INDIANAPOLIS, IN, April 15, 2002 - Last year's Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves from Sao Paulo, Brazil and living in Miami, Florida was honored this evening in ceremonies at the Hall of Fame Museum. His sculptured image was added to the six foot tall perpetual trophy. The Brazilian was characteristically embullient as he posed for the cameras next to the trophy and a four foot high representation of this years race ticket.
"It ain't orange juice!", someone remarked at the unveiling which revealed Castroneves shrouded in a victory wreathe with a bottle of milk held high in proud triumph. The comment referred to fellow Brazilian Emerson Fittipaldi's refusal of the traditional swig of milk because he had a business interest in orange juice production in Brazil.
Among his remarks, Castroneves said he was happy to be so honored, happy to be the winner, and was "working hard to do it again." He was introduced by veteran speedway announcer, Tom Carnegie, who will be at the public address mike in 2002 for his 57th race.
Castroneves said his focus for this year's 500 will be more relaxed and less grueling than it was last year. In 2001 he had to prepare for both CART and IRL races stateside, then jump across the Pacific to race in Japan where he sat on the pole and finished second at Motegi.
"I left Motegi in my driving uniform, changed to civies in the car, flew 12 hours back to Indy, arrived here at 10:00 PM, and was seated in the Indy car at 9:00 AM the next day. I was emotionally and physically exhausted," he related.
This year he's on a more relaxed schedule. He tested at Indy Monday and Nazareth looms this weekend, a track he says he likes very much. When out of the cockpit he maintains a heavy personal appearance schedule in support of Team Penske sponsors.
The Indy 500 track has been smoothed, literally polished with huge rotary grinders to remove indentations left by heavy construction equipment. Castroneves said that from his testing, "it is so smooth, much smoother than last year." Grip is very good, especially with new tires. He was of the opinion that the effect of new tires will diminish somewhat as new rubber is burnished onto the surface.
Castroneves said he was somewhat surprised to be running in the 223 range right out of the box and looks to do 226's with relative ease. He forecast a pole of 229 and, with a blinking grin at the ceiling, 230 MPH is not beyond attainment.
Asked about Indy's promised soft walls, "they are great, any safety improvement is welcome, but you don't want to be the one to test them--a crash is a crash. They won't affect the way I drive the Indy track." The final decision on the walls will not come until next Thursday after additional tests in Nebraska, according to speedway operations chief Brian Barnhart.
The happy Brazilian volunteered that it was really different this year to return to Indy as Champion. "I like the pictures all over, the banners, etc. That's a great feeling!"