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Indy Racing League Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Indy Racing League

Indy Racing League Media Conference

Helio Castroneves
August 21, 2007


THE MODERATOR: Hello, everyone, members of the media. Welcome to today's teleconference in advance of this weekend's Motorola Indy 300 presented by Jackson Rancheria Casino & Hotel. We are joined by Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves. Helio currently 6th, in 6th place in the IndyCar points standings, and he has tied the Indy Car record for career poles this year with six.
He has also won the pole in all three street and permanent road courses this season. His one victory this year came on the street course in St. Petersburg, Florida. Thank you for joining us today.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Thanks for having me.
THE MODERATOR: Helio, you've qualified second here in Sonoma in 2005, you qualified third here in 2006. We certainly know you love the road courses. Talk a little bit about this weekend and what we can expect from you.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, obviously it's a very challenging circuit, and in a good way. They have some up and down elevations, which is actually very physical, probably in the series the most hard one, physical for the drivers, than any other circuit so far, especially because, as I said, the elevation. But the straightaways are always kind of turning, so that makes it really tough on us.
But it's fun at the same time because for you to make a very good lap there, it's extremely hard to put all the corners together the same way, and it's fast the way it is. It's very tough.
It's also a very good opportunity of passing, especially in the hairpin, when you downshift, the clutch and the chicane. So those are the two places you can try to take a chance and pass someone there. So because of that, this place is an enjoyable road course, and obviously going to California especially with the area, so nice, so beautiful, so no question it's a nice place to be.
THE MODERATOR: Helio has six poles this season, which ties an IndyCar Series record.

Q. I wanted to ask you about your friendship with Tony Kanaan. If you could just describe it and how you two have stayed friends for so long.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, Tony and I, we grew up together. We've been friends for so many years. In fact, I'm from a small city in Brazil, and he is from the capital city, Saõ Paulo. So he is basically a city boy and I'm the hillbilly. When I came to Saõ Paulo, his family and my family, we actually connected pretty well, and we used to go to places together.
We were young kids and going to the go-kart track basically to have fun. You know, we were having fun. I have to say that I'm very happy that both of us achieved what we have. Both of us really worked hard in both directions, and again, I'm extremely happy that both of us are here.
And now hopefully -- even in different directions, we still live in the same town, which is Miami. But the funny thing is because of business and stuff like that, it's hard to sit down and have a good time and enjoy just because everyone is always in a different place.
But I always care about Tony, and Tony is a special friend, and no question he'll always be the guy that in my eyes -- always the guy that I admire a lot because he is a very talented driver. I know he knows me, I know he knows my talent and my weakness. It's a healthy challenge and a healthy competition like we have.

Q. Just as a follow-up, what are some of your favorite memories with Tony both growing up in Brazil and then being professional race car drivers here in the States, and how has having a friend coming up through the ranks with you helped you as a person and a driver?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, unfortunately I cannot tell you in this interview the memories that we have -- just kidding. Obviously Tony and I, you know, remember when we got a new helmet, we were kind of like making our paint job, trying to paint the helmets as much as we can. It was pretty cool. Those are fun memories, and again, I'll never forget.

Q. It's been a little bit of a disappointing year for you compared to your usual results. Are you going to try and salvage some of the season the last three races here?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I have to say it's a weird season. The funny thing is I got a lot of pole positions. But unfortunately, there's always something weird happening. If it's not tires flying from another car and hitting us, it's some mechanical problems that we had, you know, little things that are affecting us. And the car at one point it's running great and then it's shaking all of a sudden.
I have to say, we probably -- we actually don't know what's going on because if we did we could fix it. But the good thing is with all these problems that we had, it brought us even more tight. I'm not talking about only me and my guys, but the whole entire team. We know that we need the teamwork, we know that we need to keep looking forward, and that's what we're trying to do.
People sometimes say, oh, you guys had a disappointing season, a bad season. Hey, we are still very strong. Obviously there are other teams like Ganassi and Andretti Green, and now we have to continue with our team to make sure those three races we come back strong.

Q. We talked to Tony a couple of weeks ago and he indicated he's got one more year left on his contract with Andretti Green. What's your situation at Penske? Is there a possibility that the two of you could end up on the same team somewhere in the near future?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, a possibility always have. You know, obviously right now I don't see anything happening myself. So far what I know myself is that I'm tied for next year, as well. I'm already set for one more year with Penske. Now we need to know what my teammate is going to do, if he's going to stay one more year in IRL or if he's going to NASCAR. You know, it's one thing.
You know, in this business I learn, never say never.

Q. I was wondering about Dario. He obviously had had a lot of success in his career before this season, but do you have any sense of in winning at Indy and then leading in the points this year, whether it's kind of been a relief for him to be recognized more this year for his driving talents?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: That's a good question. Dario has always been a quick guy and a fast guy. This year somehow he put all the things together. I don't know what he did different from the other years, but no question about it, he's been consistent, he's been right up there. Himself and his engineer probably connected together.
It's difficult when you talk about someone else not knowing what happened in the past, but I never thought that Dario wasn't a talented driver. I always knew he was a very fast, strong guy, and just this year he seems to be all the things putting well together.
People are talking about retiring this year. He's feels like he's not ready to retire. It is good to see. I have to say that now he's in a tough situation because only eight points in front of Scott, and it's definitely going to produce a great finish at the end of this championship, and hey, the best man will win.

