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CART Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  CART

CART Media Conference

Helio Castroneves
May 30, 2001


T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks to all of you for being with us this afternoon. Our guest this afternoon is driver Helio Castroneves of Marlboro Team Penske, who drove to victory Sunday in the 85th Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Good afternoon, Helio. Congratulations, and thanks for joining us today.

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Good afternoon. It's been a fantastic week, of course, but it's getting closer to another race, so we have to focus already and keep doing our work.

T.E. McHALE: We'll give you an opportunity to talk about both those races over the course of the next half hour or so, I'm sure. Just some quick background before we get started. Helio became the second consecutive rookie and the second consecutive CART driver to win the Indianapolis 500 following Juan Montoya in 2000. He averaged 153.601 miles per hour while leading Marlboro Team Penske to a one, two finish. His teammate, Gil de Ferran took runner-up honors. Helio led a race-high 52 laps and never relinquished the advantage after taking it on the 149th of 200 laps. His victory was the 11th Indy 500 for Team Penske and its first since Al Unser, Jr. won in 1994. Now Helio sets his sights on this weekend's Miller Lite 225 at the Milwaukee Mile where he earned his first FedEx Championship series podium finish with a runner-up performance in 1998. Milwaukee also the site of Helio's first career FedEx Championship Series pole position in 1999. Through four completed rounds of the 2001 Championship, Helio, driver of the No. 3 Marlboro Honda Reynard owns a victory from the pole at Long Beach and comes to Milwaukee off a runner-up performance at the pole two weeks ago in Japan. He has scored FedEx Championship Series points in 11 of his past 12 starts, dating to his victory at the Mid-Ohio of last year. Heading into this weekend's Miller Lite 225, Helio stands second in the FedEx Series Championship with 47 points, two behind leaner Kenny Brack of Team Rahal, who has 40. The Miller Lite 225 Round 6 of the 2001 FedEx Championship Series will air live on ABC TV on Sunday June 3rd, beginning at 4:00 PM Eastern time. With that, we will start taking questions.

Q. You've obviously been making the rounds this week and on a pretty good emotional high here. How hard is it going to be to come back down and go to Milwaukee and just kind of get back to work?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, it's just the way I've turned the page, and I'm leaving actually tomorrow morning to Milwaukee. I have no trouble with that. In fact, I already spoke with all the engineers. It's a great situation. It's a great feeling. Of course, it's a great race in the world, but, hey, we just have to keep continuing our job. And I'm really focused to this next one, especially that after Japan, finished second and figuring out a little bit about ovals. So, basically, let's keep the momentum going. This is just helping the whole team, not only myself, but also the team, playing comfortable, they are confident. So, I am really focused and I am really looking forward to go back to Milwaukee. Like everybody know, the first pole position, my first pole podium and I hope we do well there.

Q. Could you talk about what you have been doing since you left Indianapolis on Sunday or Monday?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: After, I did, yeah, the photo shoot, the typical photo shoot with the car and the trophy. I went to a lot of the TV shows, CNN Sports on Monday, and then Tuesday I have fox in the morning, and then I went to meet chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, and then I went to meet Donald Trump. Also, I went to Bloomberg and Charlie Rose, also I pitched the baseball game, ball on the Mets game. And this morning, I went to Regis & Kelly. Now I'm here with you guys, and, well, just keeps going and going. It's been a fantastic week. A lot of press. A lot of news, lunch with all the New York press. So, I've been having a good time. Of course, it's tiring, but, hey, I really was looking for this.

T.E. McHALE: At this point, it might be a good time for me to mention that Susan Bradshaw of the Marlboro Team Penske PR staff has a more detailed list of what Helio's itinerary has been like since Sunday, and she asked me to give out her cell phone number, which is 917-881-7350, if any of you are looking for more detailed information on what his past couple of days have been like.

