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CART Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  CART

CART Media Conference

Helio Castroneves
May 11, 1999


T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon to everybody. Welcome to the CART Media Teleconference and thanks to all of you for taking the time to join us today. Our guest this afternoon is driver Helio Castroneves of Hogan Racing who is one of the many Brazilians to compete in Saturday's GP Telemar Rio 200 on the Emerson Fittipaldi Speedway at Nelson Piquet International Raceway in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Helio just informed me a moment ago that yesterday was his birthday, so Helio, welcome, a belated happy birthday to you and thanks for taking the time out of a very busy week to be with us this afternoon.

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Thank you very much. It is a pleasure to share yesterday's birthday with everyone.

T.E. McHALE: Let me give everybody a little background on Helio. He is the driver of the No. 9 Hogan Motor Leasing Mercedes Lola and, Helio is in his second season in the FedEx Championship Series and his first with Hogan racing. He finished as the runner-up to Tony Kanaan in last year's race for the Jim Truman Rookie-of-the-Year Award while with Bettenhausen Motorsports. Helio's rookie year was highlighted by a runner-up finish in Milwaukee; the best result of the 1998 season for a first-year driver. One of two drivers regularly campaigning the Lola chassis this season, Helio has already experienced significant success recording the fastest race laps at both Japan and Nazareth. He comes to his Brazilian homeland off a career-best-outside-pole-qualifying performance at Nazareth. The GP Telemar Rio 200, Round 5 of the FedEx Championship Series will be televised on a tape-delay basis by ABC TV on Sunday beginning at 4 P.M. Eastern time. With that, we will open it up to questions.

Q. I am going to take you over the hurdles from Nazareth, if I can, because there were some incredible highlights; then obviously a very lowlight coming at the end. Could you take me through that race? You made two incredible passes; you lose the lead in the pit; then you have a mishap; then a real mishap. Your emotions must have been from the top to the bottom.

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yeah, definitely. I was very good, actually the team did a superb job the whole weekend, since Thursday that extra task we have on Nazareth until Sunday. On the start I just tried to be very easy because I know Nazareth, it is a very difficult track to pass and just two laps, I knew we are going to have a lot of back markers in front, so you just have to be careful. Also I know I believe it is third race in oval, so basically it just way to happen if you are going to be okay on the traffic and everything, which we did pretty good during the race. My car also, I mean, always running very strong, especially outside of the line which I have been practice since we start over there testing. The first move actually was just waiting a little bit for the opportunity to have a little traffic. When I got it, I just went a little outside. To me -- basically, I don't think on the TV show a lot of moments, but I was outside, I am telling you guys, it is so difficult; especially the configuration, the new configuration that we have on this weekend -- that weekend was so difficult to go outside that when I was pulling outside, the side of Juan, I just say, oh, my goodness, now I can't lift off. I have to continue and keep going. Thank God, I mean, it was a great move and I have been practice also in the warmup in that time to know if it is possible or not, which was. And which I did, so at that time I just tried to be patient and also do the same -- tried to pass the guys, the back markers and to be careful and try to open the gap between Juan. But all of a sudden, a yellow flag came on and we pitted. Which we lost the position. But the guys have done a great job with getting the job done. Pit spots having prove each race, so, we go back in second place, to me, a lesson it is just be careful because there is still a lot of race to go. Just wait for a good moment again. I was saving fuel. I was just taking it easy when I was behind, I wait for -- again for another opportunity, which showed up. And I said, well, now it is go or go. So I just went through and it was a very aggressive pass which Juan tried to squeeze me a little bit but I was already with the car right beside him and just tried to protect my line again and just wait for passing again and open the gap because as soon as I was in front of him and as soon as I have to no one in front of me, my car was so great, you know, just the moment to go and open the gap. But, again, unfortunately the yellow flag came on again and repeated again and we lost the position. So we go back to the track. I said, okay, third time, let us try it again. I have no idea, I think PJ pass me on the green flag which I didn't warm up the tire enough. Again with patience and just tried to be cool; all of a sudden the car just lost control. I have no idea. I almost went straight and the car just lost control when I spun. Exactly in that moment when I spun I felt the brake a little soft and also the throttle stuck a little bit. I didn't have no idea because on the practice in Friday and Saturday we have the same problem. But I was just knocking the brake pad and the brakes was coming back easily. I felt the throttle, my shoes was stuck a little bit on the cable. So when we go back for the green -- we pitted to change the tires. When we go back for the green, I just wait, everybody go away and to try a good lap which I didn't know I had already the fastest lap of the race. I just said, well, let us try to get another watch, you know? On the back straight I just came shifting gears and going up and when I lift off the brake the car just keep running and when I brake I didn't have no brakes at all and I went straight to the wall. I was very shocked because I didn't expect that and when I hit the wall I hurt my arms and especially my right arm, elbow and my knee. The car keeps running because the engine -- the power keeping pushing and I keep like scrubbing the whole until something broke and the engine die. I just move my head because I felt a lot of pain. I was like a little uncomfortable. But I knew it just was a little sore stuff, but I wait for the medical, which they always do a great job and the doctor saw that I was conscious and I have no problem. So ready to go.

