CHAMPCAR/CART: Interview with Helio Castro-Neves

RON RICHARDS: The guest we have today is one of our bright young drivers in our series. This is his third team in his three champ car seasons. Last race at Long Beach he finished second for the third time in his 41 starts that he's had...

RON RICHARDS: The guest we have today is one of our bright young drivers in our series. This is his third team in his three champ car seasons. Last race at Long Beach he finished second for the third time in his 41 starts that he's had in champ car racing. He's finished second also at Gateway and Milwaukee. He won the pole for our Milwaukee race last year. In two previous races in Brazil, he started 11th both times and finished 25th and 23rd. He is 6th in our current point standings coming out of the two races we've had so far. He lives in Miami. He's a native of Brazil, and that's where he is today, and that's Helio Castro-Neves. Good afternoon.

HELIO CASTRO-NEVES: Good afternoon.

Q. Welcome to our group today, and I'll start it off, I just wanted to ask you quickly, you know, this is, as we said, is a home race for, and you what does it mean for you to be able to go back and race with everybody in Brazil?

HELIO CASTRO-NEVES: It actually means a lot for me, not only because I started racing here, but also because all my friends, family and everybody has the opportunity to watch live and actually watch very close what I've been doing since I started the sport. And it was always my dream and so far, like I said my dream come true and they have the opportunity to see that. And, of course, it's for the fans, for the Brazilian fans, it's great as well, because you know that we can count -- normally in the soccer here, they say they are the extra player when they start cheering and help the team to win the games. So I hope they are going to be extra driver as well helping to see if we can be successful here.

Q. Helio, this track, it represents -- it's kind of unique because it's called a "roval," and could you describe a lap around the track, where you have to brake and accelerate etc., Etc.?

HELIO CASTRO-NEVES: No problem. It's a very tough circuit because you have two long straightaway, we call like one, two, three, four turns, but only basically two turns. It's like apart, and it means one and four, and both turns are made in third gear, which is very fast, but it's slow for the ovals and you have two long straightaways, which is very, very tough because it's a little bumpy as well, and also on the braking point, it's a little bumpy but when you imagine you go 200, 210 miles an hour going to this braking point, because of the long straightaway you have to have very low downforce to make sure you don't have much drag and go fast on the straightaway. But as soon as your braking point for both turns and downshift to third gear, makes it very hard to stop the car and also unstable because of the bumps, and also because you have a very low downforce. So it's a tough track, but I believe a lot of people have the opportunity to overtake because of the two long straightaways. And I'm sure it's going to be very exciting this year. Everybody been working a lot on the circuit and also we have the unique thing about the safety issue, which means the tire walls on both turns, which I said one and four; so, basically, it's safe for the drivers and also safe because of the equipment. But that does not mean the driver can take a chance at the turn, but it's a great circuit and it's tough, but it will be good.

Q. When you're setting up the car, what do you go back to your engineers and tell them about how to set up the car or how you're feeling while you're running the Rio course?

HELIO CASTRO-NEVES: Basically, everybody knows the course track practice is going to start Friday, but we started with a different setup. We kind of look on the past on when we started racing there and see what's the difference made and what's tricky this year, because we have a new wing, which is going to make it a little different for the setup we're going to make. But basically the suspension, the mechanical setup we start a little bit the safe, and of course when you start practicing Friday and Saturday, you're going to adjust situation that the track will be or hot or cold or a lot of sand because normally Rio on the beach are around -- a lot of sand around the track; so makes it slippery. So we're going to start with the basic setup on the suspension, the mechanical, which the previous years that Marlboro Team Penske has been using, even though it's a different chassis, we still take the information of the -- the information that the team has. So we're going to be okay. I'm sure it's going to be a very fast -- during the practice, like I said. The main two straightaway will be very important point to be fast because it's very long, and if you be fast there, you're going to kill a lot of time. But also you have to stop well to make the turns, and so you have to have a very well-balanced -- it's going to be tough, because this year, as everybody knows are so competitive. And anything, if the car is good on the braking point, the car is good over the bumps, which it looks like not much difference, but will be any key, any little small thing will be important for this racetrack.

Q. Do you think this year you're going to be able to turn around your record at Rio and finish up front?

HELIO CASTRO-NEVES: That's a very good question. I hope so. I'm really looking forward to give a great -- a great result, a very positive thing like we did in Long Beach last week, but, you know, winning is outside of our control. We might win the race, we might finish well, we don't know. One thing I know: Marlboro Team Penske is going to put our best effort to achieve this goal.

Q. Couple of questions, Helio. First of all, there's a number of Brazilian drivers in this series. How do the local fans rate you guys? Who is the number one hero, you?

