Regardless of the outcome of their title duel in Sunday's 100 at Chicagoland Speedway, Firestone Indy Lights contenders Raphael Matos and Richard Antinucci made no secret of their desire to step up to the top flight IndyCar Series in 2009.

Although overshadowed by rookie Dillon Battistini in terms of race wins, the pair have been the class of the field this season and entered the finale having shaken off the title ambitions of more than a few rivals. When it came down to it, Matos prevailed, leading most of the race from pole, before being pipped at a green-white-chequer restart by team-mate Arie Luyendyk Jr, while Antinucci ran into trouble while making his way up from ninth on the grid.

Matos, however, always looked to have the better opportunities for 2009, having been picked up by Andretti Green Racing and given a ride via its partnership with Lights team AFS. At the time, the deal was a big deal, as Matos had been trying to find a Champ Car seat with the $2million prize he gained for winning the 2007 Atlantic Championship. AGR's move was significant because it came before the unification of US open-wheel racing, thereby convincing Matos to ditch the non-transferrable prize in favour of defecting to the IRL.

The move provided almost instant rewards, with the Brazilian winning on the streets of round two in St Petersburg, and going on to add two further victories and eight top results on his way to the crown. He also made a one-off appearance alongside Franck Montagny in AGR's ALMS Acura and is now being tipped to step up to the IndyCar Series with the super-team's help.

"We'll see, I hope so," he replied to the obvious question of graduating to the senior series, "Definitely, I wanted to prove myself one more time. I felt that, last year, I dominated the Atlantic Championship. I won the championship and was supposed to get the $2m [but] never got anything out of that as I was unable to make my deal happen in Champ Car.

"With the unification, I had an offer from Andretti Green and AFS to do the Indy Lights championship and I felt that was a great opportunity for me, especially because I had no experience on the ovals. I would be in a competitive team, a team that would have a chance to win the championship, and [give me a chance to] prove myself one more time, show that I had the speed and the consistency and maturity to be in IndyCar.

"So I just have to thank AFS, Andretti Green - everyone on that team deserves this championship just as much as I do. AGR, AFS, they've been great to me all year long and I believe it's a win-win situation. They gave me a great opportunity and I was able to deliver the championship."

Should rumours of a fifth car at AGR - which appears likely to re-sign all four of its 2008 pilots for next season - come to pass, Matos may have to face off competition from more experience drivers, amid rumours that the likes of Justin Wilson, Will Power and Vitor Meira could be looking for rides, but he appears content that the bigger Andretti Green operation may hold the key to his future whatever.

"You know, there's so many opportunities with Andretti Green, not only in IndyCar, but also on the sportscar side," he pointed out, overlooking the fact that AGR was not included on Acura's recent 2009 plan, "I think there's a great future ahead of us - I'm very excited, and I believe everyone in the team is very excited. Let's see what happens in the future. I think we'll celebrate a lot and then we'll talk about everything."

One other potential opening for Matos may come from existing team boss Gary Peterson, who has made no secret of his desire to move up to the senior series in future.

The former IPS driver, who was forced to quit after an accident, has revelled in his relationship with AGR, and intends to keep working with the giant in Indy Lights at least, but is equally keen to establish his AFS outfit on the top rung of the IRL ladder.

"It just means so much [to win the Lights title]," he admitted, "As a driver, I never had a chance to win a championship. I drove the [Indy Pro] Series for five years until I had an accident, but I was too old anyway. So to start working with Rafa, Luyendyk, the rest of them, just great kids - it's so satisfying to be able to bring these guys up and hopefully they'll move up to the IRL next year. That's what we want to do.

"I'm working on [my own IndyCar team], and I'm working on sponsorship. I'm not sure how far along we are yet, but that's the reason I decided to close my race operations and merge with AGR, in order to get the benefit of the engineering, learn behind the scenes. I'm not sure if it will happen next year. I hope so but, if not, it will be the following year."

Whenever Peterson's dream comes to fruition, he says he would have no hesitation in looking to hire Matos.

"He's done the pre-testing for us at AGR and he's done a fantastic job," he noted, "He's driving with Tony [Kanaan] and everybody else out there, Marco [Andretti], and the testing that he's done has paid off in our results at Watkins Glen and other tracks that we tested. The whole programme works with the Indy Lights programme, the testing that comes with it, the Indy Lights driver that gets to drive along with one of the IRL drivers, it's really something I'm pretty excited about.

"He's done a fantastic job and he gets the opportunity. I'd be glad to have him back driving with us, but I'm not sure if we can find the sponsorship. If not, I'll support anything that Rafa does. He's done a great job this year."

Antinucci, meanwhile, may have to rely on support from a little closer to home if he is to finally make the jump to the IndyCar Series, even though he insists that he is hoping for something bigger to come his way.

"It's early, [but] this is when the season starts, discussions, preparation for '09," he said, still disappointed at having missed on the Lights crown, "I hope to stay in the IndyCar world and, hopefully, graduate to the IndyCar Series. That's my dream, my goal. I want to be in a top team and be able to fight for wins and championships at the top level."

While the likes of AGR, Ganassi and Penske are unlikely to be beating a path to his door for 2009, however, the former F3 frontrunner in European and Japan might be able to call on the help of his uncle, Indianapolis 500 winner Eddie Cheever, to make his dream into partial reality.

"I hope Eddie and the whole Team Cheever [operation] manage to pull something together to do part-time, full-time, or just Indy in the IndyCar Series, because that's where I really want to be," he noted in the build-up to Chicagoland, "That's where I think his heart is, too, as well.

"Being an ex-driver, having won the 500, that is his favourite race, I can tell you that for sure. We'd both like to work together - we did really well last year in the few [IPS] races we did, and we ended on a very positive note. We've also done a Grand-Am race together and it went really well. The results were good, fastest lap, all that, so, hopefully, something with him would be nice.

"But there are a lot of professional teams that have really impressed me out there since I moved back to America last year, and I think many things are viable. ALMS looks interesting, Grand-Am is very interesting - but, for sure, IndyCars is where I'd like to be..."