IRL: Helio Castroneves teleconference transcript

IRL Weekly Teleconference Feb. 24, 2004 With Helio Castroneves and Thiago Medeiros MODERATOR: We welcome Helio Castroneves, along with Menards Infiniti Pro Series driver Thiago Medeiros, to today's conference. Thiago will join us in the second...

IRL Weekly Teleconference
Feb. 24, 2004
With Helio Castroneves and Thiago Medeiros

MODERATOR: We welcome Helio Castroneves, along with Menards Infiniti Pro Series driver Thiago Medeiros, to today's conference. Thiago will join us in the second half hour of this call. We'll start today with Helio Castroneves. Driving his third full season in the IRL, Helio has finished near the top of the IndyCar® Series championship, finishing second in 2002 and third last year. Helio will no doubt be up front again in 2004 and was third quickest in the final IndyCar Series Open Test which took place earlier this month at Phoenix International Raceway. Helio, thank you for joining us today.

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Thank you for having me. I didn't know I had another Brazilian on the line, so we might speak in Portuguese now.

Q: As we get ready to open the season this week at Homestead-Miami, things look a lot different at that racetrack. Can you just talk a little bit about the new configuration at the track?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Oh, absolutely. Miami is always a very challenging racetrack. I believe with the new layout, having 20 degrees of banking in the corners, it's going to be exciting and extremely competitive for all of the drivers and teams. It's a racetrack that everybody-- at least, I enjoy it. I finished in the top three the last two years. This year, because of the new layout, I'm sure it's going to be more exciting than ever, and I'm sure, as well, it's going to be exciting at the finish line, and hopefully I'll be the one to be there.

Q: We talked a little bit in the opening part of this call, but you've been so close to winning the IndyCar Series championship these last two years; it's got to be a goal for you heading into 2004.

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Oh, absolutely. It's been extremely competitive. So this year, it's going to be a challenge, again, since we finished so close last year.

Q: You're a two-time winner at the Indy 500. What's more important to you, winning that race again and becoming just one of eight guys to win the 500 three times or to win that IndyCar Series championship?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: That's a good question. The Indy 500 is one of the most prestigious races that everybody would like to be fortunate to win. Obviously, I want to keep winning and keep doing my best over there. But as far as the championship, that's something that I'll always have in mind, and not only myself, but the entire Marlboro Team Penske. So this year I won't chose one, but I'll choose both of them, Indianapolis and the IndyCar Series championship. Trust me, I'm not selfish but it's something that I have wished for for a long time. We just have to keep working because we know it's not going to come easy. This team is very competitive. The IRL is very competitive. We need to keep working as hard as we can.

Q: During that preseason test that you did there at Homestead, how do you like the changes that were made to the track since the last time you were there?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, the banking is turning out much faster average speeds. We are going above 218 mph. I'm sure during the race weekend we might achieve 220 mph. So again, it's one of those things that is extremely fast, flat out, not very easy, and I'm sure it's going to be a similar race as Chicagoland and Kansas City. Everybody needs to be really cautious and really careful. Hopefully they'll look out on the inside and the outside because you're not only going to have one or two cars fighting for the lead, but, I believe, five to seven cars fighting for the lead. You just have to keep watching everyone.

Q: After coming so close to the championship in the past and every year that you don't get one, does the pressure keep building every year? Does it get to a point where you say, "I don't know how many more chances I'm going to be up here at this level getting so close to a championship," Is it getting to that point for you?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, I don't feel that kind of pressure. Actually, a lot of people are participating in the Indy 500 that never win. I don't think they feel pressure. Maybe disappointed might be the right answer. It's just part of the game. That's why motor racing is so exciting. You can't just give up because you didn't win. It's just part of the sport. So you have to look back, see what happened and try to fix it. That's why I'm always learning in my life. I try to learn from those things. Maybe it happened for a reason or maybe it wasn't supposed to be. So sure, I always try to be competitive. One day that wish will come true.