Q. Congratulations. Talk a little bit your mindset during the race, as opposed, to say, some other races that you've won. I mean, how did you look back on it, did you pace yourself even better than you expected?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: First of all, thank you very much. Actually, since I went there to that racetrack, I knew it would be a big challenge. But, I mean, if you notice, we are not actually -- especially myself, I was really focused on the CART series and trying to make sure that we do everything exactly and making -- scoring points, because any point in our series, any point is very important. After coming back from Nazareth, after the race, going straight to the racetrack, you see all of the team efforts. Everybody is really trying hard, and coming back, going to Japan, coming back and then staying there. So, I tell you, it was very tiring, but not tiring driving the car, but most of it was traveling. Every time that I was in the car, as soon as I close my visor, I don't think about anything else and just do a good performance and trying to find a limit of the car. So, when I went to the race, no doubt about what was a great feeling to be there. But, as soon as the race started, I was pretty much normal, same as the other races. 500 miles -- I've been in a 500-mile situation, except that I haven't been on that track, specific track. But I was able to proceed, and basically like I said, I got a lot of information, and make sure that I understand. I had no trouble. So far, like I said, I'm really enjoying a lot what I'm doing, and well, tomorrow come back to the normal life. I mean, I'm still normal life, for me. Just talking to the press, with you guys and just more than usual, but other than that, I'm still the same guy and I pretend to be like that.

Q. As a follow-up, you were talking about a normal life, once you've won an Indy, that's something that you become identified with; so in a sense it is not normal. Has anyone kind of prepared you for how things might change for you now, how you might be looked at, especially joining an elite group like that?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: The only thing that's strange is I'm getting a much better -- easy dates right now. No, I'm okay. I like -- I've always been like this. I believe my personality always been this way. Like I said, the only difference I felt is some guys, more than everybody, gives me a congratulations because it's a difficult race. I don't feel any other special treatment or seeing -- like going in the street and people stopping me and asking me for autographs. I don't think -- maybe in Brazil, I'm not sure yet, waiting to see. But right now, like I said, until today, I'm still celebrating, but tomorrow we are going to start the weekend to Milwaukee and focus on our championship now.

Q. I realize you are coming off the biggest win of your life, but could you talk a little about winning at Detroit last year?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Oh, my goodness. Thank you very much, first of all. But Detroit is going to be an unforgettable one. Especially, first, because it was my first one and I was so excited, and I think everybody saw. Second, I mean, it started the real spiderman; climbing the fence and doing all these things. I tell you, it's just a great feeling. Detroit start everything. It was my beginning, like in terms of winning, and I just -- it's difficult to compare. You know, it's different race. Indianapolis 500, it is a huge race, but it is my first one. Maybe if I'd been trying a long time, it would be more a great feeling. I cannot forget the first one, of course. Detroit was one of my special one and it's going to always be in my heart.

Q. Just talk about -- now you and Gil came on last year, Penske had had a couple of years of troubles and since then, obviously Gil won the championship and you have four wins CART wins and now you've also got an Indy 500 win. Just talk about the combination about how you and Gil and then Team Penske, how it has brought Penske out of the doldrums and jump-started both of your engineers?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: First, the good thing is a good relationship between drivers, I believe. Gil and I, we are Brazilian, and even -- get even better, the relationship, because we can speak in our natural language, but only outside of the truck. In the truck, we have to speak in Portuguese -- in English. I think not only that, the whole team actually, it's been renovated. You know, everybody is like being really focused. Nobody -- everybody forgot about what's in the past and they notice the situation, which is really tough. And everyone wasn't expect -- like we know the race. Just we go and we work and after we do a good job, we just keep improving. No doubt about last year; that's what happened. Both car was going well. Unfortunately, I didn't have many opportunity. My car breaks; was broke sometimes. This is just racing, and Gil got better points, especially on the oval. I believe everybody deserve it. Last year, in fact, Roger told me: You guys did a good job, both are champions, here this year. I'm glad that we work together, because both cars are always going to be on the top. But no doubt about Roger Penske, the captain of this boat, to put this organization together with Cindric (ph), and also, my engineer, Andy Boorman (ph), has done a good job. He knows me very well. Basically, help everyone. So the communication, I think, is the key of the team and that's why we are doing good.

