Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Regarding TK, Matos' Legacy, and De Ferran Dragon

IndyCar fans received a bit of early holiday cheer yesterday when the announcement of Tony Kanaan to De Ferran Dragon Racing became a reality. I heard a lot of fans concerned about the possibility of losing not only Kanaan, but also Dan Wheldon, fromt he 2011 grid. Two previous series champs without rides would not be good juju. The jury’s still out on where Wheldon will end up, but I feel much better about his chances of landing a ride than I did a few weeks ago.

In any case, back to the Kanaan/de Ferran deal. I firmly believe that adding Tony Kanaan not only makes Gil de Ferran’s team better, but adds to the overall talent and entertainment level of the series. He’s charismatic, fun, a prior champ, is a great charger through the field, and is one of the more-identifiable drivers in the series. Is he a Danica or Helio in terms of recognition? No, but I’d say outside of the now-retired Sarah Fisher, he is perhaps the most identifiable driver to the casual fan in the Month of May (along with Marco, or, for dubious reasons, Milka Duno).

Fortunately, TK's '11 ride is
a bit fancier than this.

Some folks are a little bummed because Rafa Matos appears to be out of a ride, unless Publisher’s Clearing House or the Hoosier Lotto comes calling. I think Rafa has talent, but I also thought he took a step back in 2010. We’d all love to see seats for all the drivers, but if I have to pick between seeing TK or Matos, Rafa isn’t going to win that one. It’s my hope and belief that we’ll see more consistency and better results out of de Ferran Dragon Racing in 2011. And Tony Kanaan gets at least one more shot at Indy. That fact alone might be worth it.  Kanaan's pursuit of that elusive Borg-Warner has become one of the most enjoyable subplots to my Month of May.

Looks like we got ourselves a convoy, Rafa!

So, if Rafa Matos is done in IndyCar, and goes to race trucks in Brazil instead (as is the prevailing rumor at the moment), what’s his legacy in IndyCar? Well, he ran away with Rookie of the Year honors in 2009, easily beating Robert Doornbos, but he seemed to regress somewhat in 2010. I think DFDR had some evident frustration at times in 2010, and a team that should have perhaps challenged a bit more regularly, given the personnel they had, instead had two only 4th-place finishes and no podiums. Matos himself qualified well again at Indy, as he had in 2009, but ate it again on Race Day in the same turn.

If Rafael Matos is done in IndyCar, then I believe he will be seen as a talented driver who never quite lived up to the potential many saw in him, especially after winning championships handily in 4 other series. That might not be fair, but that's how it goes sometimes. Not living up to potential is hardly a rarity in racing, but to those who felt he could have become the next TK, we find him replaced by, well, TK.  I personally hope he gets another shot, because I'd hate for his story to end at this chapter. He's got the talent, but time and money might be a different matter.

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