Matos has first taste of milk at Fastest Rookie luncheon
Twenty years ago, Raphael Matos sat on the floor of his home, watching on TV as the red and white No. 20 car of fellow Brazilian Emerson Fittipaldi passed under the checkered flag to win the 1989 Indianapolis 500.
"Some day that will be me," the 7-year-old unabashedly told his father.
On May 24, Sergio Eustaquio Filho will be on pit lane at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to watch his son compete in "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing." Matos, who posted a four-lap average of 223.429 mph in the No. 2 Air Force Luczo Dragon Racing car to qualify 12th, earned the Fastest Rookie Award presented by the American Dairy Association of Indiana.
Six first-year drivers were in the running for the award, which has been presented since 1975, and five qualified for the race (Mike Conway, Robert Doornbos, Nelson Philippe and Alex Tagliani).
"It was a big accomplishment for the team and for myself," said Matos, the 2008 Firestone Indy Lights champion. "Being the fastest rookie means a lot to me, and being the quickest of the second day (of qualifying) means a lot to me as well. It gave me a lot of confidence, which allowed me to work on race setup. The car ran flawless all month, and we're proud to be here today. Hopefully, we'll keep that momentum and have a good race."
Matos, competing full time in the IndyCar Series, is a rookie for the fifth time in an American racing series (Skip Barber, Star Mazda, Atlantics, Firestone Indy Lights). At Indianapolis, he's received coaching from 2003 500-Mile Race champion Gil de Ferran and four-time champion Rick Mears (the 1978 fastest rookie).
"As a rookie, I'm learning something every day here," Matos said. "I have learned just how intense it is and the patience you have to have. I expect to have many battles throughout the race. It's going to be a day when to push and when to be conservative. Hopefully, I'll put myself in a good position in the last 30 minutes of the race to fight for hopefully a podium finish."
That, hopefully, would lead to the Chase Rookie of the Year Award.
"Before we started the year, it was one of our goals," Matos said of team co-owners Steve Luczo and Jay Penske.
Former Fastest Rookie Award recipients who have gone on to win the race in their careers include Scott Dixon, Eddie Cheever Jr., Juan Pablo Montoya, Rick Mears and Jacques Villeneuve. Chip Ganassi and Michael Andretti, also former fastest rookies, have won the 500 Mile Race as team owners.