CHAMPCAR/CART: Helio Castroneves interview transcript, part II

Part II Given that Juan Montoya won the Indy 500 last year, what is the significance of your victory this year and of the CART drivers, you know, taking the top -- the CART teams, taking the top six positions in the race? Is there anything that...

Part II

Given that Juan Montoya won the Indy 500 last year, what is the significance of your victory this year and of the CART drivers, you know, taking the top -- the CART teams, taking the top six positions in the race? Is there anything that we can learn from this? Is there a trend here? What's this all about?

Helio Castroneves: I don't think we should put this way -- in terms of CART, IRL, NASCAR or Formula 1, or in particular, Indy 500. On that track -- it's that track. You know, everybody is Indy 500 driver. That's why, the way I consider it there. So nobody is there to be better than any other series. Everybody is trying to achieve one thing, which is win the race.

I think, of course, somehow the end of it -- me that puts like the way I finish, and the way everything started -- like for me, I race in Phoenix with the guys, and I race with these guys, most of them, in Indy Lights. So I have no problem with them and I have respect for most of these drivers.

Again, Indy 500 is just a special race, and that's why makes this track and this race special because all the drivers are together. It's not to make it different between drivers, but to make tougher in this racetrack. Four corners looks like the same, but they are not the same. They are very technical. They are very difficult. Still trying to figure out Turn 1, but I think I did a pretty good job on Sunday. So bottom line, there it's Indy 500 drivers and I'm glad to be the champ.

Do you think it is more appealing if it's almost an all-comers type of race?

Helio Castroneves: I think probably in the future, more and more people, it's going to start getting over and coming over to the racetrack like happened this year. We have, like you mentioned, different CART guys and NASCAR guys. I'm sure it's going to be on the future, even difficult, and all the time getting difficult, like it's always been. I hope -- I hope this happens, because it's just going to be a success.

How do you feel about Jeff Burton's team climbing the fence at Charlotte as a tribute to you?

Helio Castroneves: Well, I think it's nice. You know, it's a team sport. Motor racing is a team sport. I could not win without a race car, and even Jeff Burton could not win without his race car. I think I don't mind people go ahead and climb the fence. It's just a way to express the happiness of the team and of the driver, of course. I think it's nice. If they can do that, keep doing that. I'm just going to be together with everyone. I'm still going to climb the fence as much as I can as long as I'm winning.

When you came out to the grid, what were your thoughts when you saw those people, because I don't think you've ever been at a racetrack where it's been like that. Were you as overwhelmed as most everyone else is?

Helio Castroneves: Definitely, it was a great sensation. You know, I couldn't -- I could not express the emotion or the reaction, because I have ABC talking to me at that time and so I have to like, okay, I'm cool with this.

But it was fantastic. I still think that I heard the last laugh and I still think -- I'm not sure if I really heard, or if did was my imagination, the crowd cheering, the last laugh as I was crossing the checkered flag. And I was like, wow, I can't believe it. Starts to be a special race and I'm glad that I did all the job perfectly, you know. I was patient, I was aggressive, and I was precise when I had to be.

You did actually hear them cheer being cheering?

Helio Castroneves: I didn't watch the race yet, so I don't know if they were cheering.

Congratulations. That was a great race.

Helio Castroneves: It was a great race.

Are you planning on running anymore IRL races this year?

Helio Castroneves: Not that I know of. We did the preparation in Phoenix. We did the Indianapolis. I don't think Roger wants to focus in a different series. He wants to make sure that now we put 100% effort in the CART Championship.

And you've got a real serious fight on your hands, but you definitely are in contention for the Championship. What does that mean to you?

Helio Castroneves: I just want to make sure that -- what I didn't do right last year on the ovals be completely different this year. If you notice last year, I have only 15 points or 16 points. And this year, I already have more points than last year on the ovals. It's definitely improvement, and I understand if you don't have a car to finish first, then you have a car to finish 12th, you have to finish 12th. Two points in Nazareth today put me two points behind Kenny, and who knows, might be two points enough to clinch the Championship, I don't know.

