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IZOD IndyCar Series: Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

IZOD IndyCar Series: Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

Helio Castroneves
March 25, 2012


THE MODERATOR:  We're joined by the race winner, Helio Castroneves.  This is Helio's 26th IndyCar career win.  Obviously last year we saw a streak of consecutive seasons with a win come to an end, yet here we are starting off the year with you in Victory Lane.  Talk about today's race and obviously the emotional celebration in turn 10 afterwards. 
HELIO CASTRONEVES:  First I want to thank our sponsors, Shell, Pennzoil, IZOD, Verizon and AAA.  With all those guys to stick around, I wouldn't be able to be here.  Chevy did a great job to keep everything under control. 
We did have some issues in the beginning that we have to raise the revs so we can have the battery or something like that.  But, to be honest, it didn't upset us.  It makes our temperature and engine very nice.  Somehow everything went really smooth. 
Certainly the start of the race I just want to make sure I did not have the same problem than last year.  I wanted to be cool.  I think these cars, with the brakes, seem to be better, or they start to be a little faster.  I think it was nicer. 
Plus I guess everybody was kind of take it easy, first race of the season.  Other than that, I was just taking my time, let everything cool down.  I lost some spots, but I wasn't worried at all. 
We just waited for the game.  When the yellow came, we just decided to play a different strategy compared to Will, then a different strategy compared to Ryan. 
We gambled, but with a safe zone, and to be honest it paid off.  Other than that, everything was really smooth.  I got to thank again my boys this weekend.  They did a helluva job.  This is just what we need to start a great season until the end. 
THE MODERATOR:  Can you touch on the celebration at the end. 
HELIO CASTRONEVES:  Certainly, I have to be honest.  I want to just change the corner.  I remember I used to stop in turn one and celebrate.  This time I said I'm going to do something else, in a different corner.  I saw turn 10.  I don't know, I didn't plan.  As soon as I kind of like celebrate, I look and I saw Dan's sign.  It's amazing.  I said it before, I say it now, you can never question God's mystery. 
It was a perfect fit for this race, a perfect way to start the season.  Again, I want to thank the fans because without the fans giving their great support and great vibe during the entire weekend, it would be very difficult to do what we love, to entertain everyone and be happy.  Without that, it would be hard. 
I wish everybody continue praying for his family, to be strong.  Obviously Dan will always be missed. 
THE MODERATOR:  Questions. 

Q.  Can you talk about the pass of Dixon.  Last year was your worst year in IndyCar.  Can you talk about how important it is for you to come out strong early in season, kind of get things rolling for you again. 
HELIO CASTRONEVES:  I'll start with the second. 
It's always important to start strong in the championship.  For us, certainly it's even more because of the season that we had last year. 
For me, having my guys, the entire crew, believing in me and never give up, it just prove this is a great group of guys.  That's what we need.  We need exactly everybody saying, We know what we can do.  Today we were just able to do that with all the scenarios that we had, with the strategy we play out, it was great. 
Now, talking about the past, I came out really in a risk chance in front of Scott.  He was very good.  I was still with the cold tires.  He was very good to keep right behind me.  The rules today, you're not allowed to move and try to block or defend your position because that is considered blocking.  I think everybody understand that now - at least I do.  So nothing I could do.  He passed me clean, fair and square. 
Now I took advantage.  I think it was traffic in the middle, in the mix, and I was able to get a great run on Dixon.  I thought, Okay, he's not going to make it easy for me.  I remember last year, things didn't go well.  He show me another direction, which is fine.  I decided to go to the outside, and I brake as deep as I can where everybody brake.  That was awesome, because the car sticks.  I'm like, Yes, I made it! 
As soon as I turned, I kept going.  I took advantage of the tires because I knew the red tires were very good in the beginning.  They said I'm okay on the fuel.  I was just pushing, pushing.  I keep going away, going away.  I'm like, Are you guys sure?  Yes, you're fine, you can save a little bit of fuel.  I'm like, Wait a minute, I'm okay, not okay? 
I knew it was 20 laps to go.  It's a long, long way.  I've got to save a little bit of tires.  That's what I did.  Yellow never came.  There was a little scenario with Andretti two laps to go.  I was not understanding what's going on.  But after that, I made the move, I was just taking it very, very easy, make sure we have a great result this first race of the season. 