Q. How crushing was it to have been the superior driver, superior car - I don't think anybody would dispute that - I mean, the two passes you made on Juan were probably the two best passes easily in the entire race by anybody and then you end up with nothing. You end up with a wrecked car. You end up with sore bones. You usually are smiling all the time. But, you know, how did that react on you? Were you depressed?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: For a day, yes. The next day I was a little depressed. I believe not only me, but the whole team. We did such a great job and we expecting at least finishing in the points, you know, of course when you -- when the end wasn't exactly what you expected it, you just have a frustration day. But the good thing is, at least from my part, listen, we still have a lot of race. We still have a great car, a great team and we know we can do it again. If this is happened or the pits didn't have some problems or if the mechanical failure or something like that, we fix it and we do it again. So that is why I am positive, very positive here for the Rio race and like you said, if I wouldn't have had a smile on my face I would have to keep doing that because that is what makes the team and the team happy and enthusiastic.

Q. Are you in Rio now?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yeah.

Q. Running for the plane as soon as we are done here; see you down there tomorrow.

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Very good, you are going to like the plane, I am telling you.

Q. What do you think, the Rio track, it is a little bit special, a little bit different. It is sort of an oval, but it has some real braking and downshifting. You, being real strong on all of the oval races, what do you think about Rio in particular? Do you expect to be as strong as you were at Nazareth, for example? What do you think the strengths that you and your car and your team bring to that track and any particular weaknesses or areas that concern you?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Definitely the expectation will be very high especially because after Nazareth everybody bring the confidence so high that we really feel great. But we have to think that is going to be the first time that also Hogan is racing with this kind of wings because right now it is a different wing for everyone. It is not even a super speedway which we were running like low down-force on Nazareth or high down-force same as road course. It is kind of the middle. So we never passed that. But our basic setup for the ovals, like you said, definitely is very strong. We just have to be patient the first day. Rio track has a lot of bumps and undulations, especially on the brake points which is just have to be careful. Also the turns, two turns that we have here, it is kind of not an oval turn because it is pitted, very, very low compared to Nazareth or Homestead or Milwaukee. So basically we have to set up the car, tune the car for this kind of a track which I am very, very confident with my team and Casper and Andy, they have been so great this season. I mean, they understand me so great, even with my accent, Brazilian accent they understand me pretty good which is just good. I am sure we are going to repeat the same result and doing great.

Q. I have a question for you and it is a slightly different twist than what we have heard so far. Being it is your home track, what kind of unique problems or situations does that present to you and in particular, the battle for sponsorship dollars, given the economy down in Brazil?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, thank God Emerson took the management of this race which if you come here or if you see on the TV, you guys are going to be very impressed compared to last year. The week of the race, it is kind of -- nothing is going on and right now, it is everybody talking about the race. Everybody is calling about -- you know, oh, Helio, I am your friend, remember me, I need the ticket. So everybody, basically even with the situation not very good, which right now it is growing pretty much, and thank God all the situation is starting to improve a little bit. The Champ Cars are going to be very strong and if you notice Emerson's name is special here in Brazil. He was the one that opened doors for basically all of us, you know, in the racing -- motor racing, Formula 1 and also in the Champ Car. So right now it is just being very good. Of course, it will be great with a fantastic result and a Brazilian winning and I hope I will be one of them. But of course -- no problem at all. I mean, no pressure because -- last year, I was a little nervous because it was my first race, my first season, everything was like: Oh, my goodness, I have to do well in front of my friends, in front of my family. Right now I don't know, but I -- with one year of experience I think that I have learned -- I am not saying I know everything, but I learned a lot and I still have a lot to learn. But I am so calm right now, I am just going to start the same way as I have been doing, you know, setting the car, going easy because I know the result, it is going to come. Of course, when you have a lot of people calling your name or screaming your name, cheering for you, I am sure my Mercedes car is going to increase -- the horsepower is going to increase and we are going to feel very special.

Q. T.E., in the opening you said the race would be on Saturday? The race is on Sunday.

T.E. McHALE: The actual race is Saturday. The broadcast is Sunday, Walt. We are running on Saturday here.

