CART Media Conference
April 10, 2001
T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon to everybody and welcome to the CART media teleconference. Thanks to all of you for being with us today. Our guest this afternoon is driver Helio Castroneves of Marlboro Team Penske who drove to his fourth career FedEx Championship Series victory in Sunday's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Good afternoon, Helio.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Good afternoon, everybody. It's definitely very nice and a pleasure to be with you guys.
T.E. McHALE: It's good to have you with us, as well. A little background on Helio. The driver of the No. 3 Marlboro Honda/Reynard was utterly dominant at Long Beach on Sunday, winning from the pole position and leading all 82 laps en route to the checkered flag. The victory was his first since last year at Laguna Seca when he also won from the pole and led 81 of 83 laps. Helio's other victories came last year at Detroit and Mid-Ohio. The pole he earned over the weekend was the fifth of his career, joining Milwaukee in 1999, Portland, Toronto and Laguna Seca last year. It was the 42nd FedEx Championship Series victory for a graduate of the Dayton Indy Lights Championship and the sixth in a row for a Honda powered driver on the streets of Long Beach. The 22 points Helio earned from wining from the pole and leading the most race laps moved him to third place in the championship with 27 points. Heading into the April 29th Firestone Firehawk 600 presented by Pioneer at Texas Motor Speedway, Christiano da Matta of Newman-Haas racing leads with 37 points, followed by Gil de Ferran, Helio's teammate, and the defending FedEx Championship Series champion with 30 points. The Firestone Firehawk 600 presented by Pioneer, round three of the FedEx Championship Series, will be telecast live on ESPN on Sunday, April 29th, beginning at 3 p.m. eastern time. We'll begin taking questions for Helio.
Q. Coming to Texas, I know there's been a lot of concern, I wanted to ask about preparation for that race and concerns?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: No doubt about it, I did a test there, and it's a very fast circuit. I think it's going to be a very exciting race, as well. It's going to be pretty much the same as Fontana, speed, with the exception that the track is smaller. I think it's going to be like a big pack of a lot of cars running together. The only concern is the drivers have to watch the mirrors because as soon as you get off the banking, you going (inaudible) in the straightaway front, so you make sure nobody is on your outside or on your inside because that might cause a little -- cause accident. I think everybody is aware and everybody knows. The only concern is everybody is watching the mirrors.
Q. When you come in, while you've tested, there's a lot of people that have not. What do you think testing will be like on Friday or practice?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I'm sure everybody is going to start Friday and Saturday doing the best that they can to set up the car, make sure that the car going fast. I think it's going to be the same as normal weekend. Just a matter of who is find the setup first than the other one. My car, I run pretty fast over there. I'm feeling very strong. I'm sure it's going to be a great exciting race for everybody.
Q. (Inaudible) you had a road race. Going into four ovals, roads, does that help when you get ready to go into a stretch of four?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: That's why it's important in this championship to be consistent. Last year I didn't have -- I believe I have only 10 or 12 points on the ovals overall. All my rest of the points on the road course or street circuit. That's why I'm going to go for it, yes. That's why it turns more competitive this series because some drivers go much better on the ovals, some drivers like street circuits, whatever. In our situation, we going to make sure that we have a consistent car running in the front or at least running to the points because that's what it's going to take.
Q. All four of your victories have come on street or road courses. I wondered if you preferred those in some way to oval tracks? I wondered, since have you two wins each on permanent road courses as well as concrete canyon, if you had a preference for one of those or the other?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Basically it's not that I prefer or something like that. I try actually in '99, when I start from the pole, make the same thing what I did on the road course. Unfortunately, we have a mechanical failure. It's more I think on the ovals, it's much more competitive, you know. Everybody on the traffic, the guy maybe start way in the back, he can work his way up of doing traffic and everything. It's just depend the way you set up your car for the race. You know what I'm saying? I think for Texas, the rest of the ovals, we have a fast car. We just going to make sure that we prepare better for overtaking, all those kind of thing. I don't have basically a type of track. Give me the car, I'll sit down and go for it. That's my philosophy (laughter).
