87th Indianapolis 500-Mile Race May 25, 2003, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Second-place Press Conference Transcript Helio Castroneves MODERATOR: No driver has won two times in the first two starts. We look at the history of this place....
87th Indianapolis 500-Mile Race
May 25, 2003, Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Second-place Press Conference Transcript Helio Castroneves
MODERATOR: No driver has won two times in the first two starts. We look at the history of this place. There's drivers like Bill Holland, Rex Mays, Ted Horn even Roberto Guerrero, in their first three or four 500s posted an incredible record at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But a first, first and second is just totally remarkable. Helio, I think one of the things I said to one of the reporters in the audience was that when I talked to you earlier in the month, you said: 'What pressure? I am going to enjoy this ride as long as it takes me.' Obviously, I want to know about your emotions now. You have never experienced not winning this event. Talk about your day and your feelings now.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I never experienced -- I am not enjoying it at all -- no, I will take that back. This whole month of May, it has been incredible. Starting from the pole position, support from the fans, support from you guys, from the press, you know, that was just -- it's just outstanding. You can't compare those situations like that. Well, today was obviously a little bit about disappointment in my emotion, but I guess this is part of the game. The good news is my teammates, so at least it's part of the team. The team is the one that is winning, and I guess everybody in the shop is going to be extremely happy, you know, so that's well worth it. Our relationship between myself, between Gil, and the whole entire team, it's extremely fantastic. The group is very unique. The group is very tight, you know, and I guess we -- Those situations and circumstances, you just have to be happy and accept -- I accept it extremely well. It was a phenomenal race. My car was very, very good. I was just taking it easy, and unfortunately, I took it too easy and one of the back markers kind of got in the way. Hey, you can't slip at all in this place. And this place always gives you a surprise. Well, I am happy with second. Now we need to think about the championship and keep working.
Q: Helio, can you maybe expand on the question I asked earlier about Tony. In walking around the garage area this month, did you ever notice Gil in any pain whatsoever? The second part: that back marker, who was that and did you think that that was going to be the move that was going to win for Gil?
CASTRONEVES: Well, obviously, I have been watching Gil (inaudible). We all went to his home to see if he was OK because every time we kept calling saying, 'You are going to practice next session?' He said: 'No. I am still feeling bad; my back hurts.' He just wants to stay home. I got that. So his back is really, really good. But no, it's awesome to be -- We just play around with each other, and he seems to be very healthy, and as you can see out there, no doubt about it, he's doing very well. The back markers, I believe, was A.J. I did the same exact move in Turn 2, and it was a very close call. So I decided to not take more chances like that because I didn't want anything bad to happen. So the same way we did, it looks like he was going to, and then he stops in the middle, and then you are like in those situations. I had to push the brakes and downshift to fourth. When you do those things here, man, that's it. The whole train passing by and, obviously, Gil passed. Even if the gap was big, he was catching very fast and momentum was going, so that was the move of the race. But, again, I was trying, trying, but unfortunately it was very difficult to make a move.
Q: Helio, I wonder if you understand the tremendous positive impact that you are having on Formula Indy Racing, as it's called in Brazil, because everywhere I go, little children especially, and the women who are being attracted to Formula Indy because of your behavior, your conduct, your openness, graciousness. I am wondering if you are aware of that impact and whether you make an effort to fulfill it?
CASTRONEVES: Not as much as here in America, especially here in Indianapolis. I mean, the support of the fans was incredible. Every day on the track, everybody was always nice and asking for autographs, wanting to take pictures, and I enjoy those kinds of things. As you guys saw, I was trying to be in the whole place at the same time to make sure that we can make it even better. This race is incredible. It's not me, but it's been the tradition, and the American people basically are doing those things because you guys kept such a live tradition, since 1911, and all of a sudden this race turns out to be just incredible. You can ask every driver which race he wants to win, and, obviously, it is this place here, this race. It is incredible. Unfortunately Brazilian people, I don't think they do know how big this is, how incredible this place is, so unless whole Brazil would come over here, but I don't think they will keep having the support of the American people.
Q: Think back to the final six-lap shootout. How hard were you trying to catch your teammate?
CASTRONEVES: Well, hard enough. I was to touch the cars and make the front stay right there. Unfortunately, under those circumstances because you have dirty air in front of you, you try to avoid and try -- it's difficult. Extremely difficult. Problem was, I don't think was just that, I was able to keep really, really close, but he was just flat out. So unless some back marker or something like that happens, that was the only chance I would have. And because of the yellow flags keep coming, I remember he took the lead around 30 laps to go, and the yellows just keep coming keep coming, keep coming, basically nothing that I could do. I wouldn't do a stupid move to not only myself but to him as well, which that's the first order. If there is an order in our team, it's that, not hit each other, and I didn't want to do that for sure. Again, there is nothing. I could try everything and well, today was his day.
Q: Do you think the thing that kind of sets Roger Penske in this event apart is the fact that you had a chance to make history, but he's going to let you guys fight it out amongst yourselves? Last September there was a race here that had a manipulated finish. Talk a little about that.