HELIO CASTRO-NEVES: (Laughs), well, I don't feel being the number one. I think the guy who wins the race be number one from now on actually. But you're right, it's a lot of Brazilian drivers around the circuit and the series. And so far, everything is all right. I feel that because Brazil, I believe it's five or four years already the series around and the TV and the local sports and the press, but actually it's a little tough because people still do not understand sometimes about ovals or sometimes about the yellow flags and things. But the public and the fan, each time we go over there it's growing. Last year it was great. And I remember the first year that was in '96, actually, my first year, Andre won the race and it was beautiful. Everybody was really into -- and it's still Andre today, people think that he is still racing on the series, and that's why, because it's such a glamorous race here and it's special for us like you said, the Brazilians. So I don't see any favorite driver, for the fans of course, everybody has their favorite ones. Sau Paulo they are looking for Christian, myself, that we've been living there, Tony, like different place like Brasilia (ph), looking for him and Cristiano from the other states. So it's funny, but that's what is nice about this sport, because everybody is at least looking for and trying to be there. Especially this year, we're going to have a holiday after the race, so I believe it's going to be packed, and I hope, because it's going to be fun.

Q. There's been a rumor or report that you and Emerson (Fittipaldi) are at odds and he's sued you. Is there any truth to this?

HELIO CASTRO-NEVES: Well, this is internal aspect in business stuff but we took care of it. I definitely admire Emerson as a driver. He was great not only for me, but actually for all the Brazilian drivers. He not only opened the doors in the champ car, but also Formula 1, and also he's an idol here. But these things, it's a kind of a personal conversation, and I'm sure he -- one day everything will be resolved.

Q. Is there a lawsuit in the works or anything like that or is it just, as you say, an internal dispute between the two of you?

HELIO CASTRO-NEVES: Well, we decide that everything so far being in -- taking care of course, lawyers, there's been everything around, rumors of lawsuits. But I tell you the good thing is the race is going to happen which is a good thing for us. Everybody is very excited, the Brazilians are very excited, and also myself, and so I hope everything will be okay especially after the race.

T.E. McHALE: Just to amplify a point about the number of Brazilian drivers in the series, there are nine on the entry list for this weekend. They are Tony Kanaan, Christian Fittipaldi, Roberto Moreno, Mauricio Gugelmin, Luiz Garcia, Jr., Gualter Salles and Cristiano da Matta. So it's a wide group of Brazilians representing us in the series. Brazil leads the Nations Cup competition at this point in the 36 to 34 over Canada.

Q. Talk about the season thus far and just for the pure fact of what it's been like driving for Roger Penske?

HELIO CASTRO-NEVES: Well, actually it's not very tough to describe that, and everybody can see when I go out there and have a smile on my face. It's been great. It's been an honor and since I was a kid, I was dreaming to have the Marlboro colors and matching with my helmet and everything. And today, this dream come true and I'm really happy about it. But, of course, we're already past the phase that everything is set and everything is signed and I'm racing for Roger. From now on, I have to work twice as hard as I've been working, not because it's a great team, but also it's because everybody wants to win and everybody wants to really get a great result, and that's why I'm on the team and so it's been great. I've been learning a lot. You don't imagine how much I'm been learning every time I go out on the track, every time I talk with them I'm learning something different. So that's what is good about. I have great people around me, Tim Cindric, which has joined the team as well, also Roger, and also my teammates, which is great for me. Sometimes they talk bad things about us because we're speaking Portuguese and nobody understands us, but that's great. It's been a very good relationship, like a family. And also learning with the king of ovals, which is Rick Mears. So honestly, it's been great. It's been very, very good. But I tell you, I'm working really, really hard to learn everything, not only with that, equipment is different, like Honda, Reynard, Firestone. So actually, to make a long story short one, it's been great.

Q. And standing on the podium at Long Beach and looking over there and seeing the top step with Paul Tracy on it, did you dream a little bit on Sunday a week ago?

HELIO CASTRO-NEVES: Well, I'm always actually when I go down there to the racetrack. It doesn't matter where, I'm always putting my best effort and my 100% with Marlboro Team Penske for three years. And I tell you, I'm going to put my best effort, my best 100% to go there and go for it. Of course, when I go down there, like I said, winning, you never know who is going to win because it's outside of our control. But all of the sudden when I have the chance and I know that I can do it, that's when I said, "Oh, my goodness, I'm going to win this race, I'm going to win this race." But, because of the situation that I was racing there, I have to save a lot of fuel, a lot of fuel, and I have to thank Tim Cindric and also (inaudible), working with me because they gave me all the information that I need to save enough fuel to finish the race. And not only that, I have also Jimmy Vasser all over me. So if you guys watch the race, it was like crazy because I have to save fuel, finish the race and also hold Jimmy Vasser because he's trying to overtake me. So it was a great race, and really enthusiastic for the results. Of course, bring more enthusiasm to come over here in my country and especially with good results. So let's see if we can repeat this result, or at least go one step ahead of it.