Q. You mentioned a little bit about the difficulty and what a challenge it is to pass on a road course like Infineon, but considering how many poles you've won this year, I imagine that starting up front will be a huge advantage on a course like this?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Oh, yeah, always on the street and road courses starting in pole position has a lot of advantage to finish in the front. This year obviously they changed the mapping system. You used to have like different type of scenarios for you to make power and trying to stop a little bit later than the other guys. Now it becomes even more tough because you don't have those kind of luxuries I would say.
So it is extremely important to start at the front. I just hope we continue doing what we're doing in qualifying because it seems to be working. Let's hope we have less struggles during the race, and I know to be there at the end we're going to have a very strong result. I'm looking forward to it.

Q. What do you make of Brian Barnhart's decision to place the entire field on probation?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, obviously he's the person that's in charge of this operation, and he has decisions to make drivers behave, hey, the only thing I have to say is I'm on probation, too. So I guess he knows what he's doing.

Q. Do you see maybe the drivers not having as much respect for each other out there this year than past years? Do you see that at all?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: It's a very tough question to answer. I see a lot of guys that the concern is trying too hard, and with that, when you try to hard, it makes them -- I don't want to say mistakes, but maybe not very solid decisions. When those solid decisions are very wrong, that's when you're going to have an accident happen. It's just a matter of frustration. Some races are so tight, when you're talking about hundreds of seconds separating the first from the sixth, for example, when a guy thinks I have a car to win, they're not thinking of the picture between six and one, they have like five guys in the middle, and sometimes that's what happens.
You know, that's what they're thinking about, and that's actually the good thing from Rick Mears, to finish first you need to finish -- sometimes I'm thinking about that and I make some bad judgment. But that's why when I race I talk a lot because it does work good.

Q. Do you expect to be fined by Brian with what happened at Kentucky with Tony?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, Tony and I already discussed that, but whatever other opinions from Brian, whatever he thinks will be his decision. All I have to say is I just have to follow the rules.

Q. My question is if you are going to win at Infineon, what do you think is going to be the key to your victory, and also, how do you see your chances of winning the IRL championship?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, I'll start with the second part of it. I believe the chance of winning the championship this year is very small, not because of the team or myself, but it's just a matter of reality.
Now, the key, starting in the front is one of them, and stay out of trouble. Unfortunately the first year we got there, we got involved in an accident and we ended up being taken out of the race. Last year because the championship points were so tight, we were a little more conservative and ended up losing in a battle for the win.
But this year I don't have much of a bad situation, which is good and bad, but the good thing is whatever we need to do, we're going to go for it and win this race, and I think if I put my mind in those kind of scenarios, we have a very good chance.

Q. I have to tell you Tony told us some great stories about you and him when you were kids when he was out here a couple weeks ago.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I hope he kept them PG-13, you know.

Q. This will be your third year at Infineon racing, and I'm just wondering in the past couple years what things you've learned that you can take into this third year about the track and racing on it.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, definitely some information. First of all, the area is just incredible. When you're talking about Sonoma, everybody that doesn't even know much about racing, they come here because it's such a beautiful place and the area.

Q. I kind of wanted to know over the last couple of races what you may have learned about the track that will help you for this year.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, as I mentioned before, it's such a physical track. It's trying to make some change that the car -- unfortunately the first year I did not have a good experience, but the second year, which was last year, we were able to learn how difficult the car is during the race and stuff like that, and from that I used, for example, Mid-Ohio, which works really well; we were able to finish in the top three. So hopefully this weekend we're going to be able to do some changes on the car, exactly what we did, and I do believe we're going to be in a good situation.

Q. Congratulations on your engagement. When are you getting married?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Thank you very much. We're actually deciding on December. My fiancée, Ali Vasquez, basically one of the churches that she wants, I believe it's -- I don't know, I'm a Catholic, but there's a lot of politics involved. Now I'm learning a lot about this.

Q. Much is made out of setting up your car for qualifying. Did you make major changes in that automobile, or do you just pretty much go with the straight setup that you run with, and when you do change, what do you prefer for qualifying in the setup?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: That's a very good question, which people sometimes don't understand. That's why sometimes the cars are good in certain races but might fail a little bit. What I try to do in qualifying, because you're extremely on the edge obviously trying to find the best lap you can, so that means you're basically taking all the chances in the corners.
Obviously during the race you minimize that edge a little bit, even if it's a little slower, because what happens is it makes it more consistent. And to win a race you need to be consistent and you have to be fast. You have to use both directions. That's why we normally try to do those kind of things. Sometimes it goes the right way and sometimes it doesn't.

Q. My question for you is what do you think creates the edge for Penske Racing over other teams in this series?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, Team Penske, it's an incredible team, even before I was on. They were already an incredible team. I would say the leadership with Roger. Roger is such an impassioned guy who knows so much about racing that it's really great to work with him. When you're there, I mean, there's no question you want to do better than anyone else, and the whole team has the same mentality. You want to go for it, if you have to say longer, you have to practice a little bit more, you have to give one more lap.
I guess that's why they give a different edge than the other team. I'm not saying the other teams doesn't work as hard as Team Penske. I'm just the way the system works on our team for so many years that it's kind of you're affected by it. Even if you want to try to change, it's kind of hard because they change you. So it's in a good way.
It's been so many years that Roger put a good example, and I believe that's why Team Penske is different.

Q. Is there any thought to your going to a three-car team? It seems that the advantages Andretti Green has is they have a lot of different setups they can try against each other, and you've only got two cars.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: That's a very good question. Unfortunately I'm not able to answer because I'm not part of the management group. But if it goes in that direction it will be the best way. I will think nothing but positive things about it.
THE MODERATOR: With that, Helio, I want to thank you so much for taking the time to come on this teleconference today, and we wish you lots of luck in the Motorola Indy 300 this weekend in Sonoma.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Thank you very much. Hopefully everything is going to be well on the race weekend.



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