Q. You eluded to your success at Milwaukee. Is there anything about Milwaukee you particularly enjoy? How do you explain the success you've had there in the past?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: I do love short ovals. I really like it, like Nazareth and also Milwaukee, both are track -- really short, also Chicago. I really enjoy. I think it is really challenging and very difficult. And I like when it's difficult. Make my job look easier, you know.

Q. Given that Juan Montoya won the Indy 500 last year, what is the significance of your victory this year and of the CART drivers, you know, taking the top -- the CART teams, taking the top six positions in the race? Is there anything that we can learn from this? Is there a trend here? What's this all about?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: I don't think we should put this way -- in terms of CART, IRL, NASCAR or Formula 1, or in particular, Indy 500. On that track -- it's that track. You know, everybody is Indy 500 driver. That's why, the way I consider it there. So nobody is there to be better than any other series. Everybody is trying to achieve one thing, which is win the race. I think, of course, somehow the end of it -- me that puts like the way I finish, and the way everything started -- like for me, I race in Phoenix with the guys, and I race with these guys, most of them, in Indy Lights. So I have no problem with them and I have respect for most of these drivers. Again, Indy 500 is just a special race, and that's why makes this track and this race special because all the drivers are together. It's not to make it different between drivers, but to make tougher in this racetrack. Four corners looks like the same, but they are not the same. They are very technical. They are very difficult. Still trying to figure out Turn 1, but I think I did a pretty good job on Sunday. So bottom line, there it's Indy 500 drivers and I'm glad to be the champ.

Q. Do you think it is more appealing if it's almost an all-comers type of race?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: I think probably in the future, more and more people, it's going to start getting over and coming over to the racetrack like happened this year. We have, like you mentioned, different CART guys and NASCAR guys. I'm sure it's going to be on the future, even difficult, and all the time getting difficult, like it's always been. I hope -- I hope this happens, because it's just going to be a success.

Q. How do you feel about Jeff Gordon's team climbing the fence at Charlotte as a tribute to you?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, I think it's nice. You know, it's a team sport. Motor racing is a team sport. I could not win without a race car, and even Jeff Gordon could not win without his race car. I think I don't mind people go ahead and climb the fence. It's just a way to express the happiness of the team and of the driver, of course. I think it's nice. If they can do that, keep doing that. I'm just going to be together with everyone. I'm still going to climb the fence as much as I can as long as I'm winning.

Q. When you came out to the grid, what were your thoughts when you saw those people, because I don't think you've ever been at a racetrack where it's been like that. Were you as overwhelmed as most everyone else is?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Definitely, it was a great sensation. You know, I couldn't -- I could not express the emotion or the reaction, because I have ABC talking to me at that time and so I have to like, okay, I'm cool with this. But it was fantastic. I still think that I heard the last laugh and I still think -- I'm not sure if I really heard, or if did was my imagination, the crowd cheering, the last laugh as I was crossing the checkered flag. And I was like, wow, I can't believe it. Starts to be a special race and I'm glad that I did all the job perfectly, you know. I was patient, I was aggressive, and I was precise when I had to be.

Q. You did actually hear them cheer being cheering?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: I didn't watch the race yet, so I don't know if they were cheering.

Q. Congratulations. That was a great race.

HELIO CASTRONEVES: It was a great race.

Q. Are you planning on running anymore IRL races this year?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Not that I know of. We did the preparation in Phoenix. We did the Indianapolis. I don't think Roger wants to focus in a different series. He wants to make sure that now we put 100% effort in the CART Championship.

