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Friday, March 12, 2010

IndyCar Season Preview: de Ferran Luczo Dragon Racing

Raphael Matos won the 2009 IZOD IndyCar Series rookie of the year award, following his 2008 Firestone Indy Lights and 2007 Atlantic Championship titles, in a Luczo Dragon Racing car last year. The season was a modest success for both, as Matos kept his trophy streak alive and Luczo Dragon proved reasonably competitive in their first full-time IndyCar season. Matos even had a shot at winning the Indianapolis 500 before a crash in turn one ended his day.

Despite a hard crash at St. Petersburg (that launched a spectator out of a porta-john outside of the retaining wall) and three other DNFs in his first seven races, Matos completed all of the last ten races on the schedule in 2009, and scored eight top-10s on the year. His best finish was a sixth place run at Milwaukee. While he did not approach his 2008 Indy Lights success, he still managed to establish himself as a consistent driver who could bring the car home in one piece.

This season, however, more will be expected out of Matos and the team. Luczo Dragon Racing merged with former sports car team de Ferran Motorsports, and former Indianapolis 500 winner and two-time CART champion Gil de Ferran will now be Matos' driver coach. De Ferran, who nearly won the American Le Mans Series championship last year as an owner/driver, will attempt to move his Brazilian countryman up the ranks.

The team also has a better sponsorship package this year, with Hewlett-Packard, McAfee, and Bell Micro all signed on. As part of the HP deal, Davey Hamilton (who has carried their sponsorship for a few years now) will run a limited schedule for the team in a second car. That will allow the team to gain even more information at Indianapolis, Texas, and another oval to be announced, information that will hopefully make Matos' car even faster at those tracks. Hamilton will also attempt to complete a race at Texas for the first time since a career-threatening crash in 2001 that required 21 operations to reconstruct his feet. (Coincidentally, Hamilton's car will carry No. 21 this year.)

Anything short of a top 10 in points for Matos and DFLDR this year will be a disappointment, especially considering that all parties involved have seen some success in the past few years. Matos should score his first top five finish this season, at the very least, and score more top-10s, although a win might require a little luck.

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