves to the IndyCar Series with Luczo Dragon Racing after winning his Firestone Indy Lights title with AFS/Andretti Green Racing. He also won championships in Champ Car Atlantic in 2007, Formula Mazda in 2005 and Formula Dodge in 2003. Those came on the heels of five championships as a teenager in Brazil.
“Our expectations are to win two races at least this season,” Matos said. “We’ll be fighting for the championship, but we have a lot to learn. We have to build up a solid base. We’re a one-car team, and that also will make things a little bit more difficult sometimes, but sometimes it’s going to play to our advantage. We’re doing all the right things to try to find performance in the car.”
Barrett, Conway and Doornbos are all newcomers to the IndyCar Series paddock but bring their own sets of impressive credentials.
Barrett has the most experience racing on ovals among the rookies. The 36-year-old has made more than 190 stock car starts in the NASCAR Nationwide and Sprint Cup series.
“I don’t think we’ve set any real expectations of saying we have to do this or that,” said Barrett, who will drive the No. 98 CURB/Agajanian/Team 3G entry. “I think the best thing we can do is do our best and set out to be smart about what we’re doing, get laps and learn and try and be competitive as we can. I think we can do that. It’s a little bit difficult to be in that situation as a rookie, but I just want to do a job and be competitive, and wherever that puts us, use this year as learning and building for our sponsors and finding new sponsors so we can be around.”
Conway will drive the No. 24 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing entry in his first season in the United States. The 25-year-old spent the past two seasons in GP2 following a championship campaign in British Formula 3 International.
“We just want to learn as much as we can, experience and finish as many races as we can,” Conway said. “Obviously we want to finish on all the ovals. On the road courses, we should be a lot stronger at least initially. We’re aiming to finish at least top five on the road courses, but it will be tough based on the competition out there.”
Doornbos returns to the United States following a 2007 campaign in the Champ Car World Series that saw him record five podium finishes in his first six starts en route to third overall in the championship. In 2009 he joins Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, an operation that recorded two victories in its first full season in the IndyCar Series in 2008.
“When I made the move from Formula One to Champ Car in 2007, I had no knowledge of circuits, tires, drivers, engine, whatever of that series, and I had five podiums out of the first six races, so that was a motivation boost,” Doornbos said. “I think my attitude is the same for the IndyCar Series. The team contacted me because they know what I can do, and I’m here to do the best job I can. Of course I have respect for the ovals, there’s still a steep learning curve, but nothing to be worried about. The team is very strong, great results. I feel at home already.”
The battle for Bombardier Learjet Rookie of the Year honors will play out over 17 races – 10 on ovals and seven on road/street courses. The 2009 winner will join past winners Hideki Mutoh (2008), Marco Andretti (2006), Danica Patrick (2005) and Dan Wheldon (2003).
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