That's why we have to keep working hard, and especially this weekend in Milwaukee and make sure that we keep doing the job that we are doing.

Talking about Milwaukee, describe the track. Give us a lap, if you can?

Helio Castroneves: Right. Right. Turn 1, it's a great -- one-mile oval. We don't have much banking. I don't think we have banking at all, but maybe it's a little. There is a little bump on the entry of Turn 1, and you basically have to be careful not to be aggressive on the throttle. You try to lift off on the beginning of the corner when you are going to turn through, which is kind of create a little apex, and you go really close to the curb. And exit, you have to be almost full throttle already. And going closer to the wall, and it's not long straightaway down the back straight, but it is enough to make some overtakes, and I think that's most of the place that people try to pass.

Turns 3 and 4, that's very high speed -- I mean, both are high speed but faster than Turn 1 and Turn 2. You try to carry more speed instead of entry or fast or slow. You just try to lift off just a little bit of the throttle and be constantly very careful on the throttle, because -- wind it up on exit on 4. So you never know how you are going to be on exit.

And then no banking at all. This definitely is pretty much flat. I believe it's one line, unless the car is really good, but with this configuration of wings, we are definitely going to have one line only.

Talk about the race for a little bit, because it started off pretty scary. The temperatures were cold. Reminded me of when I went there in 1992 what were your thoughts after the first 20 laps, seeing everything that transpired in front of you?

Helio Castroneves: Well, of course, that was a little weird for me, starting in a situation like three in the same row, and, as well, was really far away. I had to follow the guy inside me, and for me it, was like unusual. Normally, we really ride on the gear box of the other guy. When they start, I was like -- it was just so far away. I think -- it turns to be when you have a wreck or in front of you, just one car or a lot of people, I was able to avoid the accident.

Yes, a couple, beginning of the laps of the race, accidents, people spinning or trying to go to fast. I was just waiting. If fact I call my engineer, Andy and said, "Listen, is the temperature on the tire okay?"

"No, we didn't go fast enough yet." So we just trying to make sure that when we start, we are able to be careful. And my car was working very good after half a tank. On the full tank, wasn't the best, a lot of understeer, and that's what I think kept me with the patience, until I wait for the right moment to go for it.

I'm not sure if your crew chief is the same, if Rick was crewing you as well. How many changes and how much communication did it take to get the difference between your regular CART champ car and the car you were driving at Indy?

Helio Castroneves: Well, Rick, yes, he is still with me. He is still with Penske 17 years already. It was actually the same crew from CART was the same one that was changing my tires and doing exactly the fuel strategy and everything. I just changed cars.

On the speedway, especially at Indy, you don't feel much the downforce. It is pretty much a very -- you try to trim it out as much as you can. Because of a lack of power, you want -- any, like one inch of burning, you gain a lot of in speed. You lose a downforce, as well, but you gain much more in speed.

You just have to keep on full throttle. You have the momentum, carry momentum. You can have traffic because the power is not enough, and our car, sometimes it's very difficult because we have the turbo, and the turbo kicks in; you have the wheels spin and you've spun. In fact, this has happened to me at Nazareth this year. At least in that part, just have to find the momentum, be clever and keep going.

The last couple of guys to win the 500 have not been able to come back the next year and defend that. Do you know anything at this point? Do you expect to be back here next year?

Helio Castroneves:  Oh, yes.  So far, yes.  I don't know if I may
allowed to use a number 1 or not, but yes.  Right now, I'm going to be
focused on the CART series, and next year, we're going to go back.  Depend
on Roger.  Does not depend on me.

This field going into this race was sort of built as being one of the strongest in the 500 in the last 10, 15 years. Is there any more special satisfaction you get out of that are having really beat a very strong and deep field that everybody said as many as ten, 15 or more drivers had a chance to win it?