Q. Oh, okay. Always good to talk to you and enjoyed being with you here in St. Louis. A couple of years ago a fellow Brazilian, Andre Ribeiro, won the race and folks in the grandstand went nuts. Are you prepared for that when you win?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: I am telling you, I have been dreaming -- I have been tried to do what I am going to do if this great moment shows up or the great moment happens. I have been trying to see what I am going to do, but I am telling you, only the time or only, I mean, the feeling in the actual time will say and will tell everything. Of course, I saw Andre winning here. I was very emotional. I was like screaming, good job, you know, and I hope -- I hope I give this same happiness not only for the Brazilians but also for Carl which has been very, very nice to me, which give me a lot of the opportunity this year. Also to Emerson, I mean, especially that he is taking the management of this racing, it just going to be like a dream come true. I am going to cross my fingers and I hope everybody cross their fingers and this moment happens.

Q. I know Emerson has to be proud of you.

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, I am telling you, you should ask this question to him. (laughs).

Q. We will when we come to St. Louis.

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Very good.

Q. I was just told that there are what, nine Brazilian drivers?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: I believe there is going to be ten drivers. Roberto Moreno is replacing Mark Blundell.

Q. Tell me, there is just one Colombian, though, running on top of the FedEx Championship. Is that exceptional or do you have a lot less drivers in their country compared to yours, is this exceptional on Montoya's part?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, I don't know. I don't know of, that, but I believe definitely Juan is a great talent. He has been -- I have -- I know him since 1990 when we did a world CART World Series in Italy and from that time we also have Roberto Guerrero from Columbia which was also a great driver. I don't know about that. I know that all the Brazilians really special this year is really trying to hard to bring also the great show that they always did. Always, I mean, to be honest, from my point of view, this year was so competitive, not just because of Brazilians, Colombians, or Americans. It is just the level is so high. That is why it makes the series so nice and so beautiful because it is such great talented drivers and we just have to be proud of it. I am very proud to be one of them.

Q. How much does Juan's package account for the recent success?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, definitely it is a great team. Chip Ganassi is a great team. He has been Champion for three years since '96 and of course, they have a good setup; also good engineer. Also Jimmy is a great guy to give information and set up the car. But Juan is, I believe, everybody is impressed with how quick he has been adapted on the racetrack, especially on the oval. We just have to try harder and I am going to stop this Colombian and you guys are going to see.

Q. A couple of things here, first of all, you mentioned Emerson a moment ago. I am wondering - and every Brazilian that I have talked to has talked to about what he has meant to their career; he was like a personal mentor. Do you try to base your life not only as a race car driver but as a role model to other Brazilians after the benchmark that was set by Emerson?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, it is difficult to say, but because of the way that he has been taking care of -- of course I am very happy to have him as manager and mentor, actually. But it is not easy also. He has had also difficult times to try to find a sponsorships and try to put everything together, but I am telling you, I hope you are coming or one of these days to see how good job they did and how good all the Brazilians are proud of that because like I said in the beginning, he was the one that opened the doors to everyone and that is why everybody is so excited to try to do the best here.

Q. A moment about Carl Hogan. His race team has just been so close and so close, it just seems like they can't quite get over the hump and to make it an extremely competitive season. Is this also a personal challenge for you that he gave you the opportunity and you want to take him over the hump?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, if the opportunity shows up, I don't know if you know about it-but I start very late this season and I almost -- almost have no job at all. If the opportunity shows up like happened with Carl, Emerson, of course, if they have a greater relationship Carl and him, I am just of course try to do my best even if it was another team or like I was in Bettenhausen last year, I always go to the racetrack to try to do my best. Fortunately this year the car -- the car setup and the team is doing such a great job which I will be able -- I am able to showing everything up, showing everybody which we are capable. But so far we didn't have the first place yet, but I am telling you, that is going to be -- that is going to come soon. That is very, very close.

Q. T.E., do I correctly under that cart.com will not only have live timing and scoring but also real time audio feed on Saturday?

T.E. McHALE: I have not heard for sure about the real time audio. I can promise you and that there will be real timing and scoring, but the real time audio, unfortunately I can't guarantee that, but that is probably the case, yeah.

Q. Eastern time start Saturday will be?

T.E. McHALE: Eastern time start will be noon.

Q. Let us talk Lola. Last year, different story - I won't go into but - this year hot property. I wonder if you could identify one thing that makes it a weapon of choice for you?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, actually it wasn't my choice. When I came on board of Hogan Racing, they already have this chassis and this choice which is I will be very honest, on the beginning we didn't have much expectation about the chassis. We went on the first time, first time different chassis, first time different tires also for me. I was a little upset with the chassis because I was trying to translate for the engineers what is happening and we have no clue at all what is going on. Which I am very happy, all of a sudden Casper and Andy which again, they are great guys, they are very -- we are a great team right now. We put the right stuff together on the car and basically the stuff has been very successful. First race in Homestead everybody was surprised and again, also I was very surprised with the result, but as soon as we have that, we don't -- we knew we are not going to be very surprised all season. We knew we are going to be very strong especially on the ovals. So right now that is what is happening; we are just putting everything together, every setup together, which is still far away. We didn't test much. I hope when we put everything together, like going to blow everybody up.