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about working with Sam (Hornish Jr.)? I know you and Gil (de Ferran) were very close. What's that been like in the off-season for you, and how are you guys gelling?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, everybody doesn't remember very well, but at the beginning of 2000, Gil and I were not buddies or friends because we were competitors. He was still competitive through the last race of the season last year. But I guess it's a relationship that depends if both want it to happen. Gil was from my country, and we spoke the same language and had the same culture. We were able to understand each other no problem. With Sam now, we fought two years on the championship and stuff like that. First of all, he's not on Team Penske because he's lucky. He's on Team Penske because he's talented, and he's a two-time champion. He definitely knows what he is doing. I guess with that, I have a lot to learn with him. He's fast and wants to win races. He does have a different personality than me. He's a little quieter. I guess that's his way. We all are trying to know him better, and I hear he's also trying to know the entire Marlboro Team Penske better. So I don't have any issue so far with him, and I do think that I have a lot to learn with him. Hopefully, the information that he got in the past might help the entire team.

Q: You obviously used to race in CART, but now you're with the IRL. Did you ever expect that this dispute between the two would go on this long?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: In my opinion, that obviously does not change whatever happened right now in my status of a race car driver. I don't think only myself, but a lot of people would like to have seen one strong, open-wheel series. And that's what I wish, and I don't know when, I don't know how, I don't know what kind of name, honestly. I just wish that one strong open-wheel series happens, and if it doesn't happen this year, I think time will tell. Tony George definitely did whatever he could do to make that happen. I don't wish anything to the other series, either. When the political thing comes a little bit aside, and we are just trying to make harmony much better, I'm sure it will benefit not only us, but the press, the public and the sponsorships, which we always need.

Q: Are you satisfied with what the league has done safety-wise, after Tony (Renna) and his tragic crash and Kenny Brack's crash at Texas?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Absolutely. They have been trying as best as they can to prevent any trouble. And again, everybody has to understand, motor racing is a dangerous sport. In fact, the safe wall (SAFER Barrier), everybody is always talking about it. The attitude that they have in taking the power down, even a little bit of downforce, is the right way to go. So I back them up 100 percent and hopefully, we won't have any problems in the years to come.

Q: As you look back, what are some things that you think need fixing?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: That's a good question. Again, maybe sometimes we go too fast too soon and that may cause some trouble. I guess all of the things that, unfortunately, weren't part of my driving, like mechanical issues. When you look at those things, you can't point, 'Oh, what happened or why this happened.' You just have to learn from that. So maybe, for example, at Chicago, we had a gearbox problem. We need to know why we had a gearbox problem. Is it because we are shifting during the race? Is it because of some kind of material that we picked up wrong? So those things, that's what I look back on and say, 'Oh, if you did have those points, we would not be in this spot right now.' Again, like I said, it's part of racing. How are you going to predict a thing like that would happen? So you just have to, not only myself, but everybody has to look back and try to fix those things and move forward.

Q: How much of what you do is emotional, compared to actual physical driving of the car. Do you have to be emotionally prepared for a championship run?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: I'm already prepared because as soon as I close my visor, climb the fence or jump around and have a great time. It's a little bit inside. That guy inside the helmet, it's the guy that wants to win, the guy that wants to cross all the barriers to make sure that he can go beyond the limits and try to finish where he wants. So winning the championship, it's a combination of putting all of those things together. Mostly we have to wait. Hopefully, it happens this year, and then you'll see if I want to cry, if I'm going to smile. A smile is always on my face. So it's just one of those things that you learn, when the situation happens.

Q: Can you pull Sam Hornish out of his shell, so to speak?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, my ex-teammate Gil de Ferran said, "If Helio cannot do it, I don't think anybody can do it." So let's put it this way: He's different, but he's a fun guy. Give me time. Give me a little time, and hopefully, he's going to turn out to be all right - which he already is.

