CHAMPCAR/CART: An Interview With Helio Castroneves

T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon to everyone. Welcome to the CART Media Teleconference. Thanks to all of you for being with us this afternoon. Our guest this afternoon is Marlboro Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves who recorded his...

T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon to everyone. Welcome to the CART Media Teleconference. Thanks to all of you for being with us this afternoon. Our guest this afternoon is Marlboro Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves who recorded his first victory of his three-year FedEx Championship Series career at Sunday Tenneco Automotive Grand Prix of Detroit on the raceway at Belle Isle. Helio, you waited a long time. Congratulations and thanks for being with us today. HELIO CASTRONEVES: Thank you very much. It is a long time, actually. It seems a long time and I am very excited, very happy for myself, for Marlboro Team Penske which gave me great equipment on the engine; Firestone tires, so everything was fantastic. I am really, really happy. I think everybody saw how happy I was. T.E. McHALE: Yeah, it came across pretty vividly, no question. Let me give you an update on Helio. In his first year with Marlboro Team Penske, he gave that storied team its 101st Champ Car victory by finishing 4.415 seconds ahead of runnerup Max Papis recording his first victory in his 46th career start. He averaged the 97.401 miles per hour in the No. 3 Marlboro Honda Reynard en route to the triumph; his second podium finish of the season following a runnerup effort at Long Beach. The victory was also the 34th Champ Car win for a graduate of the Dayton Indy Light series since Paul Tracy scored the first at Long Beach in 1993. With the victory, Helio moved from 16th to 11th in the Championship. Heading into Sunday's Freightliner/G.I. Joe's 200 presented by Texaco at Portland International Raceway, Helio has 36 points but is only 11 points behind fourth place Max Papis who has 47. The Freightliners/G.I. Joe's 200, presented by Texaco, it Round 8 the FedEx Championship Series, will be televised on a tape-delay basis by ESPN2 on Sunday June 25th, beginning at 7 P.M. eastern time. With that we will open it up to questions for Helio.

Q. A year ago at this time you were with a team that didn't have much sponsorship and was wondering what the future was going to be. Can you just describe how -- the changes for you and what that has been like? HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, thank you very much. I was actually every year that I have been, that is my third year in the FedEx Championship Series and every year kind of a new team and every time when I get along with the people-it takes a little time, it is normal-but I learn with everyone, Bettenhausen, Hogan Racing last year and this year with Marlboro Team Penske, so it looks like I am learning with people inside the team. I have a lot of people around me that really helped me a lot. As we can see, Rick Mears which is a great driver; also Gil which is my teammate. He is very technical driver as well and it looks like it is-I am a good listener. Everything is coming to the right place and to the right direction. Of course it is tough when you come to a team and everybody is really looking toward to coming right away, but I will tell you, I had no pressure at all. I had everybody -- in fact, the team was really, really welcoming nicely, and every step we are taking was like very firm. We were just taking a chance or trying to be the fastest one, just once or tricky, you know, with low fuel to see if we can go fast in one of the tests - no, no, no. We always try to be very solid and that is why I think we are achieving very nice success for myself; for the team and everybody is growing with this. So I am really happy to learn with the first-class team. Like I said, Marlboro Team Penske gave me the opportunity this year to achieve my dreams and today everything is getting on the right direction. So it is going to work a lot. This series, oh, my goodness, so, competitive, I will tell you. It is unbelievable how tough the series is. We fight for hundreds of second and everybody is really on the same lap time and everybody is really close to each other, so, it is tough. I am glad that the weekend in Detroit, we were fastest out of the box; we were really looking strong every session, and I think I deserve a little bit. I always keep fighting and never give up. That is one of my good qualities, you know, and thinking positive. I am happy that happened. We are going to work again. I know it is not going to be easy because -- I like the celebration. I like to be on the podium and I want to have -- try to go again. So it going to be good and I am sure everybody will work hard to achieve the same goals again.

Q. What were your plans going to be if you didn't -- if you didn't latch on to Penske? Did you have any idea what you would do? HELIO CASTRONEVES: Not at all. I was like completely homeless, actually. It is tough situation, but all of a sudden everything happened very suddenly and I tell you, the moment that I jump into the car and every time you are sure when you see that No. 3 car myself in, you are sure that I am giving my hundred percent; I am giving my best, even sometimes the car is not going to be very good setup, we are not magic, you know, I don't think there is any magic. Only one guy upstairs and it is a good one to make everything happen. That is why I believe in him. Today, actually this ride on Sunday he make my dream come true. T.E. McHALE: A quick note to emphasize what Helio was talking about earlier regarding the competitiveness of the series, he became on Sunday the 7th different race winner -- our 7th different race winner in as many events this season and that breaks a record which was set in 1991 with six straight winners at the start of the season and just as a side note the record for different winners in an entire season is 10 which was established last year, so we are already well on our way to that in the 2000 FedEx Championship Series.