Q. If continuing on the Lola question what I was wondering was whether you could describe what you think are the strengths and weaknesses of the Lola right now? How do you think it will fair on the road courses and what impact on the competitiveness of the Lola Penske running one might have, whether there might be some technical data sharing with Penske when they start testing it?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, right now I have no clue about Penske, what they are doing with the Lola or something like that. But the car has been -- we have had a lot of problems when we test and we would be fixing a lot of stuff before the first race. But on the road course, we didn't have much test on the road course, we have -- like the Long Beach was the third time we were testing on the road course. Of course, after we have the race, we found a lot of stuff, we couldn't start it. I am pretty sure the next time that we are going for the road course, I believe it is going to be Detroit, the result is going to be a little different, instead of like two seconds off the pace at the beginning we are probably going to start right up on the top with the guys. But, again, we don't have much guys from Lola running around. Of course they did a great job of building the car, but I have to say that my team and Carl, Casper and Andy, we are doing a very good job together. We have just been working together very tight together and that is why the result are showing up.

Q. Anything in particular you can think of as a strength or weakness with the car?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, the car finally right now we think he is very strong so far, especially on the wall we discovered the last race. But yeah, the car -- at least just the gear box sometimes we worry about, but each race it is like something new happen. But that is just part of racing, we just have to keep working hard and fixing stuff.

Q. Sounds like the Lola is a development thing, but you are also using new rubber this year over last year, the Firestones. Talk about that a little bit and can you give us some insight as to where you think the passing is going to be at Rio?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yeah, the Firestone tires I was very impressed when I first put it on and I thought during the race or during the long run, the tires going down a little bit, which didn't happen, which the tires, I mean, keep running. Maybe if you go a little down, everybody going the same level and you don't feel much the difference. But we really felt the traction was on the qualifying, on new tires, at least three or four laps, definitely have like a magic lap which is amazing, just all of a sudden half a second shows up. Last year, with Bettenhausen, I had a very good setup and I probably -- the only thing was the tires that was a little tough to set up. But I understand that this year they are really working hard, trying to develop them and they probably will. About here, Rio race, we have two long straightaways and which, if you drive very well, they are going to be easy to pass at the end of both straightaways. But also you have to be very careful because the brake point, it is kind of very tough, and very strong like a three gears downshift. Also it is a bumpy brake point. So it is going to be great, but it has to be very careful to control the car and just going to be a great show for everybody.

Q. Belated happy birthday to you.

HELIO CASTRONEVES: I am feeling much older now, thank you very much.

Q. At what point last year did you become comfortable in the company you are keeping and know that you belonged in the top level there?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, after, I mean, after big crash that I have in Miami, definitely you lose a little confidence because you have to grow up increase and give you certain amount of time to build the confidence again. But right after Milwaukee when I finished second I felt very, very strong. Excuse me, Long Beach when we went to first road course, I felt very strong and I felt that, hey, I am here and I am here to stay and I am here to fight for the good position. The season start going and we start working very hard when we finally got Milwaukee second place, I say, yeah, definitely I am capable to win a race, and at least finishing like I did. Unfortunately last year, Bettenhausen lost the sponsor and we didn't have much test which is basically this year is so important. Right now we just -- with Hogan, I mean, one year looks very short time, more experienced, but I have so much confidence right now. I have so much patience which I learning the whole season long and making a lot of difference right now. Especially to developing the chassis.

Q. Refresh my memory on how much -- where you are living here with whom and for how much of the year?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, I live in Miami. I live in Brickell. My sister is living with me right now. She worked with me. She is taking care of my economical stuff.

Q. Her first name?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Champ Katiucia.

Q. Is she older or younger?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: She is two years older.

Q. If I may, real quick, are the other guys, the Brazilian mafia or whatever, are they all still living in that same area, you and Tony and --

HELIO CASTRONEVES: We used to live in the same building but basically with good results last year we were able to upgrade and buy good stuff. Everybody is in different place now.

T.E. McHALE: We will wrap it up for today. We want to thank Helio Castroneves for being our guest this afternoon. Helio, best of luck to you in the GP Telemar Mario 200 coming up this weekend in Rio de Janeiro and in the rest of the FedEx Championship Series season.

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Thank you very much. I am telling you, I am going to try to do as best as I can.

T.E. McHALE: We hope to see you on the podium very soon.

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Thank you very much.

T.E. McHALE: Just to review, the GP Telemar Rio 200 is being run Saturday at noon Eastern time, 1:00 P.M. local time, live timing and scoring available on cart.com and possible live audio. I am sorry not to be able to confirm that. I don't know if the live audio program extends to international events. However TV broadcast will be on a tape delay basis on Sunday at 4:00 PM on ABC TV. We thank all of you for joining thus afternoon and we will talk to you next week.



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