RETURN TO COCKPIT BEGINS BUSY WEEKEND FOR CASTRONEVES
Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner tests IndyCar Series car at Homestead, then heads to Vegas as "Dancing With The Stars" cast supports Mayweather
HOMESTEAD, Fla., Thursday, Dec. 6, 2007 -- As members of the Team Penske crew bowed in mock homage, Helio Castroneves walked toward pit lane at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The two-time Indianapolis 500 winner and "Dancing with the Stars" champion had a playful, yet serious response:
"All right. It's time to get back to work," he said. With his every movement filmed by cameras -- from "Entertainment Tonight" to "Extra" to "Access Hollywood" to People magazine -- Castroneves climbed into the Honda-powered Dallara for an afternoon of testing on the 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway oval. It was the first time since winning the "Dancing with the Stars" title that he has been in a race car.
"I understand a lot about rhythm, and now I'm back to my world," the two-time Indianapolis 500 winner said. "It's nice to be around the music of the engine."
Castroneves drove teammate Ryan Briscoe's No. 6 car in the test, one of two allowed in the Fall testing window (Oct. 19-Dec. 22) established by the Indy Racing League, sanctioning body of the IndyCar Series.
Vision Racing's Ed Carpenter and Andretti Green Racing rookie Hideki Mutoh also participated in team testing. Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Dan Wheldon and AGR's Tony Kanaan were participating in a Firestone tire test on the high-banked oval.
"I followed him (on "Dancing with the Stars") mainly through the Internet because I was here and there," fellow Brazilian Kanaan said of Castroneves. "He did a great job, though some of his costumes I thought were kind of funny."
After the test, Castroneves will continue to move in fast circles. He will travel to Las Vegas to watch the welterweight title fight between Floyd Mayweather and Ricky Hatton and escort Mayweather to the ring. Castroneves will hold aloft Mayweather's World Boxing Council title belt during the ring walk for the MGM Grand Garden Arena crowd and HBO pay-per-view audience.
Castroneves, who also will attend the official weigh-in Dec. 7, will be joined in the boxing ring by "Dancing with the Stars" competitors Mark Cuban and Wayne Newton. Also attending the bout will be Mayweather's professional dance partner Karina Smirnoff.
"I had a few opportunities while (he and Mayweather) were on the show to get to know each other, but we were both busy," Castroneves said. "And he was busier because he was training for this fight and learning the dancing."
Castroneves is a longtime fan who has incorporated speed bag work and other boxing principles into his training regimen. He'll be attending his first live boxing match.
The next evening, Castroneves will host a party in Los Angeles for the "Dancing with the Stars" cast and crew. After he and professional dance partner Julianne Hough won the mirror ball trophy and the barrage of media interviews on the set, they were whisked to the airport for a red-eye flight to New York and more media appearances.
"It's great," said the two-time Indianapolis 500 champion, who is riding a wave of entertainment celebrity since the Nov. 27 victory on the top-rated ABC show. "It's time to celebrate because I didn't have time to say thanks to everyone, especially the cast. And it probably will be a goodbye because I won't see most of them for awhile. It will be great to be there and host this party."
The 2008 IndyCar Series season begins under the lights with the SpeedJam Indy 300 on March 29 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The 16-race schedule, one of the most diverse in all of motorsports, features races on 11 ovals, three permanent road courses and two temporary street circuits, all broadcast worldwide through a comprehensive, long-term agreement with ABC Sports/ ESPN. The 2008 Indy Pro Series season also begins on March 29 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The 16-race schedule, which features eight ovals and four road/street course doubleheader weekends, will be televised by ESPN2.