Matos more than guy who supposedly turned down $2M

DAVID CAMERON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:40 AM ET

He's still got the cheque.

It's up on his wall.

To some, Raphael Matos is the racer that turned down $2 million.

It was a bonus prize given to the 2007 Atlantic Series champion. Truth is, it was more illusion than money.

But the two track girls that posed in the picture, "probably thought I was now a millionaire," Matos laughed yesterday, in town ahead of Sunday's IndyCar race, where the Brazilian will continue a quest to be the IRL rookie of the year.

Still ... $2-million down.

What? Are you crazy?!

Like a fox. Matos could see past the number.

"That story, it was not like that. I never turned down anything. The offer was never there for me. It was a ride in ChampCar. But a ride in ChampCar, it was a $5-million budget. So, OK, they give you $2 million ... you don't know where the other $3 million is coming from."

Matos jumped into an IndyLights ride for Michael Andretti.

"Right before I signed with Andretti Green, I told ChampCar, 'if you guys give me an OK team I'll sign a a contract.' Even if I'm not making any money, I don't care -- I'll go race. I can't stop racing at this point."

A week later, ChampCar filed for bankruptcy and the long-awaited reunification of the two series was on.

"I had an offer for a backmarker team, but I told them no. To me, if I go to ChampCar with this backmarker team it's going to be a one-year, career-ending thing," said Matos, politely declining to name the team. "I went with IndyLights at a top team and to try to win the championship."

Which he did.

Turned out that team didn't have the budget to step into IndyCar, "so I woud have found myself without a job."

Matos's career has never been all about money as it breaks the stereotype of rich-kid Brazilians who bring big sponsorships to get rides. (Not to say many haven't brought ability, too -- hello Rubens Barrichello.)

"I'm definitely not that type of kid. My family's just a normal type of family in Brazil. My father never had money to invest in my career. Some in the beginning, but you reach a level that the numbers are astronomic numbers."

Like days gone by, his talent got attention. He took jobs, bought a bike to ride to racetracks, and jumped on any opportunity. Dude's got a knack for making strong first impressions. While still working in a go-kart shop he got a test ride in the Star Mazda development series: Won the first four races.

Since the Indy Lights weren't part of the Rexall Edmonton Indy last year, Matos is making a return to a track where he's had a classic agony-ecstacy history.

In 2006, "I had the pole, led the whole race, touched the wall exiting Turn 8 and broke the left-rear suspension."

Then he collapsed to his knees on the infield, kicking his own butt. But his team didn't: "Sierra Sierra, they believed in me and treated me like a son."

In 2007, Matos returned to Edmonton with a vengeance. He won both ends of the Atlantic doubleheader here on his way to delivering the title for the team.

"You just try to learn everything out if it," he said of the '06 flame-out "That's what racing's about, right? Learning about your mistakes."

As for the money? "I'll try to cash that cheque some time, see what happens!"


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