Q. You said after Sunday's race you really didn't think it sunk in yet. I was wondering now that you had a couple of days to reflect on it, can you believe what happened at this point? Do you have a better perspective on it? HELIO CASTRONEVES: In fact, I was watching the race last night and still watching it again today on ESPN. I tell you, like I said, we have a very good setup so far. Last race we did, Long Beach, we finished second. We were in a situation that we have -- save a lot of fuel to finish. So this time was a little bit different. I had fuel. I had very good car again to go for it and fight for the lead, but the guys in the pit actually they were holding me up. They were like: Save fuel, save fuel, you better stay a little bit off and we are going -- if you want to go, let us go towards to the end of the race. Sometimes actually they tried -- that pays off to be patient and smart because all of a sudden I had tons of fuel in my car; not many yellow flags which is unusual normally in a street circuit. That is why when all of a sudden everything fell in my lap, I said, well, I am now in the lead, I am going to go for it. Of course, I would like to have a chance and to battle for the lead or battle with the car and race a little bit especially with Juan - I don't feel sorry for him because to be honest, I have been in a lot of situations like him and I will take anyway, it would have been much nicer to go for it and passing by and challenger, I think, not only for me, but for the fans as well. But I will tell you, what a superb car Marlboro Team Penske gave me; especially when the tires warm up a little bit, I will tell you, wow, that was like fantastic. I am really glad and that everything happened so we are just going to continue our work; come back and like I said, it is down, see what we have for the next race and work hard again, because it is tough out there.

Q. From what I understand you are pretty good friends with Tony Kanaan who was injured pretty good at Detroit. I was wondering have you had a chance to talk to him yet at all? HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yes. After the race -- I want to go before the race, but unfortunately the medicals and doctors didn't allow us to visit. So right after the race I went there. He congratulated me. He was, of course, I understand he was a little bit on drugs, talk a little slow and everything, but physical, they said that everything went very well. He held my hand tight and I said, hey, man, you should stay here a little bit and fix your nose now - try to play a little bit with him and cheer him up a little bit. I said my prayers and I told him to believe in God because I am sure he will come back very strong again and give me hard time again. And I just spoke with Steve Olvey there as we are speaking right now, he is probably landing in Miami and -- I bought a big gorilla for him, you know, because he had a tatoo of a gorilla, so I am going to try to get a chance and go tonight and give this present for him. T.E. McHALE: An update on Tony as we were just discussing, Tony has been released from the hospital. He is on his way home to Miami and should be there for a couple of days of rest and recuperation through the rest of this week. As I understand it, he will go to Indianapolis the first of next week and begin rehabilitation and that rehab period has been slated for four to six weeks, although anybody who knows Tony thinks he will be back in the car sooner than that.

Q. Before the questions I will add my congratulations to you as well. Great run Sunday. HELIO CASTRONEVES: Thank you very much.

Q. What was it like those last couple of laps? Was it hard for you to keep your emotions in check? HELIO CASTRONEVES: That was a very good question. Actually last night I was watching the race and I was, like I didn't speak at all after the last yellow flag. I didn't say a word. I don't think I was breathing actually. I was like just in the zone, I don't want anything disturbing me. I wasn't even looking at the board to see how many laps there were to go. I was doing everything right and I knew Turn 1 and 2, I was very, very fast and the last two laps everybody normally say oh, takes a long way, but honestly, I was enjoying so much, I was like turning the wheel and going the throttle and, you know, was a great fantastic feeling. I am saying: Wow, I am believing actually, because I will do it and I was looking and thinking, I said, is it today, I think it is going to be today. And every corner I was enjoying my two last laps like very focused, of course, and to not make any stupid mistake or trying to invent something line or different line to go a little faster. So every time I was doing like a watch, you know, make sure that I was passing the same point; make sure that I was doing the right way so -- and when I cross the checkered flag, I will tell you, I felt that I would have explode with emotion and excitement and, well, I think everybody we saw that everything --