Q: With the new changes in the cars and the engines, there has not been much testing with the rules this year, the way they have changed. Everybody seems to think a two-car team has got an advantage over a one-car team. But does a four-car team have a distinct advantage over a two-car team, or does it create other problems?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: No doubt about it, limited testing creates two issues, one good and one bad. The good thing is for the small teams that do not have the amount of funding or things like that. They will be able to be very close to bigger teams, although the rules already make that happen. The good thing for us is we want to keep testing and developing the cars and the setups. We just have to be happy with what we have. Getting back to the two-car team, yes, we'll help each other test, adjust different things on the car or find a faster setup. Four-car teams, it might be very good if they know how to manage. It can be very useful. In fact, I saw them doing a long run together, and it's very unique to have a four-car team running together, especially in practice. So the way that I see it, they get along very well. I do believe that if they know how to manage, they can be very tough. But on the other side, four-car teams, I think it's four times worse. If one thing goes wrong, it might affect all of them. It's just a matter of time, and hopefully, we're going to be able to be much better than them. We'll get out of there with much better results.

Q: I was wondering if sometimes it might create problems rather than help? @!HELIO CASTRONEVES: It's just a matter of timing. I guess this year we're going to have the answer.

Q: The last three years, the winner of the first race of the season went on to win the championship; how important is it to win the early races to get a good start?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Hopefully, I'm going to win this race and keep the tradition going. It is very important to get good points, the maximum points possible, right at the beginning of the season. Why? Because, we saw that in Homestead last year, (Scott Dixon) was able to achieve the lead and be consistent and never look back. Again, you at least dictate the pace. There is that saying, would you rather be the hunter or be the hunted? In those situations, I think right from the beginning, dictating the pace shows the potential that you have. Hopefully, we're going to be able to earn good points, maximum points for Homestead -- Homestead, Phoenix and Japan. And again, you have to remember, you're going to have the 3.0-liter motor after Japan, so you start all over, and if you can get good points in the first three races, that might dictate the champion.

Q: Preparing for Indianapolis with a car of a different engine capacity, will it be like starting over again at Indy?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: I believe so. Not on the mechanical setup, but the engine manufacturer is going to have a lot of work. And for us you're approaching the corners around 10 mph slower. That makes a big effect, especially on aerodynamics. So it is starting from zero, but again, you have a whole month to make that car look good and go fast. I guess that's why Indy is going to turn out to be a good way to start a new rule.

Q: Let me ask you a fairly serious question here. The history of superteams in IndyCar Series racing has not been great, and what you have now, two guys that potentially could win both the Indy 500 and the championship, how do you avoid that kind of problem?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, I guess it's the way you put the puzzles pieces in the right places. In my case, Marlboro Team Penske, it's difficult for me to tell, but obviously, the results will speak for themselves. So now having a new teammate, Sam Hornish Jr., and obviously, the other teams like Ganassi, with Scott (Dixon), the champion and the (Andretti) Green guys, with four cars, have a chance. It depends. I might play the favorite, because obviously, team players want to see the team win. If you have been playing with those guys, for sure, you're going to have a good car. With Team Penske and Gil de Ferran, we've always been very competitive and very tough. I guess that's the benefit. So, it depends. Hopefully in my case, we're going to be the guys to dictate the pace. But I know we're going to have to work extremely hard, because my friends, it's not easy at all.

Q: The two of you have been fighting each other tooth and nail on the racetrack. I assume you've put some of that aside. What have you learned from each other that maybe could help with that, pushing you ahead of everybody else?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, obviously, I still need help. We've only had a few tests, probably three or four, and after that, we have the race weekend together. I think we're going to learn. We're going to understand. It's just a matter of time, but we all know that he's very fast. I guess this year, I'm going to have -- I'll be the one going outside, outside.

MODERATOR: Thank you, Helio, for joining us today. We appreciate it, and we'll see you in a couple of days down in Miami.


Thiago Medeiros teleconference transcript


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Series IndyCar
Teams Team Penske