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."

Conway moves to the IndyCar Series after serving two years in the F1 feeder series GP2, and will drive the #24 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing entry after impressing in a one-off road course test at Infineon Raceway last summer. Like Barrett, the Briton maintains that the early part of the year will be about gaining as much knowledge as he can.

"We just want to learn as much as we can, experience and finish as many races as we can," the former British F3 champion said, "Obviously, we want to finish on all the ovals. On the road courses, we should be a lot stronger - at least initially. We're aiming to finish at least top five on the road courses, but it will be tough based on the competition out there."

Finally, Doornbos returns to the United States after a year out in 2008, when he was denied a shot at racing in the unified IndyCar Series. Prior to that, he shone in the 2007 Champ Car World Series campaign, recording five podium finishes in his first six starts en route to third overall in the championship. He joins Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing this season, having kept his hand in by appearing in both A1GP and the inaugural Superleague Formula series in recent months.

"When I made the move from Formula One to Champ Car in 2007, I had no knowledge of circuits, tyres, drivers, engine, whatever, of that series, and I had five podiums out of the first six races, so that was a motivation boost," the Dutchman said, "I think my attitude is the same for the IndyCar Series.

''The team contacted me because they know what I can do, and I'm here to do the best job I can. Of course, I have respect for the ovals, where there's still a steep learning curve, but nothing to be worried about. The team is very strong, with great results. I feel at home already."



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