Q. I wonder if you could expand more on how driving the Honda has been this year compared to the Mercedes last year?

HELIO CASTRO-NEVES: Well, both are different engines, but, of course, the power, honestly, is not a big difference. I believe everybody, all of the sudden, like I said, in the series are so competitive, that the engines are very equal, the equipment and also the driving styles are very similar. So again, I felt the same thing end of the straightaway, torque everything are pretty much the same. But very different definitely was the drivability, and also a lot of things that you can do on the engine to fit the driver. So that's why you can see different drivers, but also with Honda engine, doing well, because they can fit the engine for your style. So you can change a lot of things. And that's one thing that I'm learning, honestly. I see Gil running and I notice change a lot of things, the engine and I have never had this idea before, because with the Mercedes, just different things. So kind of -- it's a new experience for me, but it's great, because you start understanding more about it and you know how it can make the difference. All of the sudden, people think, oh, wow, hundreds of power. No, it's just a little small thing, but, of course, in the end makes a big thing.

Q. Racing at home, some drivers would just assume not race at home because of the extra -- extra time demands that they have put on them. How do you feel?

HELIO CASTRO-NEVES: Well, one thing that I qualify my driving style and actually, my favorite thing, people think, oh, you're nervous or do you like driving under pressure, I love it, because I believe I feel more confident in myself and I can go for it. Like last race, I was really focused, really, really focused. Whenever Jimmy was trying to pass me, I was making sure that everything was under control. And the same thing here. It's great because the fans that come over you and you see different people calling your name, you know, "come on, that was a great result," or "we've been rooting for you and everything is going to be okay." So, you know, it's great that everybody been calling you or calling your name or want on autograph especially from your country, and the nice thing also is younger drivers, go-cart, they still want to have -- I want to drive like Helio, it's great because one day, I remember I was like them as well. I was looking for Emerson. (Inaudible) Today they are looking at me. It's great, I like it a lot, racing over here, and I hope we give a great result.

Q. Going into your home race, obviously there's a whole lot of demands on your time. What kind of things have you been involved with PR-wise, etc., And have you had a lot of time for your family?

HELIO CASTRO-NEVES: Actually I got here Friday and I came over straight to my hometown, which is 150 miles from Sau Paulo which is where I'm at right now. The translate is called like Black Stream, and that's where my family are living. So I came over here and recharge my battery and I stay with them a little bit and with some friends, as well, to make sure that everything is under control. And it's press -- honestly, more local press, which is great. I really like it because they always supported me, especially when I was in a go-cart and today, I want to still give them the same treatment as I was racing go-cart because they help me to be where I'm at today. So it's been like funny and fun as well, but, of course, I'm leaving tonight already to go to Sau Paulo and have some meetings with some personal sponsors, and Thursday I'll be in Rio. So Marlboro has been very good. They always give me some work to do, and it's not going to be different here. So it's been a pleasure to work with them.

Q. Regarding the tire walls that you mentioned earlier, are these the tire walls that have conveyor belts and how are they different from last year?

HELIO CASTRO-NEVES: Well, they changed this year, what I heard from Mauricio Gugelmin, the chairman of EDA which is our association, they felt that they put like a very nice rubber protectant. They don't put on the tires only as everybody was afraid to make sure -- afraid to think that when an accident happened, it going to drag you by the tire and destroy the car. So everything is protected by a big rubber. I don't know how they call in English, but it's a like a little wall of rubber. And so that's going to be much better, and they attach actually very well. That's one of the nice things about this race, because, you know, that we go in very fast, but you know that we have safety at the end much the straightaway. So of course driver, because of that, takes a little bit of more chance, but it's great. It's just for us good and make spectacular and the show much better.

Q. Are yours and Gil's setups pretty much the same or do they differ and how is it having a partner this year?

HELIO CASTRO-NEVES: Well, we've been working together since I join Marlboro Team Penske. And the good thing about it, we have a very similar driving style, actually more on the road circuit, and on the ovals a little bit different, especially because I was running LOLA last year. So I am kind of a little bit more aggressive. But we started basically very similar because we drive on driving the same style. And during the race weekend, different tracks make -- you have different habits, so basically, you start going to a different direction as well. So, for example, in Homestead we have the same setup and Long Beach we have a different setup. So it just depends on the opportunity when you are out there on the track and the opportunity when you are -- when you are different. So the good thing is, we have been working together and we share information a lot and both of us is going out all the time.

T.E. McHALE: Helio, thanks for being with us this afternoon. Best of luck in your hometown race -- or your homeland race, the Rio 200, and through the rest of the FedEx Championship Series season.

HELIO CASTRO-NEVES: Thank you very much and I appreciate that.

T.E. McHALE: Thanks to all of you who took the time to join us this afternoon, and we'll talk to you next week.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Gualter Salles , Jimmy Vasser , Roberto Moreno , Christian Fittipaldi , Paul Tracy , Tony Kanaan , Mauricio Gugelmin , Rick Mears , Roger Penske , Cristiano da Matta , Luiz Garcia Jr.
Teams Team Penske