Helio Castroneves: Certainly create a better feeling. But I -- in our situation, champ cars is always very competitive, like ten drivers, 15 drivers has a chance to win the race, as well. I wasn't worried about that, and I'm not worried about that. I know it was really tough and I know oval is going to be really tough. Like I said, it's 500 miles, and during the race, about three hours and a half, of five, seven pit stops, anything could happen and you just have to be smart. I think I'm learning to be smart.

You're doing well with this MoJo

Helio Castroneves: Here we go. So far, we are doing great. You guys give me great support, so I have to thank you and keep let's keep going.

When you were growing up in Brazil and had dreams of becoming a race car driver, was Indy on the horizon, or was it something that came into your focus when you became a driver here in the United States?

Helio Castroneves: Well, when I start driving, of course, I was like -- it was the same focus in Brazil, going to Europe and try keep carrying on to Formula 1, and -- but I got a better opportunity. Went to America and we won Tasman in 1996. And in that situation, Indy, I know the situation with CART and IRL was already separate. So I never thought that we will go back. But I was watching, of course, because it was a very special race, and, of course, when Roger decided to go, I said, "Well, I guess we have to get prepared."

And I was prepared. We were prepared, every everyone on the team. Like I said, we did a lot of preparation, and last Sunday it paid off.

You mentioned about Turn 1. I've heard several drivers talk about going into Turn 1 is very different on race day than it is during practice when the stands are empty, and on race day there's hundreds of thousands of people there with colors and screaming. Did that have any impact on you when they dropped the green flag?

Helio Castroneves: I was 11th, and like I said, the space were so far away that -- a lot of dusty, as well. I don't know why, but a lot of dusty, as well. I could not see even the car in front of me. Just make sure that I would be able to go for Turn 1.

No, I didn't notice. I was expecting that maybe because a lot of people telling me that. I think I was already prepared, so I was able to do everything fine. And I think in the end, Turn 1 turns to be the best one what I was doing in the race, better than everyone, because 1 and 2, I remember I was able to save myself under attack and 3 and 4, everybody was pretty much equal. I think I understood the -- Turn 1 and I, we got in agreement, so we did okay later.

What did your folks in Brazil have to say when you called them?

Helio Castroneves: Well, my parents were there with me. They were really happy. They were on the podium, so that was an experience of a lifetime. I didn't have a chance much to talk with people in Brazil. The press in Brazil, I understand there was a very good coverage, and a lot of people was watching them, most of Brazil was watching. I heard that people were doing parties. I'm the one that won the race, but they are the one that gets to party, you know.

But I understand that everybody is really into this thing, and I'm glad. I'm going back -- I'm going after Milwaukee to Brazil, and a lot of people requesting and so I want to make sure that I do exactly what I was doing here in America. It's nice. It's a special feeling. It's great for us. A lot of Brazilian drivers, especially in the CART series, and I want to make sure I -- like many, many Brazilians inspire me to race, I want to make sure that I inspire a lot of kids, too.

Were you really taken aback when Roger at Indianapolis said that he would tell you to go to Formula 1 if you got a ride with either the gray or the red and white team?

Helio Castroneves: That was a surprise. I tell you, I just, of course, I'm young. I still have a lot of opportunity. But like I said, I want to make sure that I focus on my job here. I want to make sure that I accomplish my goals here, and I'm happy. You know, like Roger is probably the one that people if you want talk to me, probably people going to talk to him first anyway, because he is the one that one holding the contract to for me next year. But I don't care about that. I just want to make sure I keep on doing what I'm doing, working hard, because that's what it takes and keep winning races, because I'm always going to be happy.

T.E. McHale: We want to thank Helio Castroneves for making time in a very busy schedule to be with us today. Helio, congratulations again on a great weekend. Best of luck in Milwaukee this weekend and through the rest of the FedEx Championship Series season.

Helio Castroneves: Thank you very much, and I hope to talk to you guys soon.

-CART

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Jeff Burton , Helio Castroneves