Raphael Matos is already a phenomenom. Of course, there are a lot of Brazilian drivers that achieved some very good results. Brazil has drivers like Emerson Fittipaldi, Ayrton Senna en Felipe Massa. But, Raphael 'Rafa' Matos can be considered as a really fast guy too. Matos won the Champcar Atlantics in 2007 and clinched the title in Indy Lights in 2008. RacingInside.com spoke to Matos in an exclusive interview.
Raphael, some of our visitors will be familiar with the name of Raphael Matos. Unfortunately, some of them have never heard of you. Could you give a brief introduction about yourself?
Well, I’m Raphael “Rafa” Matos. I’m from Brazil, I’m 27 years old and I started racing go-karts when I was 11 years old. I started my career in Brazil and moved to the USA in 2003 and began my career there, starting racing in Skip Barber Series. Before that, I did go-karting for 8 years, Formula Ford and Formula Junior in Brazil. Some race drivers are getting involved in racing through friends or family.
How did you get involved in racing? Did your parents support you from the early beginning?
My dad gave my first go-kart to me, that's how I started. He was always taking me to the go-kart races and then we watched them. This all happened even before I started racing. My father was my biggest supporter and my whole family was very supportive as well since the very beginning.
Did you started your career, like many other drivers, in karting or have you been into the cars straight away? Do you think karting will be an essential step in the career of a race driver?
I started in karting and I don't see a better way to start racing. You pretty much learn everything in go-karts and you will be able to build a solid base, if you dedicate a lot of time in that level, because they are very fast and they teach you how to slide, how to race and you also learn some set-up dynamics in go-karts.
You have raced in different formula cars throughout the years. You have started with the Skip Barber Series and also driven the Star Mazda, A1GP and ChampCar Atlantics. During the past season you have driven Indy Lights and next season you are driving the Indy Racing League. What are the main differences between those cars? Which car, do you think, is the most exciting to drive?
For sure, the Indycar is the most exciting to drive. It is more powerful than the Lights car and has a lot more grip. I believe the Indycar fits my style better, because you can be a little bit more aggressive with the car on braking and because of the ground effects the car is extremely quick in high speed corners. With the Lights car you have to be waiting a little bit for the car, because it doesn't have the same amount of grip. I believe in terms of grip the Atlantic car is closer to an Indycar than the Lights car, but the Atlantic car needs the same kind of horsepower than the Lights car.
You have been very impressive in ChampCar Atlantics and you won the title out there. This year your main target has been winning the Indy Lights title. And you succeeded by grabbing the title. Now you are making the switch to the Indy Racing League with Luczo Dragon. How do you look back on the past season? What are your expectations for next season?
This season was my rookie year in the Indy Lights and I won the title. That is a huge accomplishment I think, even for the whole team. I was able to use the experience I gain in my last 2 years in Atlantics and used it in my advantage to win the Lights title. It was a season full of ups and downs, we were very fast in all the races on road-course and we won 3 races. We had 5 poles and 3 of those were in ovals, so we had a fast car in the ovals as well. We could have won the last one, but Arie won and I was happy for him.
The opportunity with Luczo Dragon was something that I feel extremely good and honored about. They are a young team with lots of potential and we are looking forward on growing together. I'm very motivated and the whole team is too. We have a very talented and special group of guys and I already feel home there. We are expecting to be fighting with the big teams in our first year and my goal is to win two races in my rookie year. We have a lot to catch up and we are going to have a very intense preparation for the ‘09 season. We will start testing very soon.
The team of AFS Racing/Andretti Green Racing is one of the main contenders for the title in Indy Lights. How did it feel to work together with such a good and experienced team? Arie Luyendyk Jr. was your team mate during the past season, but how was your relationship with him?
They were always contenders for the title, but this was their first Indy Lights title. AFS Racing has being competing for many years in the Indy Lights championship, but this year was the first time that AGR brought the program in house and that was one of the reasons that I signed with AGR. It was an incredible experience working with a team that had so much success and it has been for sure the year that I learned the most in my career, the whole engineering group was very open and they helped me a lot in the transition from Indy Lights to Indy Car. I was also able to test the Indycar for four days together with Danica (Patrick), Tony (Kanaan) and Marco (Andretti) and I was able to compare myself against those guys. That was really important for me, because I could show AGR that I was capable of getting the job done in both series.
If you take a look ahead, what do you think that the future will bring to you? Winning the Indy 500 will possibly be your main target, but do you have any other targets that have to be accomplished?
The future will be based on my results, like it is always in racing. If we are winning races, our future will be very bright. The Indy 500 is for sure our main target and I think it is the main target of everybody else as well. It's the biggest race on the planet, the highest paid, the most glamorous and the track is a lot of fun to drive around. Every driver dreams about winning that race, everyone wants to drink that milk when it's over. It's very tough, you see guys like Kanaan that are very fast around that place and never won. It's a very complex race, but when you have a good car it makes your life a lot easier.
Every race driver has good and bad moments during his career. What is your best moment in racing, until now? What is the moment you would like to forget as soon as possible?
I think the best moment of my career was winning the Indy Lights title and signing with Luczo Dragon. I'm not sure if they would have hired me, if I lost the championship. It's a very tough business, people say you are only as good as your last race and that is very true.
I don't really regret anything in my career, but I think I could have won the 2006 Champ Car Atlantics Championship if I had not hit the wall leading the race at Edmonton with 3 laps to go. I also had the pole that race. It was tough, because the way the points played out in the end I could have won the title, but that's racing.
The life of a race driver is tough physically and mentally. Do you have a special training programme to stay fit and to gain strength?
I have a daily routine of cardio and training with weights as well. I’m also into cycling, especially mountainbiking. Now, I live in Miami and there are mountains there, so I have to satisfy myself with running, cycling on the road and going to the gym.
If you could change lives for a day with another race driver, who would it be?
Probably Senna, if he was alive. I never thought about that, but I would take Hamilton's life as well. But just for a day then, because I love my life very much the way it is right now.
From the outside, being a race driver looks like a real dream. But there are also negative points, of course. If you could take people a look at the ‘inside’ of racing, what do you think is the most negative point of being a race driver?
I feel very fortunate to do what I love and make a living of it. There are not many people that have the opportunity. In my opinion the downside is being away from my family and friends and lots of traveling as well. I'm not a big fan of airports.
What would you like to say to everyone that is dreaming of a career in racing?
I believe the results in racing are defined by the amount of work and energy that you spend on it. Not only on the day of the race, but also your training routine, dedication and passion are very important if not the most important. Get a go-kart and go to the racetrack at least two times a week and work very hard, especially on your concentration level, because racing is totally a mind game. Like Senna said one time: "With your mind, power, determination, instincts and experience as well, you can fly very high."