Q.  You had your daughter on the podium.  Is that the first time she's been at one of your race wins? 
HELIO CASTRONEVES:  No.  First time was in Barber in 2010.  This is her second time.  But now she's a little older.  If I have an opportunity to bring her around, I definitely want to do it. 

Q.  What was that like with the emotion of the day, knowing you were in turn 10, Dan's widow and his kids? 
HELIO CASTRONEVES:  Good question.  Today we all have kids, most of us that's been here for a while.  Certainly what happened to Dan, we always thinking about his family, his two kids and wife. 
So, yes, for me it is emotional.  Especially when I came here in spring training, Sebastian gave me a big hug, I didn't know if he was mixing me with his dad or why.  I was very touched by it. 
I want to spend as much time as possible as I can bring my family around because these are moments which are forever.  Hopefully when she's bigger, she'll be proud of her dad to bring her to winner's circle.  I just want to do that. 

Q.  Helio, when you stopped and climbed, did you climb a different fence and then you went over so you did two climbs today? 
HELIO CASTRONEVES:  Yes.  Because the sign was on the other side of the road.  The fans were on the exit of turn 10.  The sign was on the inside.  So that's why I went over there, with the fans, to celebrate.  That's why it's so much fun.  When I looked around, the sign was shiny and bright to me.  I was a little concerned to cross the track.  I asked the safety guys.  They said, No, no, you can do it.  So it felt great. 

Q.  How big is this really?  Last year wasn't just a little bit of an off year for you, it was a very uncharacteristic year for you, the results.  Talk about how important this really is for your confidence. 
HELIO CASTRONEVES:  For our group, it's important.  We never lost confidence.  We never stopped believing.  Especially this off-season, with the tests that we've been doing, we've been up there in testing, helping each other, so we never stopped believing. 
It's important for us as a group to know that we can do it.  Last year, unfortunately because of many issues, some of them were mine, some of them were bad luck, some of them were because of the new rules we have with the double-file restarts.  I have to say I did not felt comfortable at that point. 
I think now at this point with new car, new engine, it gives you a fresh start. 
As of right now, obviously a fantastic feeling.  Again, I never stopped believing.  Trying to search for answer, to be honest, it would be hard.  You have to work to get the results that you want.  As I said, everything played very well together.  The yellow played in our favor.  But at the end of the day we have to make a pass, many pass, to go for it.  I'm happy one pass was important enough to be here today. 

Q.  You talked about everything involving the climb except for when you got to the top.  Was it more emotional than you thought?  Were there tears?  You appeared to say a prayer when you got to the bottom. 
HELIO CASTRONEVES:  That is exactly right.  You know me very well.  You guys know I'm a very emotional person.  But as soon as I got there, you know, I felt very touched.  Again, seeing his name there, certainly what happened last year, we still hurt, but we got to keep moving on.  That's life. 
I did think about my family, as well.  That's why there was a little more emotion.  That's why it was good. 

Q.  Helio, every driver out there is out there to start their season for their own success.  How important was it for the series to get off with a nice, clean race, move away from everything that has been going on? 
HELIO CASTRONEVES:  Well, I believe was crucial.  We got new cars, new manufacturers obviously.  We have a new person in charge, some new rules.  I mean, there is so many new things.  We didn't know until the first race when we learn a lot, believe it or not.  Everybody learn today a lot. 
Maybe in some part of the race, it was not much passing, but in some others it was a lot of passing.  I guess the cars were able to hold well.  I don't know what happened, there was accidents around the track or not.  The last 25 laps I was praying for nothing happen. 
But I thought was very good.  I thought was clean.  The cars looked great.  Speed-wise, Will broke the track record, so sure the car is good.  I believe was extremely important. 
Give great credit for everyone out there watching us to go back and watch again. 

Q.  Could you talk about the emotions and thought processes of leaving here today as opposed to this race a year ago, which started disastrously from the outset. 
HELIO CASTRONEVES:  Certainly it's gratifying.  It's awesome.  I will sleep like an angel tonight, or like a baby, like my little girl. 
I thank my crew, as well.  It's very important.  It's gratifying for the entire Team Penske.  I don't know what the other guys finished today.  But certainly the whole entire work we did through the off-season is paying off.  Especially last year, had a horrible season to start in this scenario.  It's great.  I have no doubt Ryan and Will going to join me also.  I'm going to continue pushing, as well.  That's why we're competitors. 
But it's a great boost for the next race, to go out there and repeat what we can do.  Even sometimes you don't start in the front, sometimes you start in the top six or something like that, it just proves that if you're in the right place at the right time, it certainly will help you. 
I never had any doubt.  I always kept cool.  It's a fantastic thing today. 

