New Firestone Indy Lights champion Raphael Matos has justified his decision to join the series instead of pursuing a Champ Car ride for 2008 by signing a multi-year deal to drive for Luczo Dragon Racing as it expands to a full-time entrant in the IndyCar Series in 2009.
The Brazilian, Atlantics champion in 2007, claimed five poles and three race wins en route
to taking theFirehawk Cup, his fourth championship in a development series in the last six years.
Proving the sort of versatility needed to succeed in the top flight, Matos won races on the road and street courses at St Petersburg, Watkins Glen and Mid-Ohio, and took poles on the ovals at Homestead-Miami, Kentucky and Chicagoland.
"This is an exciting day for our race team because, not only are we taking that step to full-time status, but we are adding a young driver who has proven to be a champion at every level he has raced," team co-owner Jay Penske admitted, "Any time you can win four championships, in six years like Rafa has done, you have some special qualities. He is ready for the IndyCar Series, and we are so thrilled to have him."
Matos was one of a number of candidates for the #12 Symantec-backed car that contested six IndyCar Series races in Tomas Scheckter's hands in 2008, but was Penske's choice over the likes of IRL veteran Darren Manning, occasional runner Franck Perera and British rookie Mike Conway, who had all been mentioned in connection with the ride.
"I couldn't be more excited about everything, it's an unbelievable opportunity," the 27-year old notes.
"We have a very good team. All the pieces are in place. We just need to build a solid base through pre-season testing, put everything together and go for it. I can't wait to get started."
Luczo Dragon, which is co-owned by Penske and Steve Luczo, debuted in the IndyCar Series with a fifth-place finish for Ryan Briscoe in the 2007 Indianapolis 500. In 2008, with IndyCar veteran Scheckter on board, it qualified in the top ten in three of the six races it entered, but had to make do with a best finish of 21st at Belle Isle in Detroit as a mixture of misfortune and unreliability took its toll.
In both seasons, the team has divided its profits among twelve charities.
"I am pleased that we are in a position to have Rafa join our team," Luczo concluded, "We are most excited about building a winning programme with him and helping others through our charity programme.
"Together, Rafa, Jay and I will be selecting a charitable organisation in Brazil that furthers our goals to help others through our racing efforts and success."