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CART Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  CART

CART Media Conference

Helio Castroneves
June 9, 1998


T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon to everybody. Welcome to the CART Media Teleconference. We would like to thank everyone for joining us today and a special welcome to our guest this afternoon: Driver Helio Castroneves of Bettenhausen Motorsports Team Alumax. Welcome, Helio, and thanks for taking the time to be with us this afternoon.

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Thank you very much. It is very nice to be participating in this and I am really happy. To be one of the guests.

T.E. McHALE: We will move this along with an intro: At present Helio, driver of the No. 16 Alumax Aluminum Reynard Mercedes is involved in the closest of all-points battles in the FedEx Championship Series, the Rookie-of-the-Year competition. Helio leads Tony Kanaan of the Tasman Motorsports Group, 29 to 27 heading into next weekend's Budweiser G.I. Joe's 200 presented by Texaco/Havoline at Portland International Raceway. Helio and Tony were teammates in Tasman's Indy Lights program in 1996 and 1997 and dominated Indy Lights competition last year as Tony won the Championship and Helio finished second. In his rookie FedEx Championship Series season, Helio, a protege of 1989 CART Champion Emerson Fittipaldi, has scored PPG Cup points in 5 of 8 starts including the past 3 in a row. His season has been highlighted by a runnerup effort two weeks ago at the Milwaukee mile and his other scoring finishes have included 7th at Gateway; 9th at Long Beach; 11th at Japan and 12th last week at Detroit. Helio heads to Portland ranked 12th overall in the PPG Cup points race with 29 points. The Budweiser G.I. Joe's 200, presented by Texaco/Havoline, Round 9 the FedEx Championship Series, will be televised live on ESPN on Sunday, June 12th, beginning at 5:00 P.M. eastern time. At this point we are going to open the floor to questions.

Q. I wanted to ask you about -- basically a two-parter. First off about the Rookie-of-the-Year and, you know, working with a guy like Bettenhausen and, of course, Emerson Fittipaldi, for sure, that has got to be, you know, two of the greats in this sport, got to give you guys a little bit of confidence.

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Definitely. It is a great-- I mean, it is a pleasure working with both guys, such a great experience. Emerson, of course, all the time unfortunately because of last year's accident in the airplane, he is still recovering about that and he is not be able to come to races quite often. But, of course, he is calling, all the time, especially before the races in the morning to give some advice and warnings, you know, to finish well and to be aware and finish in the points because I know it is very important this Rookie Championship. Of course, also Tony is a great, great guy. He always tried to keep calm me on the race track; he always try to coach me during the race. And, of course, this helped me a lot because, I will tell, you last year in Indy Lights, we have a maximum, I think, one hour a race. And, this year, it is almost -- I mean, more -- at least -- at the longest was in St. Louis, two hours and 23 minutes. So, it is completely different than Indy Lights and of course you have to save equipment, save car, and save fuel of course. And, that is what I learn in Milwaukee race because I have to save a lot, a lot of fuel. So, that is good thing because I am really happy and also, of course, the package, Mercedes and Goodyear, they are doing great, improving a lot, and I am really happy.

Q. Let us talk a little bit about Portland course coming up. As I say, you have probably driven it in Lights' car, but let us talk about it, what challenge do you think you are going to face with the CART FedEx car with, of course, Mercedes engine and all that big-time horsepower and Goodyear tires sticking to the ground on that Reynard.

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Always been very difficult a little bit because it is, of course it is always -- first time with the Champ Car on the track, so, speed and gear ratios sometimes different. Like, in Detroit, I was missing doing third gear Turn 1 and 2. And, I asked some drivers after the qualifying, which gear they are doing. They said: Oh, fifth or sometimes fourth. I said: Oh, my goodness, I am completely wrong. Then the race -- Well, in the race it is too late, but, of course, I couldn't do a good job -- a better job. But sometimes you have to keep learning all the time which gears, which time, and -- but, at least, it is not a blind track; especially because last year starting pole position in Indy Lights. So, this rack, I am sure, Goodyear tires are going to come with very good tires. I am really happy that they improve all the time and they keep working a lot. Also, on Mercedes, doing a good job all the time giving me great support. Of course, Alumax/Bettenhausen Team, they have a very good setup on the road course and I am really comfortable to be in the -- and finish in the Top-10.