Q. Helio, over the last few years you have gotten so close. But it just seemed like little gremlins would step in the way and I know a lot of that was because of the lack of testing and the funding that you had with your teams. At any point did you think you know, maybe I need to be racing somewhere else; I need to win and I am not going to win here? HELIO CASTRONEVES: No. In two teams that I have been with Bettenhausen and also Hogan Racing, of course, experience first of all, it is something that really counts in this series; especially in the first year when I started, I remember Bobby Rahal was one of the experienced guys over there. I said, wow, he is old, he is going to retire, I am going to be faster than him. All of a sudden I noticed that he was fast all the time, so it wasn't -- it is just not because he is old. Actually he was much faster, so basically I know that experience is a lot. So tried to learn in every little team, doesn't matter if it was Bettenhausen or Hogan and now on Marlboro Team Penske, but I really had to thank these people that gave me the chance because they teach in the beginning, they teach me different ways and also in my circumstance when I was starting on the back, coming forward, and/or something like that, I learned from these things. So today if I am in the back or if I am in the front, I am sure, of course, you make a mistake because you are human, but of course now I have the experience to know what I have to do. But I still have a long way to go. I still have a long way to learn, a lot of stuff to learn, but I am happy that everything is happening on the step by step. Like you said, last year we have so many chances -- that is why I don't feel sorry for Juan, what happened because it happened to me as well. So I understand how it feels. I understand how mad I was, oh, geez, I knew I could do it. So -- and I knew when I was 15 laps or 20 laps to go when I was in the lead, I said nothing breaks, I am going to win this race because I have been in this situation before and just do my job. Because of the little and racing teams that I was running, they teach me this and that is why I am okay here.

Q. I congratulate you and for you I hope you win a Championship some day although I am afraid it will be hazardous to your health. HELIO CASTRONEVES: I don't know and then I think I will explode actually. (laughs).

Q. During the season we start out with a lot of ovals; not that you have been slow there, but you have not been all the time on the sharp end of the grid. But on the two road courses you have been one of the fastest, if not the fastest - only two races into the season - do you feel a lot more confident driving in the street circuits like Detroit and Long Beach as opposed to Motegi or Milwaukee....=20 HELIO CASTRONEVES: Of course, in the ovals like I said, last year I was running with the Lola and we found a very good setup and the car was very, very good. This year we kind of struggling, not struggling but battling to find a very nice way and go for it. So it take a little time. That is why you said in the beginning I was taking a little time step by step, and I was getting comfortable with the team and everybody -- so we are in the 7th race, so we are still long way to go for the Championship, and -- but five beginning races was only on the ovals. So everything have to be -- I have to, instead of trying to go too fast and start crashing cars, sometimes you have to hold a little bit back and see where we can learn and where you can go fast. But on the street circuit and also I have to thank Honda because they are very good. They are very, very good. They gave me a great engine, driveability, it is really nice and it is helping a lot. I didn't change my way to drive from last year. Not own from the 1998 or when even I was in Indy Lights. But sometimes when you have a great car, great teams supporting you, it looks like everything is smooth than appears. Like I was mentioning to someone, last year I have tons of tendinitis in my arm, actually my left arm. This year, wow, I wasn't even sore, so it is big difference. And again, it is just you are getting comfortable; you are getting comfortable with the team and equipment that you have and everything is going gradually in the right direction.

Q. After the race there we saw you on the cell phone talking to someone. Who was that? HELIO CASTRONEVES: That was my dad. I was -- I said: You like this present? He said: Yes. Even in Brazil it wasn't Father's Day, but I was raised in here in America. I said any kind of present like that I would love it. So he was screaming and crying, and it is just amazing how great my family is supporting me and I have to thank my dad because he was really the one who gave me all the opportunity.

Q. Just very briefly, first of all, can you catch me up with the name change; how you came to pull the hyphen out? HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, Castro-Neves when I came over here to America in Brazil, it is normal to have two names as your last name. So Castro-Neves, it is my last name. And here kind of only have one name; that is why people didn't recognize me: Is it Castro or Neves. Well, I put the dash on and people still were confusing or call me Neves or Castro which is the first one. Then I said, well, if I put it together, people will confuse anyway but it is tough and but at least they are going to try to say all the names. They are not going to missing any one. That is why, my decision it is just the way that I want to make sure that it is shorter a little bit, if you put the dash on it makes it bigger, just want to easier for everyone when they say Castro-Neves, go for it. It doesn't change the pronunciation; doesn't change anything, and not even my legal documents or the kind of thing, it is just so everybody understands that it is Castroneves.

