tampabay.com

While passing through, Matos wins in Pro Series

By BRIAN SUMERS
Published April 2, 2006


ST. PETERSBURG - A wide smile covering his face, Raphael Matos stopped his car near the finish line and jumped atop it.

He earned some puzzled looks.

"I was like, "Get off the nose cover,' " team owner Jim Guthrie said, laughing. "That thing cost money."

Making a one-weekend appearance in the Indy Pro Series, the feeder circuit for the IndyCars, Matos passed Jeff Simmons with two laps left Saturday to win the first of two Pro Series races this weekend.

His car weighed a little less, and had less horsepower than the IndyCars that will run in today's main event, but for Matos, there was plenty to celebrate.

And though he intends to race in the competing Atlantic series - a Champ Car feeder - this year, Matos engaged in his usual post-victory celebration. If it was a little flamboyant, so be it.

"This is everything I've been doing since I'm 10 years old," said Matos, 24. "It means everything to me."

Before he begins racing Atlantics next week, Matos will try to win again today on the waterfront course.

Though it won't be easy - Matos will start sixth because of a league rule inverting the top six from Saturday's race to start today's race - he said he enjoys coming from behind.

Throughout his career, the Brazilian has had to pave his own way. In a sport where connections and nepotism help drivers advance, Matos moved from series to series by winning. He reels off his developmental pedigree: one year of Formula Ford, two years of Formula Dodge, and two of Formula Mazda.

In Formula Mazda he caught the attention of Guthrie, the 1997 IndyCar rookie of the year, whose son Sean raced in the same series.

Sean turns 18 in April and will likely take over his father's Pro Series car. But the team needed a driver for St. Petersburg, and Matos had a free weekend.

"He's just doing this on pure talent and opportunity," Guthrie said. "The kid's got heart."

Even without experience in the Pro Series car, Matos earned the pole position for Saturday's race. The Formula Mazda cars have less horsepower, but Matos was undeterred.

"He wants to be No. 1," Guthrie said. "I call it eye of the tiger. If you got that, you're going to win."

Like the other drivers, Matos seeks to advance to IndyCar or Champ Car - the two highest North American series of open-wheel racing.

But even if he never gets the opportunity, he'll remember his win in St. Petersburg. And he'll likely remember climbing onto the top of his temporary car.

"I just want to be different," he said.

He said he likes St. Petersburg so much he might move here.

"The city, the weather, the people, the place itself, it's just beautiful," he said.