Q. And you've got a real serious fight on your hands, but you definitely are in contention for the Championship. What does that mean to you?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: I just want to make sure that -- what I didn't do right last year on the ovals be completely different this year. If you notice last year, I have only 15 points or 16 points. And this year, I already have more points than last year on the ovals. It's definitely improvement, and I understand if you don't have a car to finish first, then you have a car to finish 12th, you have to finish 12th. Two points in Nazareth today put me two points behind Kenny, and who knows, might be two points enough to clinch thee Championship, I don't know. That's why we have to keep working hard, and especially this weekend in Milwaukee and make sure that we keep doing the job that we are doing.

Q. Talking about Milwaukee, describe the track. Give us a lap, if you can?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Right. Right. Turn 1, it's a great -- one-mile oval. We don't have much banking. I don't think we have banking at all, but maybe it's a little. There is a little bump on the entry of Turn 1, and you basically have to be careful not to be aggressive on the throttle. You try to lift off on the beginning of the corner when you are going to turn through, which is kind of create a little apex, and you go really close to the curb. And exit, you have to be almost full throttle already. And going closer to the wall, and it's not long straightaway down the back straight, but it is enough to make some overtakes, and I think that's most of the place that people try to pass. Turns 3 and 4, that's very high speed -- I mean, both are high speed but faster than Turn 1 and Turn 2. You try to carry more speed instead of entry or fast or slow. You just try to lift off just a little bit of the throttle and be constantly very careful on the throttle, because -- wind it up on exit on 4. So you never know how you are going to be on exit. And then no banking at all. This definitely is pretty much flat. I believe it's one line, unless the car is really good, but with this configuration of wings, we are definitely going to have one line only.

Q. Talk about the race for a little bit, because it started off pretty scary. The temperatures were cold. Reminded me of when I went there in 1992 what were your thoughts after the first 20 laps, seeing everything that transpired in front of you?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, of course, that was a little weird for me, starting in a situation like three in the same row, and, as well, was really far away. I had to follow the guy inside me, and for me it, was like unusual. Normally, we really ride on the gear box of the other guy. When they start, I was like -- it was just so far away. I think -- it turns to be when you have a wreck or in front of you, just one car or a lot of people, I was able to avoid the accident. Yes, a couple, beginning of the laps of the race, accidents, people spinning or trying to go to fast. I was just waiting. If fact I call my engineer, Andy and said, "Listen, is the temperature on the tire okay?" "No, we didn't go fast enough yet." So we just trying to make sure that when we start, we are able to be careful. And my car was working very good after half a tank. On the full tank, wasn't the best, a lot of understeer, and that's what I think kept me with the patience, until I wait for the right moment to go for it.

Q. I'm not sure if your crew chief is the same, if Rick was crewing you as well. How many changes and how much communication did it take to get the difference between your regular CART champ car and the car you were driving at Indy?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, Rick, yes, he is still with me. He is still with Penske 17 years already. It was actually the same crew from CART was the same one that was changing my tires and doing exactly the fuel strategy and everything. I just changed cars. On the speedway, especially at Indy, you don't feel much the downforce. It is pretty much a very -- you try to trim it out as much as you can. Because of a lack of power, you want -- any, like one inch of burning, you gain a lot of in speed. You lose a downforce, as well, but you gain much more in speed. You just have to keep on full throttle. You have the momentum, carry momentum. You can have traffic because the power is not enough, and our car, sometimes it's very difficult because we have the turbo, and the turbo kicks in; you have the wheels spin and you've spun. In fact, this has happened to me at Nazareth this year. At least in that part, just have to find the momentum, be clever and keep going.

Q. The last couple of guys to win the 500 have not been able to come back the next year and defend that. Do you know anything at this point? Do you expect to be back here next year?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Oh, yes. So far, yes. I don't know if I may allowed to use a number 1 or not, but yes. Right now, I'm going to be focused on the CART series, and next year, we're going to go back. Depend on Roger. Does not depend on me.