Q. Seems to have worked for you. HELIO CASTRONEVES: Hey, so far it is.

Q. My question talks about the psychology of somebody who is following a leader versus somebody who is a leader. The psychology is so much different, I would imagine, being more of a defender, maybe you have more to worry about and more to lose. With the first victory fresh in your mind can you talk about how that played in the .. HELIO CASTRONEVES: Believe it or not, when you are in the front it looks like everybody is pushing hard and going for it, it, is we are. But it is a different way when you are in the back like 12th or 10th or something like that because when you are back there everybody really is tight, close to each other so any mistake someone going to try to drive and make the position. In the front it is different, everybody is pretty much very, very equal and you kind of don't have to worry about who is behind you because you have a gap or I don't know, it is -- just makes your life so much easier to worry about, you don't have traffic or people going slower than you. Actually when you are leading it is even better - last year in Portland - if you just keep your focus and try to look ahead and not worry about the guy behind and if you know where he is weak during the racetrack, you can beat the guy even if you are in front. So that is what I did last 20 laps, I knew Max was fast, so what I tried to do was -- I made -- tried to make sure where he was fast and not make any mistakes or try come different lines otherwise he will make the pass and that is it. So it works fantastic because the only place he was quick I was going at least equal than him and then the rest of the racetrack I was a little faster so was making the gaps, making the gap bigger and bigger as my tires getting warmer where he was weak on the circuit and then I am starting very strongly that is why I made the gap. So it is different. It is a lot of -- you have to think a lot. But it is the best way to drive, looks like -- that is why I said when I am -- if I am right now nothing happens with my equipment, nobody will take this lead from me because I know how to do it and I prove it.

Q. I think your human drama at the end was exactly what the sport needed and we all celebrated along with you. Congratulations. HELIO CASTRONEVES: Thank you very much. You know, people sometimes it is a little worried about, oh, man, is he going to say sponsor name or is he going to look okay. Of course, I am worried about these things as well, but in that specific situation, it is my first one, you know, and when I saw -- when I stopped on the racetrack I thought supposed to stop there, I don't think I was paying attention to it, I didn't know I -- when I stopped there, I was waiting for everybody and I didn't see anyone. So when I look in my last -- I see the crowd cheering, yeah, yeah, yeah, oh, man, that was just the beginning to start everything. So that is why I came over and climbed the fence and it was great. It was really, really great. I will tell you, I don't know what I am going to do on the second one, but I am sure I am going to be excited as well.

Q. Good job on Sunday. You got a Roger Penske doubles going on. Talk a little bit if you can about Portland, the one coming up there, yo u led those laps last year and it might be a chance for us to see another victory lane celebration? HELIO CASTRONEVES: It will be great, I would be even happier as I am today. Yeah, Portland is a very tough track and especially because it is a very high speed track and there is only one hairpin which is slowing down, and you downshift from 6th to 1st, and it is a concrete as well so that makes it tougher for you and the engineers to figure out how to stop the speed as you are coming and to not wheel-spin or under-steer; make sure that the car has a lot of grip. But also it is very fun to drive, especially the end of the back stretch when you have long corner and fast one that you can put the car above the curb completely. So I am really excited to go over there. We had a very good test in Mid-Ohio and it is not a street circuit Mid-Ohio, very nice circuit, so I hope we do well as well. But I have to work again. We coming over there, I know it is going to be tough again because people, we start working very hard and let us keep doing our job, you know, it seems to be working very well and we don't need to touch anything.

Q. When I talked to Jeremy Mayfield yesterday after he won the race there, he was pretty congratulative of you guys as well and he said you guys did a fine job over there and it was neat for Roger that you guys did a double there. Usually it is Rusty Wallace doing that on the NASCAR end and well, he was hoping that he could get a couple others this weekend too because they are road racing in Sonoma.... HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yeah, that was very nice. I saw -- in fact, a couple at the end of the race I spoke to Roger yesterday, he was very pleased NASCAR won, we won, so, he was very, very excited. I saw the race, so I was very excited as well. I asked him if it was fantastic racing actual series as well (sic) everybody really like it, all the Americans love it, and it is exciting to watch these things. So I am pleased for the team. I am pleased for Marlboro Team Penske and from here we have to continue work.

Q. I was talking with one of your friends in Brazil at the time when you won. He was going elated just like you were. At spring training you talked how much it meant to you to be in the red and white uniform. I know that still means a great deal to you. Do you think just being in the Marlboro uniform has added to your confidence level? I mean there is a tradition behind that with Brazilian drivers... HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yeah, a lot of people actually yesterday calling me, hey, you look great in this colors, you remember a great Champion, Emerson. I said, well, I wish I will be champion like that. Still only in the beginning of the Championship. It is great. Yeah, definitely when I came over here to Marlboro Team Penske I knew that it is a great opportunity to learn and go faster again. I was talking with my engineer - we did third in grid in Detroit and we were a little bit upset because we know -- we knew that we could get the pole position and we were talking, oh, it is great when you are in third and it is a little bit upset. I said, it is. You should be in Hogan and Bettenhausen, we would have been jumping up and down and screaming. So it is a great team effort. Everybody is really working hard. You have to see the team that change the equipment for, chassis, engine, tires, so, everybody taking a chance. We proving that was a very right change so, when just have to keep working hard and it is a tough series. I am just happy that it is very good to keep this momentum especially going for next race, and which is looking good and everything looking on our side, so let us just keep focusing on our job and we will do okay.

