Indy 500: de Ferran Dragon race preview

HISTORY LESSON The de Ferran Dragon Racing team will make its fourth appearance at the Indianapolis 500 when drivers Raphael Matos and Davey Hamilton start 12th and 14th respectively in the 94th running of the race. This will be the first two-car ...

Indy 500: de Ferran Dragon race preview
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The de Ferran Dragon Racing team will make its fourth appearance at the Indianapolis 500 when drivers Raphael Matos and Davey Hamilton start 12th and 14th respectively in the 94th running of the race. This will be the first two-car effort the team has ever had. Ryan Briscoe (2007), Tomas Scheckter (2008) and Matos (2009) have driven for the team at IMS the last three seasons. Briscoe finished fifth; Scheckter and Matos were both running in the top five before finding trouble in the pits on what should have been their final stops. A broken drive shaft ruined Scheckter's strong run on lap 156, while Matos fell from 5th to 21st when the right rear tire was not fastened on his stop on lap 133. He was involved in a crash with Vitor Meira 40 laps later trying to make up ground.

The last time Gil de Ferran was at the Indianapolis 500 in an official IndyCar capacity he was drinking milk and kissing the bricks as the winner of the 2003 race. He returns in 2010 as co-owner and president of de Ferran Dragon Racing, which actually puts him in good company. De Ferran becomes only the fifth former Indy 500 champion to enter the race as an owner of an IndyCar team since 1961. He joins Eddie Cheever, AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones and Bobby Rahal on that list. Now de Ferran sets out to join another list. Cheever, Foyt and Rahal have all won the race as both driver and owner. Cheever won in 1998 as owner and driver.

"Both cars are in a good starting position. It's a 500 mile race and we can do very well from where we are, frankly win. We just have to get it right."

Starting up front certainly improves your chances to do well in the Indy 500, but doesn't guarantee it. There have been 21 winners who have started 12th or lower in the Indy 500. Al Unser Jr. won the race starting 12th in 1992 and Bob Sweikart won after qualifying 14th in 1955.

When Raphael Matos collided with Vitor Meira in turn 1 of the 2009 Indianapolis 500, it not only ended the day for both, but it also knocked Meira out for the season with a fractured back. What made the incident even more difficult for Matos was that it was with perhaps his best friend in the series. The two live near one another in Miami and often train together throughout the year. They have already gone on one long bike ride together here in Indianapolis this week. "It bothered me a lot especially at the banquet when he wasn't there. He's a very dedicated guy and it hurt me that he wasn't able to race anymore. It has been great having him back. The first time I drove through turn 1 this week I thought about him and the accident. I'm guessing he thought about it too."

Aside from being two of the seven Brazilian drivers in the field, Raphael Matos and Bruno Junqueira hail from the same hometown, Belo Horizonte and have known each other since they were kids. In fact, the Junqueiras get some credit for launching Matos' racing career. Matos' father, Sergio, bought Raphael's first gokart from Junqueira's father, Jose, when Raphael was 11 years old. Matos started racing shortly thereafter.

Raphael Matos has finished 15 consecutive races the third longest streak in the series. Danica Patrick has completed 21 in a row and Dario Franchitti 19. The last time Matos did not finish a race was when he crashed in Iowa in 2009. He closed the 2009 season by finishing 10 races in a row and has completed the first four in 2010. Scott Dixon holds the all-time record at 28 straight.

Matos heard many things to be aware of heading into the race last year, including advice from past champions Gil de Ferran and Rick Mears. "My biggest learning was racing with turbulence, racing in the draft and getting used to racing in traffic. I also learned how much the car can change throughout the race with the weather conditions and track conditions. People tell you about those things, but you really only learn once you experience that yourself. I feel much more comfortable and much more experienced here this year."

Matos is one of seven Brazilian drivers in the 2010 Indy 500 field. There have been three Brazilians who have won the race - Helio Castroneves (3), Emerson Fitipaldi (2) and Gil de Ferran (1).

Davey Hamilton will be making his 10th race appearance at the Indianapolis 500. He has posted three top 10 finishes, including a career-best fourth place run in 1998. By qualifying 14th Hamilton has secured his best starting position since 1999 when he started 11th.

