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Castroneves opens up about emotional third Indy 500 win

Helio Castroneves has explained how his most recent Indy 500 win was so emotional after his tax evasion court case and learning he was going to be a father.

Castroneves opens up about emotional third Indy 500 win

In an interview with IndyCar’s Dave Furst on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum’s YouTube channel, the three-time Indy 500 winner talked about several events, including winning back to back in 2001 and 2002 – the latter amid controversy, the frustration of his near misses in 2003, ’14 and ’17, how daunting he found the Speedway in his first year there [2001] and his gratitude to Rick Mears, Team Penske’s four-time Indy winner who stayed on [and remains] driver advisor.

Castroneves also remarked on how excited he was to make this year’s about his part-time return to the sport with Meyer Shank Racing-Honda, for whom he will compete in six IndyCar events this year, including the 500.

“Mike [Shank, team co-owner] is a good friend, he gave me my first [Rolex] 24 hour opportunity back in 2007,” recalled the 45-year-old Brazilian. “We didn’t have the greatest experience because unfortunately the car had an issue, but it was introducing me to those kind of things, and we kept in touch since then.

“And now, we’re having this amazing opportunity with him, with Jim Meyer and with [teammate] Jack Harvey – someone who I can see has incredible potential. I guarantee you he’s going to be a race winner this year in the IndyCar Series.”

But Castroneves recalled, too, the waves of emotion in the build-up to the 2009 Indy win. After being acquitted of tax evasion charges in April, having missed the opening round of the season, he flew to the Grand Prix of Long Beach a day late, and two races later, he won the biggest race in the world for the third time.

“It was really rough,” said Castroneves of his time in court, “especially when you don’t understand what they’re talking about… Going through that was super difficult because you don’t know what’s going to happen to your life. And for me it was, ‘I’ve got to keep racing, this is my life, this is the air that I breathe, you can’t take that away from me.’

“Obviously when we got back to racing it was crazy, and when I got the pole position in 2009 – a lot of people don’t know this – that’s when Adriana [then girlfriend, now wife] said, ‘I’m pregnant’. I’m like, ‘Wait, wait, wait a minute. Yesterday you didn’t say anything, and today you’re pregnant? How come? I’m not quite following it.’

“But it was really cool because it was the beginning of something in my life, and when we crossed the finish line, this little movie passed through. I remember exactly everything. My car was good too – not as good as 2003, but very similar. I remember thinking it’s only if I screw this up that I’m not going to win.

“But we had some issues with the pitstops and ended up going to sixth, and I think the third-to-last pitstop, we jumped from sixth to second. Scott Dixon was leading the race and I remember at a restart I passed him, and I said, ‘I’m not gonna look back’ and then boom!

“I remember Ryan [Briscoe, teammate] was on a different strategy, and Tim Cindric was in my ear saying, ‘You’ve gotta save fuel. Gotta save fuel!’ And I’m like, ‘I’m not gonna save fuel because if there’s a yellow, he’s gonna be leading,’ … There was a big argument on the radio.

“But we ended up obviously in a position that I opened up a gap and it was Danica [Patrick] and [Dan] Wheldon that were fighting [for second] in the last restart and I’m kinda helping each one [with the tow] so that they’re fighting and I can get going and they don’t get my draft. And it worked – I opened up two or three seconds. And then it was a matter of just ‘OK, hit the white line, make sure you get through the corner, keep it going, keep it going.’

“And then when I crossed the finish line, there was this little movie going through my head. I can’t believe it. I kept thinking I wasn’t going to be here and now there’s Roger [Penske, team owner], Mike Szymanski from Philip Morris was there. I was just thanking them for getting the opportunity of my life back. It was absolutely a storybook end. It was great.

“So this is the [winner] ring that I use, and that I hope I replace by the end of May each year with a new one!”

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About this article

Series IndyCar
Drivers Helio Castroneves
Teams Team Penske , Meyer Shank Racing
Author David Malsher-Lopez
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