After a successful rookie campaign in Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, Matheus Leist is taking the next step of his open-wheel career with a move up to the Verizon IndyCar Series with A.J. Foyt Racing.
The Brazilian recently spoke with POPULAR OPEN WHEEL about his expectations entering the 2018 campaign.
POPULAR OPEN WHEEL: What are your thoughts entering the season?
MATHEUS LEIST: I’m pretty happy. I think I had a great season last year in Indy Lights, and I’m feeling confident and I think I did a great job on the ovals, and the road courses, which was a pretty good preparation for this year. Now I’m driving for A.J. Foyt this season, and I’m very happy to have Tony as my teammate, and have A.J. as my boss and mentor. I’m really looking forward to the season.
POW: You’ve got some time in the car testing. What are your initial impressions so far?
ML: We had two days testing in Sebring a week ago, and the test was pretty good to be honest. The car was way better than the Indy Lights. The corner speed much faster, and also the straight line. I would say the biggest difference is the brakes. Pretty much, the whole car is faster and better than the Indy Lights, and the test went good. We had some fast lap times, and excited for the next test.
POW: What are your goals and expectations?
ML: I think it’s going to be a good season. I know I have a lot of things to learn. I’ve never done long races or pit stops, so there are a lot of things that will be brand new to me. So it’s difficult to say, but I would say to work well with the whole team as we should be in a good position. As a driver, I want to win races, but I think the first task is to manage to understand everything first, and then try to have some good results for the team. My expectation for the first couple of races is the top-10; then later on, it depends on how everything goes.
POW: What track are you most excited for?
ML: I think probably Indianapolis. Indianapolis is a special place. Since I was a kid, I’ve been dreaming about IndyCar. Of course, I’ve dreamed about Formula 1 and indyCar, but Indianapolis is something else. It’s something that all the drivers to do one day, and I’m very grateful that I will have the opportunity to do it this year. It’s probably the race that I’m expecting the most.
POW: What was the biggest thing you learned in Indy Lights you’re carrying into this year?
ML: I think pretty much everything. I think the ovals were essential for my learning process, and we managed to do very well. The Indy Lights car is pretty similar to the new IndyCar, which is good for myself coming from Indy Lights. So it’s a fast car, doesn’t have as much downforce, but a very great car to learn. So I think I managed to run pretty well last year in Indy Lights to get ready for this season now.
POW: What did it mean for you to win the Freedom 100?
ML: Well, this was one of my biggest accomplishments in my career. Of course, I won the British Formula 3 Championship in 2016. But this was also my first oval race ever, so I think it was pretty incredible for everyone. I was not expecting to win that race, but the car was just unbelievable good. I think I managed to keep myself concentrated the whole race and we managed to win. It was one of the biggest achievements in my career, and I’m looking forward to the Indy 500.
POW: How did you initially get involved in racing?
ML: So I started when I was a kid in 2006. I started just doing some practice close to the place I was born in Brazil, and the following year in 2007, I started doing my first races in Brazil – which was just a couple races that year. In 2008, I would say that was my first proper year in racing where I went to Sao Paulo in Brazil which was the main championship and the national championship. That was pretty much how I got started. So I would say 2008 was my first proper year in go-karts and I raced there until 2013.
POW: What’s been your most memorable career moment to date?
ML: I need to say when I won the British Formula 3 Championship, so far. It was a very great moment for myself. A lot of big names, a lot of important drivers have won that championship, and I managed to achieve that championship which was very special for myself. Of course, my win in Indy. Those two moments were my best achievements in my career, and ones to remember forever.
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