Q. You certainly did something on Sunday that very few drivers have done in that kind of a dominating situation. Many will say that you're probably on the best team in CART right now. You have your name mentioned in several places as being the championship contender this year. Obviously, you and your teammate. Is there someone you talk to, a mentor that you have, that you can sit down and put it all in perspective with, someone that can keep your head on straight, that you don't become all of a sudden like, "I'm the king of the world"?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, definitely the guy upstairs, Lord, make sure that I keep my head small. Not only him, but my family, as well. My sister, my mom and dad, they make sure that I keep my head smaller enough to put in my helmet, you know (laughter). I don't want to say somebody come to me and say do this and that. I think experience give you this guide and this way towards the victory line or something like that. Sometimes you have an opportunity. Sometimes you going to learn different opportunities. That's what I'm saying. I mean, I got great opportunity starting from the pole. I knew if I keep running consistent, I'm sure to be able to bring home. Of course, the yellow flag came at the right moment. Everything you have to be confidence. My team, oh, they did a fantastic job in the pits. This is very important. It's a team effort. Everybody have to work together. Definitely if I'm starting from the pole position, unless the car breaks, you might have to bet your money on me. I don't want to sound cocky, but I'm just saying, you just have to know how -- when I learned that last year, winning race, that was great you know. This year it's going to be the same thing. Like I said, can you never count with outside of your control. The engine might failure, tire, whatever. Something might failure. But what's on my control, that situation, it's very difficult to make a mistake. I'm glad I achieved that point. I'm not saying I learn everything. I still have a lot to learn. This series, wow, every race you learn something different. I'm glad I have this mind and this way to thinking. If you say you learn everything, you going to be in the back of the pack.
Q. What are you doing for the next three weeks?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, so far I'm doing this photo shoot for Marlboro here in Fontana. Friday and Saturday I'm going to Indy, test two days over there. I guess I will have only one week off. I don't know. Work out a lot. Make sure I'm in shape for the next race in Texas.
Q. It seems to me like this no testing kind of ruins the rhythm of racing for you guys. Do you find it that way or does it help you to take care of sponsor obligations?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: In terms of -- yes, I think if you look at that way, break the rhythm, no doubt about. You have to see also the small teams, when they no have the budget, they have to go like the same way (laughter). I believe it just a matter of you sit down and take a few laps on the track. I think you be comfortable again. But I think maybe it's a good system for the small teams. I was joking the other day. Now I'm one of the best team, and they used to test a lot. Now they cut off the testing. I'm like, man, I'm here (laughter). I think this is just a -- it doesn't matter. It's just the way you have to be concern. Even that we not testing, the team is still working on the car, making sure that everything going to be ready for next race. That's it. That's the way it happen.
Q. Going into Texas, you've tested there. Can you give us a lap of the track?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I will say holy macaroni (laughter). It's really, really fast. Yes, I'll definitely do that. Going to turn one, the feeling is exactly the same as you going to the end of straightaway of Fontana or Michigan. You know, very fast, the turns approaching. When you actually reach turn one and two, wow, the G's are strongly. It's amazing, the car doesn't move at all. Anything doesn't move at all. You just no make sure you going to go flat or not (laughter). It's a very fast corner. Back straight, it's no problem. It's shorter than Fontana, of course. But, again, approaching to the turn three and four, same way. The only little issue which everybody have to take care of it, it's when you get off the turn four because the banking, it's like really dramatic change. If people not looking at the mirror, it's going to touch wheel to wheel. You don't want that thing happen, especially in that kind of speed above 220. Also the two (inaudible) on the front straightaway, which is flat easy. But again, turns to be excited because you have to move your line. If you have two cars, one in low line, the other one the high line, you have to make sure that the guys do a good job and keep the line, otherwise.... It's going to be a close race. I'm sure it's going to be great, spectacular. Like I said, everybody have to pay attention to everyone and take care of each other.