Q. You touched Helio on Emerson Fittipaldi and what he has meant to you, but overall in your career what has Emerson brought to you both as a racer and as a person?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, actually I believe everybody know already, after Long Beach race and last year in anticipate, that was the first contact that we have talking about business and the way that he is going to give me like support on the race and also on the commercial stuff. Emerson, to be honest, he is amazing guy, especially on -- I mean, like as friend, you know, he is amazing with the family and he always tries to teach me to be patient and that is what -- on the beginning of the races and everything, I was trying to, you know, like in Indy Lights try to be too fast and just like 30 minutes of the race and sometimes mistakes happen because you want to try too fast too early. And, so, he was kind of the guy that all the time to try to be -- to calm down a little bit and when you have a good opportunity to go fast, wait for the right time and not try all the time because you can be a good chance to damage something. Like, example, in my first test in oval, he came to me one day early and he said: Helio, you have to be perfect in the oval. I said: Why. No, because anything, the vibration of the tires or if the car -- if you don't feel comfortable in the seat, anything can distract you and you can spin or crash. And the next day when I went there to practice, it is amazing, the tires started vibration and I never felt them like that. When I stop it, I said: Hey, guys, I felt vibration in the tires. The guy said: He is right, because they make a mark on the wheel and the tires, so the tire wasn't balanced, you know. How did you know that? I said: You know, I have experience in that - start kidding with the guys. But, I mean, this is kind of experience if I didn't have somebody to tell me, of course, I would try until something happen, you know, but I am just so happy that both guys, not only Emerson, but Tony as well, help me a lot on this Championship.

Q. I find it very interesting that you and Tony Kanaan are once again locked into a battle. I have to think that this time you would like to say: "Good show, but not enough Tony?"

HELIO CASTRONEVES: (laughs) Definitely. I give -- not give a chance, but he did a very fantastic job last year and I think now it is my turn (laughs). So, it is good to have Tony. He is a great talent. I really like him a lot. And, of course if he is pushing a lot and make me pushing as well. So, it is great for both because both start to grow and also experience in the career. And, it is very nice to be -- to have both. I mean, Tony and I in the same series and competitive with each other. Of course, we still keep in good friends and always show the best to him. But, of course, in the end, I want to raise the trophy this time.

Q. Last week we talked to Tony Kanaan and yourself. Both of you, in fact, are graduates of the Steve Horne school of hard knocks or whatever he does to you there. He makes you a very good driver. Don't give all that credit to Emerson Fittipaldi. Steve Horne had to do something for you.

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Oh, definitely. Definitely. Steve Horne, to be honest, he was the greatest. I mean, as soon as I came to America, right after the Formula 3 in Britain, I came to first test-I don't know if you guys remember-in 1996, the Latin/America, drivers. I was one of this. And, Steve Horne, even I crash, and even I didn't have a bad result, actually because it was tough for me to get comfortable in the car. I had broken ribs and I couldn't be comfortable in the car sometimes and I saw both my teammates, Tony and also Louie DePalma (phonetic) at that time doing so well. I said: My goodness, I know I can do, but I can feel the car pretty well because my of my broken ribs. Steve Horne, even he knew that I always trying very hard and always trying to focus. And, he believed me through the next year that was 1997. And, amazing. I am really -- he always believed me and I always believed him. So, I am really happy to have Steve Horne graduate me. Unfortunately, I mean, right now I had a great opportunity with Tony Bettenhausen. I mean, they are the best. I couldn't -- stay one more year, maybe, with Tony, but right now, the way it, it is so great because different team, it is very nice also. I am learning a lot again with not only with Emerson, but with Tony, Tom, Brown my engineer. But, I will tell you: I am never never going to forget what Steve Horne did for me because it was really, really great. If it wasn't for him, if he didn't believe me, to be honest, I would not be here right now.

Q. You want to listen to Tony too because he didn't fall off the latest turn-up truck coming into town. He knows a little bit about racing too. He has been there all his life.

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Oh, yes, Tony is a great guy. He is so funny. In the beginning of the season - it was so nice - because he was mad with me after the press, I wasn't drinking bear with him, you know, but he is a great guy. I mean, he is fantastic guy. Not only him, to be honest, all the team. The team is great. It is a fantastic team. It is like a family. That is why I feel so at home because I mean, I came that team, different guys, different everybody and they receive so well. And, I will tell you: I am really going to fight for this Championship because these guys, they deserve that.