CASTRONEVES: Roger is, as you know, he has a remarkable record here in Indianapolis, and everybody knows him as the fair game at least since I joined Team Penske, I have no trouble in terms of that. And again, yes, if your team is doing much better than you in terms of like, he's 100 points ahead of you there is no interesting, you know -- you are making one point or two points difference. So basically we are trying to play fair, and basically it has been working very good, especially last year, we were fighting for the championship until the last races, and we didn't have any trouble in terms of that. They are phenomenal people, and they are very competitive out there. They are so competitive, and in terms of the way that sometimes they are asking each other what lap they are going to pit. They are like, well, tell me first. Stuff like that. But this is just the way it is. It was extremely fair way, and that's why both cars always in the top.
Q: Gil has won championships, but for this month there has been press conferences here where he was overshadowed, and the attention was on you, even one-on-one gatherings after the press conference. Put that in perspective, if you would, just what it means from your observation and he was in tears after the race?
CASTRONEVES: Yeah, I saw that. Normally it is not Gil to come out like that did, him getting sensitive. I hope he will slow down now. (Laughter). But it is very good. Gil is a great person. People sometimes didn't have the same judgment that I do because that face or stuff like I am the professor or the way he speaks, obviously, he's not the same -- we do not have the same personality, but when you wind him up, oh, man, I am telling you he can be worse than anybody here. So it is very nice he can show his emotions, and that's the way it should be. This is the place. If you want to win a race, this is the place. It is very difficult to hold your emotion when you go to the podium. I remember last year it's incredible to just keep holding, so, incredible -- it is very nice to have that, and I guess now I have to win the championship first to be right there.
Q: Was there any place on the track that you thought you could get Gil if it was going to happen, and talk about him on the restarts because he was consistent, all those yellows you talked about he just pulls you every time.
CASTRONEVES: Yes, for sure Turn 2. I was in a much better position. I was able to go flat out behind him, and I do believe because Turn 1 you have to slow down because of the angle and stuff like that, and the restart it's so difficult because he does have the same power as me. Obviously a different car, but I guess his gear ratios were a bit different, and I chose to be a little bit different because I knew what I need for the race. The only problem I believe was the yellow not coming up in the crashes that happened at the time of those yellows because that for sure slowed down the pace and basically the wear on the tires won't be so that bad. I mean, the fuel also in the tank basically kept remaining the same way. Stuff like that, but believe it or not, especially when it was like 30 laps to go, make a huge difference, I mean, 30 gallons to 10 gallons, and that's where my car was really kicking butt. So it was just -- I guess it played against me and in his favor today.
Q: Could you tell me the balancing act you had to do when you crossed that finish line because you are a guy who has experienced nothing but happiness and joy here and then to not experience that for the first time, and yet your teammate gets to, and can you just describe how difficult that was for you?
CASTRONEVES: Well, you have to understand second is not a bad place at all, but it's better than third. No doubt about matching the same experience that I had in two last years, and again I am very happy. I am much happier -- less upset that it is my teammate up there and not another person because, obviously, we finish one and two, for sure, the team is the one that got all the success.
Q: Can you talk a bit more on that theme of how much Gil wanted to win this race desperately. How much do you think he's deserves this victory, and how difficult do you think it will be to adjust now after two years as the Indy 500 champion and all the kudos that goes with that. How difficult will it be to not be the Indy 500 champion?
CASTRONEVES: I will answer the first question. No doubt about having an accident like in Phoenix, he broke his back and stuff like that. It is tough to come back, and especially in such a difficult track like this. No doubt about him, he deserves it. I don't know if he deserve it more than me, but he deserve it (laughs). And no, I guess, it's natural, you can't just say: 'Oh, OK, I didn't win the race. Oh, my world is going to go down.' No, I have to keep working hard. Races are races, and sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose. That's the fun part of this place. So now we have a lot of races coming toward us, so we just hope we keep continuing what we just did because it was just incredible, and I just hope to capture what I was looking for, the championship.
Q: Do you think if there hadn't been those late yellows you could have caught him?
CASTRONEVES: It's the same way if the yellow didn't come out last race or last year's race, if I would have finished or not. It's one of those deals that you don't know. For sure, I was extremely -- my car was extremely well balanced, and we were right there. So any mistake that would happen, for sure I would be (inaudible) -- I spoke with Gil, and he said: 'Man, I was flat out. I wasn't lifting for anything at all.' So actually I am glad that nothing more happened because we would probably be in a tough situation to go back to a place to look in Roger's face if something happened.
Q: You are one of several Brazilian drivers in this race. What is Brazil doing to develop such great drivers like yourself?
CASTRONEVES: Well, especially this generation. Let us put Gil a little ahead because he's older than us, let us put like myself, Tony, Felipe, (inaudible) all those drivers if I am not forgetting other ones. We started very early in go-karts like 11, 12, 16, 17 years old. We're already actually having experience with open-wheel cars so all those mistakes that you might have, crashing the cars or having hard time getting up to speed or experience like you are leading and all of a sudden you crash, we already passed those situations, and I guess because of that, when you got into a series like this, such a high speed and professional, you know, we adapt in a much better situation than people that does not have much experience. So I don't know, if that answers the question or not, I am not sure, but that's what I am thinking. And again it's the same way if I go to a NASCAR or like IROC racing I am having a hard time over there, still trying to find how Mark Martin is not able to find the draft and go for it. It's just incredible because my experience is not the same as open-wheel, so it's just a matter of you getting used to, and learn and then go for it.
MODERATOR: You have been a great champion at this event just in racing in general, we appreciate you taking the time.