As the IndyCar Series prepares to throw the green flag on its 2009 season, not only are four rookie drivers expected to compete, but two of them will do so with teams entering their first full season of competition.
Raphael Matos will drive the #2 entry for Luczo Dragon Racing, while Stanton Barrett campaigns the #98 CURB/Agajanian/Team 3G entry, and both are deriving confidence from owners and staff comprising IndyCar Series veterans.
“Everyone on the team has a lot of experience,” 2008 Firestone Indy Lights champion Matos, “They were with Team Penske for a long time, and it's just an awesome group of guys. The engineering side has been doing an awesome job, and I think we're ready for the challenge. We're expecting many great results. It's a young team with great people and everyone is very motivated.”
Co-owned by Jay Penske, the son of Roger Penske, and Seagate Technology CEO Steve Luczo, Luczo Dragon made its IndyCar Series debut with a fifth-place finish at the 2007 Indianapolis 500 before, last year, competing in six races and qualifying in the top ten in three.
“Our first two seasons, we focused on ovals and, in 2008, started to get some experience on the road courses,” co-owner Penske explained, “Rafa is a very talented road course racer and that, plus our work in the off-season, should greatly increase our chances of having a well-balanced and competitive team for 2009.”
Barrett also enters the season expectantly. The veteran of more than 170 NASCAR Nationwide series starts and 22 in the Cup Series is on a team co-owned by Greg Beck, who has participated in the Indianapolis 500 and the IndyCar Series in various roles dating back to 1991. The team is co-owned by Barrett and veteran motorsports marketer Steve Sudler and, while tempering its immediate ambitions, is looking forward to growing with its rookie driver.
“I think we're realistic in that we know Stanton has a lot to learn, especially on the ovals,” Beck acknowledged, “He likes road racing, he understands it, he runs reasonably well in the NASCAR side of things with his road race cars, but the tough part of the first two events is that we can't go to those tracks and test, so it's something he's just going to have to learn. It's going to be steep for him as well as for us, because he's still obviously learning the cars too.
“As far as the on-track side of it, our expectations are that we need to go out there and learn. Towards the end of the season, we can start competing a little more. I think it won't take him long to get the oval side of it down - it's really just changing his line and getting to know the car, getting to know the changes. Once he does that, we'll be pretty good.”
Barrett admits that he will be relying upon the knowledge of Beck and engineer Owen Snyder as he adjusts to the IndyCar Series.
“It is a start-up team, and we don't have a ton of personnel or resources or depth that some of the other teams have, but the guys have been around," he noted, "In Owen and Greg, you have some very experienced team guys. It's the first time out, and we'll get there.
"We'll just try and minimise mistakes and not get in trouble, make laps and try and be competitive. I don't think we've set any real expectations of saying we have to do this or that. I think the best thing we 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.”