Q. I see you have got 11th place, 9th place, 7th place, 2nd place - only one more spot on that podium. When do you think you are going to get your first win?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Definitely I am really looking for it, that Alumax/Bettenhausen Team, they didn't have a victory yet. But, I really wish to give this opportunity to them and of course, to me. It is just a matter of time. I am still learning a lot. It is not because I led the race in Long Beach or because I finished second in Milwaukee; now next race, I am going to win -- No.. It is so tough out there. These guys, they are the best, you know, FedEx Championship Series, it is so competitive. They are great drivers and I am really happy to be one of these drivers. So, of course, I am learning with all of these guys. Last week, in Detroit, I was banging wheel with Al Unser, Jr. and also Paul Tracy. You know, this is so great to be one of these spots because I remember I used to watch those guys on TV when I was racing go-carts and today I am really right beside them. So, it is just a matter of time. I have to learn a lot, of course. And -- but I am telling you, with this team that I am having right now, I mean, great guys, great crew and of course, engineers and great owner-it is going to be soon.

Q. You talked about learning and it has been a theme this morning from this conference. Do you get special additional learning by changing teams from time to time? I mean, you talked about getting stuff from Steve Horne; getting stuff from Tony, and Emmo. Is it important to a driver's career to change teams from time to time?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Of course because it is a completely different way, you know, sometimes to work. Like last year in Indy Lights I have an engineer and this year I have Tom Brown. It is different ways. But, of course, when you get up very close, very close and they understand you when you translate the car for the engineer, it is great because you can go whatever you want. And, of course you learn different ways. Sometimes, of course, nobody is perfect, but everybody have a good quality. I mean, I learn a lot with Steve Horne, the quality he has and I am learning with Tony today and Emerson with the qualities that they have. So, definitely it is a great experience to change team. And, like I said, I really wish, I mean, I do well on this team because they really seem to support me a lot.

Q. On the commercial side you talked about how Emerson is helping you out. I mean, you look at the series and it has got sponsors like FedEx and PPG and MCI and Budweiser. Does that leave any room for you on the commercial side?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, actually, yes. Not only Alumax is my major sponsor, but also Ericsson, Sitilar (ph) and Konsue (ph) from Brazil, it is amazing the way that also on the commercial side that they improve a lot. And, of course, we are not going to stop here. We really try hard, of course, to improve all the time and to again next year improve a lot and be in Bettenhausen, not only a medium team but be one of the tops.

Q. I asked this to Tony Kanaan last week and I will ask you. He was feeling very confident that they were finally getting off most of the ovals and getting on a predominantly road course situation. Do you share those same feelings?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah, I will tell you: The ovals, of course, I am learning a lot. Like I said, Tom Brown is a great engineer not only in the oval, but of course in the road course and street circuit. Well, like I said, Long Beach I was leading. Because of a rookie mistake, I blow away that good chance. But, right now, I will tell you: It is a great opportunity because since I start racing I always been learning, I mean, turn right and left. And, when I came to America in 1996, it was the first time that I thought to turn only left. So right now, it is very comfortable and I feel really, really powerful when you go to the street circuit or road circuit because make you feel at home. Make you translate well what the car's reaction is. And sometimes, you can push harder because you know you can go a little fast. I mean, a couple of tenths (sic), you can find it. But, of course, it is much comfortable right now, and that is why I want to do well and prove a lot that we have not only great car on the oval but, of course, on the road course.

Q. Where do you stand with the Goodyear tires relative to the Firestone tires? Do you feel the difference because there was a difference the last couple of years?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, to be honest, in the oval Goodyear tires did a very good job. I mean, they improve a lot. A lot. Also Long Beach, we had a great tires and seems like Firestone improve a little bit. But, thank God at least the crew guys from Goodyear they are working very hard and especially for Portland next race, they really want to try to do something. I felt a little different in Detroit, this last race. It seemed funny, all the Goodyears pretty close each other. And, just the Firestone guys was in front, but, also on the racetrack, it wasn't too bad. I did like second fast lap in the race and it is just the way the track is. It is so tough to overtake; so tough to try something and actually it was the first time that we didn't have much yellow this time. Just two yellows, so everybody was really cautious -- concerned to finish the race. So, I think I am very sure and very comfortable in Portland we are going to have great tires and we are going to be competitive with Firestone.

Q. How did your testing program go for road courses?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Actually been testing in Putnum (sic) Park. Next week we are going to Laguna Seca, before Portland race. So, we didn't really do a great jobs on the road course. I am expecting to do great also in Portland.