Q. You're testing at Indy. Is there anything that you can translate as far as keeping your reaction times up when you're testing an IRL car, getting back into a Champ car at Texas?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, I tell you, we did the race in Phoenix. We race in Long Beach. Once you got going, the hard, difficult times was the beginning when you didn't know the car, when you don't have your seat, when you don't have your headrest, steering wheel. You know, that type of thing kind of disturbing a little bit because you not comfortable enough. Once you got everything sorted out, it's pretty much just change cars. Takes two or three laps to adapt for the speed and the way shifting gears and everything. Then that's it. You back in the game. Of course, we cannot forget to mention that Indy is a fantastic feeling that I think anybody, not even a driver, but anybody, would like to drive, (inaudible) win, but drive. I would feel special winning that race. It's very, very difficult over there. One, two, three, four corners are completely different. Thank God we have Rick Mears on our side. I have much more respect on that guy, especially winning four times. He is great. I mean, anything he sees over there, it's like God saying about that track, you know (laughter).
Q. At Texas, have you tried running any of the high line around there or is that just a little too steeply banked to run on?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: No, actually I did. It was great. Worked fantastic, like Fontana and Michigan for me. Was pretty much that was one of my concern. When I got there, I was able to run that line. It was great. I was really happy I was able to do that.
Q. Did you get any feedback from your engineers on how much lateral G force or downward G force you were pulling in those corners?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I think we were about 4 G's, 3.9 or something. It's about 4 G's. You can feel your left leg going to above your right leg. You have to keep hold everything, drizzling from your mouth (laughter). You can feel it. Running by itself, it's great, great fun. I didn't have a chance to run like in a race, like four or five cars together. I don't think it's going to be as fast as in the practicing time. Probably speeds going to drop for five miles an hour. It's going to be fast. It's going to be great.
Q. Do you find the HANS on an oval like that helps you with your side head support?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, the way that I drive, the HANS doesn't affect in terms of supporting or something like that. In fact, if you say that it helps, I believe so. I had a crash here at Fontana 247 miles an hour. I didn't get out walking just to make sure we are fine. Next day I was walking with just a stiff neck. Definitely a little sore muscle I was having. Definitely helps a lot. Today I'm here to tell you guys what happened. I believe everybody should use at least on the oval.
Q. Are you going home to Brazil during the break?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: No. I don't think I'll go home. I'm going to go to Miami, make sure I work out hard and keep ready for Texas.
Q. Keep some laps on the go-kart track?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: That's the thing, make sure I not going to hurt myself (laughter).
Q. Was this almost a perfect weekend for you?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I don't think I could ask for better. I mean, start from pole position, led all the laps, fastest lap, finish first. Definitely was a perfect weekend. But wasn't like Friday we were right there. No, no, no. I knew how I have to do some work. I knew we had very good car since the testing times. Unfortunately, Monterrey, we had a broke gear, fourth gear. I couldn't be able to finish higher than 8th. I knew if nothing happened here, we would have -- we would do a good job. I'm glad that the team did a fantastic job. Was a great weekend for Marlboro Team Penske. I'm very optimistic and happy what happen. I know it's going to be a lot harder, people going to get much tougher. It's just the beginning.
Q. I'm checking to see how the tradition of jumping on the fence started?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, my first win was in Detroit last year. I was very much happy about it. I think everybody saw that I was almost getting out of the car, they saw how excited I was. I was like going to the pits, supposed to stop on the pits. I think I made a mistake, stop at the track. When I look to the left, the crowd, they were just went wild. I said, "You know what, I'm going to share this feeling happiness with them." I jump out of the car, grab the fence. I tell you, was a great feeling. Even if the guys wasn't cheering for you, all of a sudden they look, "I can't believe that guy doing that." Turns to be a great way to express my feelings and to express my emotion and happiness. Everybody have emotion, even the people that just win a race and raise their hands. You know they have emotion when the car breaks, throwing steering wheel out, kicking the helmet, whatever, saying bad things. I just expressed my emotion differently. I just expressed the happiness, which I think nice for everybody see instead of see the angry part. When I did it once, why not do it twice? We keep doing that. I think it's a nice way to compensate the fans and sharing a little bit the feeling how happy I was.