Q.  If Dan Wheldon were still here, how do you think he would have liked today?  What would he have said to you after it was over? 
HELIO CASTRONEVES:  Oh, that's a tough question.  I'm sure he would be the same as us as a driver.  Love to be here enjoying this place, especially where he called the place home.  So I'm sure there was a lot of things similar to every driver, you know. 
That's why it's hard for everyone, not only for us drivers, but the fan as well.  We just got to keep working so that we don't have the issues that we have last year. 

Q.  On your last segment when you passed Scott for the lead, can you talk a little bit about what you saw that made that pass the best pass for you.  And also what tires did you have?  Did you have new reds or scuffed reds?
HELIO CASTRONEVES:  That's a good question.  I don't know if they were new reds.  I don't think so because the new reds we normally use in the beginning of the race. 
I think what happened is as soon as I make the move, I just want to take advantage of the tires in that scenario.  But I wasn't actually pushing to the limit.  I was pushing but in a conservative way. 
I noticed that he was staying behind.  I thought he was saving fuel.  Then my crew said, You're fine with the fuel.  I'm, All right, I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing.  I tried to keep the same average lap time what I was doing.  That average, I was saving a little bit fuel and I was also open up the gap. 
Once I opened up about seven seconds, I decided to take it more easy in case a yellow came up, I would have enough tires to go and battle for the win. 
Inside the car I was playing my own strategy.  In the end of the day, thank God, we didn't have to. 

Q.  What is your daughter's name and how old is she?
HELIO CASTRONEVES:  Mikaella.  She's two years and three months. 

Q.  So many drivers say, yes, maybe after you lost Dan that you kind of managed to put it in a side compartment.  How therapeutic has been the racing as far as closure? 
HELIO CASTRONEVES:  This car we had today, unfortunately it came just a little too late.  If we did have this car in the last race of the season, I believe Dan would be here. 
We have to remember, racing is still a dangerous sport.  That's the sad part of it.  But we know that.  As a driver, we know that.  We don't thinking about that, but we know that. 
So we got to keep thinking in what we love, which is drive the car, enjoy this feeling that I'm feeling right now, achieve a great result.  When you do a pass like I did over there, those things are priceless.  You can't describe.  Even though you know the sport, there is a dangerous side of it. 
So we always try to make it better, and that's why today this car, it is better.  But we always got to remember, unfortunately there's still the risk involved.  All our families knows about the risk.  It's tough for them, but that's life. 

Q.  You had a little contact with Carpenter.  What happened there?
HELIO CASTRONEVES:  I could see he was struggling with the tires.  I saw Scott pass by.  I saw Hunter-Reay pass by.  I was making my move to go on the straightaway to pass by.  But he really slow down.  I mean, I was kind of like, Nobody said he was going to pit, nobody gave me a signal.  If he was pitting, I thought something happened because he slowed down in the area we actually accelerate. 
When I saw that, I'm like, You got to be kidding me.  That's the last thing I needed, you know, break my car, be in trouble.  I'm like, Please, why happen to me, why didn't happen to the other guys? 
But it's a shame.  I never had intention to touch.  Thank God nothing happened to my car.  Unfortunate for him it didn't come out the same way. 

Q.  On the teleconference you were eager and looking forward to coming to St. Petersburg.  Did you foresee good results or were you just wanting to get the new season going? 
HELIO CASTRONEVES:  You know, I felt great starting here.  I felt good.  I was focused.  I had the butterflies in my stomach, which is a good sign.  But they were flying in formation, they weren't like crazy butterflies.  Everything was under control. 
I think when you kind of feel that way, good things gonna happen.  If the game plays in your hand, you might end up in a good position.  Today is exactly what happened.  We were consistent, we were fast, good strategy, cautious.  We have all these ingredients together, and it was a perfect race. 
THE MODERATOR:  Helio, congratulations on a great win. 

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