Q. A little bit of a lifestyle question and on the first part, what does Helio Castroneves do in his time off to relax? And, I guess to carry along with your comments on the ovals, how are you going to prepare for the 500 milers?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, before I came to the conference call first question I was doing my exercise because it is pretty important. You have to be fit for not only short race, but for the big race. Any kind of race cars, it is so tough and you be like an hour and two hours driving, you have to be fit. And, of course, after the conference call I am going -- thank God the weather here in Miami is great and I am going in the swimming pool on the boat. Of course, not mine. It is a friend's boat. I am going to stay a little bit and enjoy the weather. That is the way, I mean, I keep preparing for the big race. Like St. Louis was two hours and 23 minutes. I really felt tired at the end - not really, really tired, but for the big ovals, like 500, it is going to be more than that. It is at least three or four hours. Ovals compared with the road courses: It is not so tough like because you are shifting a lot and turning a lot. On the oval you use more of your concentration, your mind instead of the muscles. That is why I have to keep in shape otherwise I would not be able to finish in none of these races.

Q. Helio, with so many Brazilians coming into the FedEx Championship Series, and of course, with guys like Emerson Fittipaldi giving back to his fellow countrymen as well as to the sport, does that start to build within you and maybe some of your fellow countrymen that we need to give this back to the younger drivers as well in Brazil?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: I'd say we have so many talents coming up as well, it is -- Brazil is so great. They produce a lot of race car drivers; not only race car drivers, but football, soccer players, you know. (laughs) It is amazing the way they come and the way they have the talent. I believe because they start very early on the age. I start like 11 years old and I know guys that start with eight years old. So, of course, for us, it is going to be great. I always try to help the guys that looking for me and said: Oh, I like the way you drive. I like the way your style is. Of course, I try to help as much as I can. And, of course, it is great to have somebody like Emerson to help you as well. Not only me, but he helps everybody in the -- not only Brazilians, but also different drivers. Me, Tony and I, Christian, Andre, Mauricio, all these drivers, they are really working very hard to be where we are. And, like I said, this series is so competitive. When I came to Champ Cars I was winning race, and I said: Oh, okay, it is going to be easy, it is going to be easy. But, it is not. It is very, very tough. And when you finish well like in Milwaukee or like you drive very well in Long Beach or different tracks, and you feel great because you feel you can finish in the top like they always been finishing. So, it is great to have somebody that helps you and of course, when I -- when somebody asks me for help, I try and help as much as I can.

Q. Mentally, how difficult is it from going from being a winner; someone is expecting to win; someone who is running for a Championship to a driver, when you do well, when you finish second at Milwaukee, it is kind of a surprise to everyone? In other words, you are not the front-runner, you are the up-and-comer now.

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, it is great. Like I said, you feel very powerful because my team, I mean, Alumax/Bettenhausen, they always give me a very good race car and because of some rookie mistakes, this learning, it could be early than that. I could finish early better than that. But, of course, I mean, Nazareth when I had a very good race car driver, I crashed a silly thing or Long Beach when I was leading, I couldn't just keep holding. It is just the way you have to think and it is learning experience, when you come from a different series, it is -- especially Champ Cars, it is amazing the way, how much you can learn with -- not only with the owners, but only with your competitors. Sometimes your competitors, instead of you hate him, you have to learn from him because he can teach more than anyone out there. So sometimes you have a very good characteristics, like he is doing better on Turn 1 or Turn 2 and instead of you just turning back and say: Oh, no, I am doing better lap. No, try to learn with him on Turn 1 and Turn 2 and then you can be better than him. So that is the way that I think and that is the way that I am learning a lot with these guys.

T.E. McHALE: As Helio as a boat to catch, we are going to let him go for the day. I want to say thanks to you for being with us this afternoon Helio, and continued good luck as you pursue the FedEx Championship Series Rookie-of-the-Year Award.

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Thank you very much. I appreciate that, guys, and keep your finger crossed.

T.E. McHALE: Thanks, Helio, and thanks again to all of you for joining us this afternoon. We encourage you to join us next Tuesday, June 16th, at 1 P.M. eastern time when Mark Blundell of the PacWest Racing Group and Gil de Ferran of Walker Racing Championship will join us to replay the closest finishing championship car history when Mark edged Gil by 27 thousandths of a second to win at Portland last year. Thanks once more to all of you for being with us and we hope you will join us next week.



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