Q. Did you catch your crew off guard when you jumped into their arms?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I tell you what, these guys, they are doing a fantastic job. Every crew member, of course I'm in a situation with Marlboro Team Penske, the guy that these guys doing, they work very hard. I mean, towards the end of the night, wake up very early. Make sure that the car (inaudible) tires very well, make sure the car running well. It's just a great satisfaction to celebrate a victory with your team buddies. They are part of your team. I mean, if they don't do a good pit stop, I mean, nothing you can do running well during the racetrack. I'm glad I have a great relationship with my guys. I'm going to keep working hard to keep doing that.
Q. I have to ask a question about the fence situation. When I talked to you Sunday morning, you said you were not going to climb the fence. I asked if you had one picked out. Did someone suggest to you that you shouldn't do that?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, there is in the rule book this year that if you don't stop on the marks, they say you going to get fined. I said, "Okay, I don't want to cause any trouble." But when the team said, "No, no, no, you keep doing that." I said, "Okay, I have no problem with that." It's just a great feeling, you know. That's my way, I mean, to show people how happy. It's so hard to be on the race team. It's so hard to be in the CART series. When you finally get a chance, it's so hard to win a race, I mean, these people needs to know how tough is to win a race or how tough is to be there. This is just not happen like yesterday I decide to be a race car driver and jump in the car and that's it. No, it takes a long time. I mean, basically was my whole life. I think just me and my family know how hard what it was to be in the position that I'm in. I think that's why I express myself grabbing the fence and jumping. I feel very comfortable doing that because it gives the people and fans a way to express and share a little bit of the happiness.
Q. I have a second question. I want to add to what you say that I'm all for you jumping the fence.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Thank you.
Q. Those of us in the media may be able to help sway somebody on the marketing side to recognize that it is a great opportunity for people to become aware of CART, will tune in to see if the crazy Brazilian will climb the fence. I hope you will continue to do it this year. My second question goes back to your involvement with the IRL race in Phoenix. I know in CART we have a rule that when someone is exiting the pits, their pit boss, they must not move over and block another driver. I actually saw this yesterday on a highlight. You were in the pit lane. Your pit boss was there. A driver pulled out of his pit box across one lane, but he had all four wheels over into the second lane where you were. I'm sure had you to slam on the brakes. I believe you said that they had discussed that in the drivers' meeting. Can you elaborate on what was said?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Fortunately, if that's what they said on the drivers' meeting, that's why they have two lanes, to make sure that the driver doesn't go all the way up. I think this is racing. You just have to keep going. Nothing you can do in the past. Sometimes drivers -- there are different drivers, the ones that are smart enough to slam on the brake and not make the crash. The other one just go for it and they don't care. I tried just to avoid an accident and make sure that I do the job on the track. That's the race condition. You just have to keep going, knowing your competitors. That's why we did the race in Phoenix so we know what we have to do.
Q. Last year you had a dominant team between you and Gil. Is that the same this year, do you think?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, Gil and I work great, at least that's my view. We make sure both cars running fast. I mean, we share some information. I mean, we don't hide anything. That's because we want to make sure -- I prefer him on my tail instead of other driver because we know that Roger will be upset if both cars taking each other. We don't want to say Roger's face angry (laughter). Basically we just trying, like we did Laguna, Mid-Ohio, Portland. I think that's the way it works well for whole team. We don't have a specific number one. Well, we have a number one and a number three (laughter). It's just a number. The way that plays out is a situation on the championship. Last year he had a better opportunity, a better finish. I had a lot of, unfortunately, problems with whatever happen, you know. I will be very happy he and I battle each other. That will create a much more excitement to the fans and in our team than different drivers.
Q. Maybe we'll see Spider Man climb a fence in Texas.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I need to do one in oval.
T.E. McHALE: We will wrap it up for the afternoon. Thank you, Helio Castroneves, of Marlboro Team Penske. Congratulations on your victory. Best of luck in the Firestone Firehawk 600 presented by Pioneer at Texas Motor Speedway on April 29th.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Thank you.
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