Q. How much does being able to walk out to the car and get into it and knowing that you have a first rate 100% prepared car help? HELIO CASTRONEVES: I will tell you, every time I go to inside my car and racing car, I always give my 100% and I know all the teams that I have been, given what they have, but today I have the same thing, same way I was feeling before just go in that car and do my best, you know, but I know winning something outside of our control, but one thing I know, myself and the team putting the best effort to achieve this goal which is No. 1. That is why I have to trust and they have to trust in me as well.

Q. I am looking for the day you Max and Robert and you are all in the podium at the same time. That is going to be a wild day. HELIO CASTRONEVES: (laughs) We are going to -- that one is going to be good. I hope it will be the first one and they will be second and third.

Q. Seemed like a few years ago that Alex Zanardi would win every other week. Now it was mentioned before seven different winners and seven different races. How do you explain the parity and because there has been seven different winners, is there a guy to beat this weekend? HELIO CASTRONEVES: I will tell you, man, it is just so tough out there and all of a sudden you think you have it in your hand and then yellow flag came on. I said, damn, it is not this time or all of a sudden something happens. That is why our series is so fantastic, like you just mentioned 7 races, 7 different drivers winning, it is just great. Of course, I want to try and stop this. I hope we go to Portland and say here we go, that is it. But it is unbelievable how great our series is and any kind of little mistake you make, or any kind of all of a sudden something happens to your car, if you miss a brake point or if the car when you are coming to the pits, back marker missed, a little bit of seconds coming in, so, every little thing make a lot of difference in the end. So you have to be precise in this series to be there. If you be always constantly in the top 6, you are going to have a big chance. If you see the Championship standings it is unbelievable, from everybody really behind each other like 59, 56, and 40, 47, everybody is really close so, I think I have to thank everybody, you guys that make our series even better and better as international people coming on and we are going outside so, it is just unbelievable how tough out there and everybody has great opportunity to be in the podium and win races as well.

Q. Since you got your first victory who is next to get to get his who do you think is next? HELIO CASTRONEVES: I think it is me.

Q. I mean, for their first victory. You already got your first victory. HELIO CASTRONEVES: I need my second one.

Q. Who do you think will be the next winner next different winner? HELIO CASTRONEVES: I don't know. Concentrate on my car and in my job and in my work and I am not going to think who is going to win the next. HELIO CASTRONEVES: I hope I will be the next.

Q. Has having a partner, has that added anything to you to your racing style, to your confidence? I know this is the first year you have had a partner - did it add anything to you this year? HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yeah, Gil is a Brazilian as well. And more experienced. He is a very good technical driver and also very quick as well. That is good about it, it is basically both of us going to try to beat each other and try to go as fast as we can. And I think because of that, it is one keep pushing each other to go faster. Also what we have together because we have more experience, I try learn from what he is asking for, what is the difference; what is the good quality that he has, that I can learn from this. Everybody has a good quality. Everybody has something different than the other one. So I try to see this good quality and speaking to me and try to be as perfect as I can because it is tough. I am a human being; never going to be perfect. It is great to have a guy like that, very similar driving style, which is helping our setup and so we helping each other, both cars going to be on the top, so both Marlboro cars are going to be fighting with each other. So it is better that we try to be faster than every one and then we have only one to compete, you know, that is going to be easier or tougher, I don't know. T.E. McHALE: We will wrap it up for today. We want to thank Helio for joining us this afternoon. Helio, thanks for being with us. Congratulations again on a great first victory and best of luck in this weekend Freightliner/G.I. Joe's 200, presented by Texaco, at Portland International Raceway and through the rest of the FedEx Championship Series season. A reminder for all of you that are with us, that we will do another teleconference tomorrow Wednesday at noon eastern time with new CART President and Chief Executive Officer, Bobby Rahal. We welcome you to be with us then. The number is the same - 800-857-0033. Join us if you can. Thanks again for being with us. Good afternoon.

-CART-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Jeremy Mayfield , Rusty Wallace , Helio Castroneves , Max Papis , Bobby Rahal , Paul Tracy , Alex Zanardi , Rick Mears , Roger Penske
Teams Team Penske