Q. This field going into this race was sort of built as being one of the strongest in the 500 in the last 10, 15 years. Is there any more special satisfaction you get out of that are having really beat a very strong and deep field that everybody said as many as ten, 15 or more drivers had a chance to win it?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Certainly create a better feeling. But I -- in our situation, champ cars is always very competitive, like ten drivers, 15 drivers has a chance to win the race, as well. I wasn't worried about that, and I'm not worried about that. I know it was really tough and I know oval is going to be really tough. Like I said, it's 500 miles, and during the race, about three hours and a half, of five, seven pit stops, anything could happen and you just have to be smart. I think I'm learning to be smart.

Q. You're doing well with this MoJo --

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Here we go. So far, we are doing great. You guys give me great support, so I have to thank you and keep let's keep going.

Q. When you were growing up in Brazil and had dreams of becoming a race car driver, was Indy on the horizon, or was it something that came into your focus when you became a driver here in the United States?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, when I start driving, of course, I was like -- it was the same focus in Brazil, going to Europe and try keep carrying on to Formula 1, and -- but I got a better opportunity. Went to America and we won Tasman in 1996. And in that situation, Indy, I know the situation with CART and IRL was already separate. So I never thought that we will go back. But I was watching, of course, because it was a very special race, and, of course, when Roger decided to go, I said, "Well, I guess we have to get prepared." And I was prepared. We were prepared, every everyone on the team. Like I said, we did a lot of preparation, and last Sunday it paid off.

Q. You mentioned about Turn 1. I've heard several drivers talk about going into Turn 1 is very different on race day than it is during practice when the stands are empty, and on race day there's hundreds of thousands of people there with colors and screaming. Did that have any impact on you when they dropped the green flag?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: I was 11th, and like I said, the space were so far away that -- a lot of dusty, as well. I don't know why, but a lot of dusty, as well. I could not see even the car in front of me. Just make sure that I would be able to go for Turn 1. No, I didn't notice. I was expecting that maybe because a lot of people telling me that. I think I was already prepared, so I was able to do everything fine. And I think in the end, Turn 1 turns to be the best one what I was doing in the race, better than everyone, because 1 and 2, I remember I was able to save myself under attack and 3 and 4, everybody was pretty much equal. I think I understood the -- Turn 1 and I, we got in agreement, so we did okay later.

Q. What did your folks in Brazil have to say when you called them?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, my parents were there with me. They were really happy. They were on the podium, so that was an experience of a lifetime. I didn't have a chance much to talk with people in Brazil. The press in Brazil, I understand there was a very good coverage, and a lot of people was watching them, most of Brazil was watching. I heard that people were doing parties. I'm the one that won the race, but they are the one that gets to party, you know. But I understand that everybody is really into this thing, and I'm glad. I'm going back -- I'm going after Milwaukee to Brazil, and a lot of people requesting and so I want to make sure that I do exactly what I was doing here in America. It's nice. It's a special feeling. It's great for us. A lot of Brazilian drivers, especially in the CART series, and I want to make sure I -- like many, many Brazilians inspire me to race, I want to make sure that I inspire a lot of kids, too.

Q. Were you really taken aback when Roger at Indianapolis said that he would tell you to go to Formula 1 if you got a ride with either the gray or the red and white team?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: That was a surprise. I tell you, I just, of course, I'm young. I still have a lot of opportunity. But like I said, I want to make sure that I focus on my job here. I want to make sure that I accomplish my goals here, and I'm happy. You know, like Roger is probably the one that people if you want talk to me, probably people going to talk to him first anyway, because he is the one that one holding the contract to for me next year. But I don't care about that. I just want to make sure I keep on doing what I'm doing, working hard, because that's what it takes and keep winning races, because I'm always going to be happy.

T.E. McHALE: We want to thank Helio Castroneves for making time in a very busy schedule to be with us today. Helio, congratulations again on a great weekend. Best of luck in Milwaukee this weekend and through the rest of the FedEx Championship Series season.

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Thank you very much, and I hope to talk to you guys soon.



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