Raphael Matos has been announced as a late signing to the Indy Lights AFS Racing team, which is making its full-time debut in the senior series this year.
The Brazilian found himself out of a drive after losing his seat with the financially struggling De Ferran Dragon Racing, with whom he had spent the first two years of his IndyCar career. Matos’ seat first went to his compatriot Tony Kanaan, only for Kanaan to lose his seat as well when the team collapsed.
But AFS team owner Gary Peterson has thrown Matos a last-minute opportunity to resurrect his IndyCar career as it makes its jump to the series after it had made the occasional race as a co-entrant with Andretti Autosport in previous years.
Matos and AFS have previously enjoyed a strong working relationship after he won the 2008 Indy Lights title with the team.
“I would like to thank Gary Peterson for giving me another opportunity to drive for him – we had great success in the past,” a relieved Matos said.
“Winning the Firestone Indy Lights championship was the first championship for AFS Racing, so there’s some great memories from that time.
“To have Gary believing in me now, as he brings his team into IndyCars, is huge for my career and a fabulous sign of his confidence in me.
Matos believes that his pedigree in the junior formulae – he is a title winner in Formula Dodge, Star Mazda and the Atlantic series before he won the Indy Lights crown – is justification enough to be part of the championship for 2011, despite two rather disappointing seasons in IndyCars.
“I’m the only driver in the league that has won every step of the ladder system to get to IndyCars,” he added. “I deserve to be here.”
Team boss Peterson believes that Matos is the ideal signing for the AFS team, and said: “This is our first entry as a standalone IndyCar team and I’m glad to be reuniting AFS and Rafa. He’s a great driver who has proven himself by working up through the ranks of the ladder series, which I respect.”
[Original image via Flickr]