Raphael Matos has been among the the IZOD IndyCar Series' most effective position-gainers in the early season rounds, but on Sunday at Long Beach, that trend was interrupted. The Luczo Dragon/de Ferran Motorsports driver again struggled in qualifying, taking 18th on the grid for the second straight race. When the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach proved unusually clean, with just one full-course caution, the stymied Matos had to settle for a 20th-place finish, underscoring the lack of opportunities for passing on the 1.97-mile street course.
The team tried to shake things up by bringing Matos in early during the first pit window on lap 22 – seven laps before the leader – but with only one caution flag the entire 85 laps, the strategy was unsuccessful in moving Matos up.
“It was a disappointing day for the HP Luczo Dragon car,” co-owner and race strategist Jay Penske said. “Rafa ran a smart race and we were pleased to see him run some of the fastest laps in the race. There just weren't enough passing opportunities or yellows for us to take advantage.”
During the last 20 laps of the race, Matos kept pace with the leaders, turning in the fourth-fastest lap of the day at 1:11.0052 on lap 79. Only the top-three finishers – Ryan Hunter-Reay, Justin Wilson and Will Power – had better lap times throughout.
“It's really a shame that we struggled in qualifying because we had a very competitive car, especially in the end,” Matos said. “The track really came to us and we were running with the leaders. When you start in the back here, you have to take strategic risks because it's just so difficult to pass. Unfortunately, our strategy didn't work, but that's how it goes. We figured there would be at least one more yellow, but today was a little unusual.”
Despite the low finish, Matos lost only one position in the championship standings and now ranks ninth with 84 points.