Having won four championships in the last six seasons, and finally worked his way through the development racing ranks to a full-time ride in the IndyCar Series, Raphael Matos might find a fifth crown a bit ambitious for 2009, but will almost certainly be a top contender for Bombardier Learjet Rookie of the Year honours - and it has not stopped him setting lofty goals for the year
The Brazilian is one of four newcomers entered full time in the IndyCar Series for 2009 - where he is joined by Stanton Barrett, Mike Conway and Robert Doornbos - and, while all four will be contenders for the $50,000 prize - Matos should have the easiest learning curve.
The 27-year old won last season's Firestone Indy Lights championship, competing on many of the same circuits as the IndyCar Series in a car that is the most similar to the one used in the IndyCar Series, and has also won US open-wheel championships in Champ Car Atlantic, Formula Mazda and Formula Dodge since 2003.
“I feel comfortable, and I have been successful at pretty much every road course that we will be racing at, so it's just a matter of having all the pieces together,” agreed Matos, who eschewed Champ Car's $2m 'graduation' prize to jump to the Indy Lights series, and moves onto Luczo Dragon Racing as the ambitious outfit embarks on its first full season in IndyCars.
“Our expectations are to win at least two races this season,” Matos added, “We'll be fighting for the championship, but we have a lot to learn. We have to build up a solid base. We're a one-car team, and that also will make things a little bit more difficult sometimes, but sometimes it's going to play to our advantage. We're doing all the right things to try to find performance in the car.”
Barrett, Conway and Doornbos, meanwhile, are all true newcomers to the IndyCar paddock, but each brings his own unique set of credentials.
Barrett has the most experience of racing on ovals, the 36-year old having made more than 190 stock car starts in the NASCAR Nationwide and Sprint Cup series, but has less open-wheel experience than either of his European rivals.
“I don't think we've set any real expectations of saying we have to do this or that,” the Team 3G driver explained, “I think the best thing we can do is do our best and set out to be smart about what we're doing, get laps and learn and try and be competitive as we can. I think we can do that.
''It's a little bit difficult to be in that situation as a rookie, but I just want to do a job and be competitive. Wherever that puts us, we can use this year as learning and building for our sponsors and finding new sponsors so we can be around.”