In addition to his workout program, Hamilton uses the media to help him prepare for the Indy 500. He uses his time in the IMS Radio booth and past race tapes to get a better feel for performance and strategy. "I may not be racing every week like the rest of these guys, but I am at every race and I watch all of the drivers when I'm doing the broadcasts. You can learn a lot by watching to see how these guys are running. I will definitely watch tape of previous Indy 500s to see how they all played out. I like to see how close guys run to each other, how good cars are in traffic and what calls each of the teams are making."

Hamilton does not get to race every weekend, but he trains like he does, especially as the Indy 500 approaches. He works out on his own much of the offseason doing an hour of lifting and an hour of cardio training on the bike, elliptical or treadmill each day. He reunites with his long time trainer, Steve Hoffacker one month before Indy in order to ramp up his program. Aside from light weights and cardio, Hoffacker runs Hamilton through an intense stretching program to enhance flexibility. "I work on the race all year long. By staying physically fit it helps keep you mentally fit and you need that in this race. The stretching really frees you up and that helps me relax."

Even though he has driven only four times in 10 years, still feels the effects of that 2001 crash in Texas and is the oldest driver in the field at 47, Davey Hamilton has put together a remarkable run during the first week of practice and qualifying at the 2010 Indianapolis 500. He posted the second fastest qualifying time of his Indy 500 career at 224.852. The only time he has topped that in 10 trips to IMS was when he registered a four- lap average of 228.887 in his first Indy 500 in 1996. Hamilton has also been running with the leaders during practice, including recording the fifth fastest lap in practice eight at 226.415.

"Davey Hamilton has been very impressive here this month. He is not a regular driver, he's the oldest driver in the field, he hasn't driven on a regular basis since 2001 and he has to deal with injuries that most people would not put themselves through. This is the backdrop of his performance and I'd say it's nearly as impressive as the guys on the front row. He has been smooth, steady and fast all week and when it was show time he delivered. He was less than 4 tenths from the top nine and we're talking about a guy who's no longer in the prime of his career and has been out of the cockpit for years. He has raced only four times since 2001, but his driving has been so good that it's like he's never been out of the car. This is a young man's sport and I'm saying that from personal experience so when I look at all that he has done this week under this light it is truly astounding."

Should Hamilton win the race he will be nine days shy of being the oldest winner of the Indy 500. Al Unser is the record holder after winning the 1987 race at 47 and 360 days. Hamilton will be 47 and 351 days on May 30. Bobby Unser 47 and 111 days when he won in 1981.

Nearly 20 years separate Raphael Matos and new teammate Davey Hamilton, but the way they have been working together during the first week in Indianapolis you would never suspect that they first started getting to know each other in Sao Paulo during the first week of the season. "Honestly, it's like they have known each other for 20 years," de Ferran said. "They seem to understand each other well and they are quite happy to collaborate. They both know this is good for them individually and good for the team."

"It's an incredible experience for me to have a teammate like Davey. He sees things I can improve and I see things he can improve and we both push each other which only raises the bar for the whole team."

"I have obviously seen him for awhile, but now that I'm working with him I feel like Rafa is really good. He brings a lot to the table. I am just trying to catch up so that I can give him some valuable information. We work very well together and we pull for each other. If I don't win I want him to win."

"This is an exciting group and they're very serious about winning. Jay and Gil come from a Penske background so they have an extreme focus on winning and Steve only knows how to be successful. The whole group strives to be the best and that energy rubs off on everyone. That's what makes it so exciting."

Gil de Ferran believes in having one voice communicate with the driver during a race and those voices will be Jay Penske for Raphael Matos and John Cummiskey for Davey Hamilton. Steve Luczo will share race strategy duties with Cummiskey, but Cummiskey will be on the radio with Matos. De Ferran will have radio communication with both crews and will help manage both teams. Ray Leto will be making his 16th appearance at the Indy 500, serving as Hamilton's race engineer. Eric Zeto, Matos' race engineer, makes his third appearance. The last time he worked the Indy 500 he helped lead Buddy Lazier to a second place finish in 2000.

Winners drink milk at the Indianapolis 500 and should Hamilton or Matos win both have selected 2% as their milk of choice. Since chocolate milk was not an option, Hamilton chose 2%, while Matos initially selected non-fat before electing to follow Hamilton with 2%. "Davey makes good decisions so I decided to pick the same milk he was picking."

-source: deferran dragon racing

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