IZOD IndyCar Series Q & A with Helio Castroneves
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Thanks for having me. Sorry for the delay, but I'm ready to answer questions.
Q. I know you've been in Brazil for a few days now. What is the atmosphere like for the first IZOD IndyCar Series event in your home country?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Incredible. One of the reasons I was delayed, I was in a live show, local show and everybody is really excited to have the race. The excitement of IZOD IndyCar going above 180 miles an hour on the streets of Sao Paulo. The fans are accepting it extremely well. No question, this is a great event, especially to open the season.
Q. You're one of the several Brazilians racing in the series in 2010. How exciting is it for you to be racing in your home country for the first time in almost 10 years?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: It's great to give the opportunity to the Brazilian fans to see am IndyCar (Series) race right there, going right past by them. It's been 10 years that the Indy car has not been in Brazil, but there are people that are really fans (of the sport). They follow on TV, but the general public sometimes doesn't know about it. Now it's a great, great opportunity to show them what American fans are able to see.
It's been great. And I'm excited to be racing close to my home fans.
Q. Have you had a chance to see the circuit? What is your opinion of the course there?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I have not been able to be on the circuit at the moment. I heard a lot of things. I heard it's getting ready. It's great that everything is putting up together.
A first event, always has some bumpy spots or little bit here, little bit there. But that's why the IndyCar Series is so great. We go anyway. We race anyway. It seems to be great. Especially after Carnival, they are working a record time here to put everything in a great shape. So far, everything is going smooth. I don't doubt it's going to be a great show.
Q. How much of a little bit of incentive is there amongst the Brazilian drivers to win this race on their home territory? There's always a little bit of rivalry between you and T.K. (Tony Kanaan)You throw in the Vitor (Meira), I'm sure this would be a big victory. Talk about that a little bit.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: You're absolutely right. In fact, the guy that wins here, or the girl, we have Ana Beatriz, the first Brazilian woman to be in (the) IndyCar (Series), no question, for every Brazilian here right now, it will be exciting to win because everybody will know this person.
It happened in the past with Andre Ribeiro when he won in 1996. He became a big star of Indy car over here. Like I said, we're talking about 14 years ago. But certainly it would be huge. It would be great. I'm sure we're going try everything we can to have one of the Brazilians win the race. Hopefully it will be a Brazilian. If it's not, it's OK.
Q. Also the fact is that one very long straightaway. You told us it's going to be a very fast straightaway there followed by a pretty sharp turn. How exciting is that part of the course going to be for you guys?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I think it's going to be interesting, especially because everybody knows when you have two cars side-by-side, it creates a great draft for the guy behind. If you have three guys battling for the lead, imagine the last corner, one of the hardest braking areas of the circuit, one turn before the finish line. It will be something. It will be an incredible finish.
The most experienced driver probably will take advantage. But at the same time the bravest one might be able to get that win. It will be interesting. I guess everybody needs to keep watching because it will definitely be a great show.
Q. Seems to be a gap between your team and Target Chip Ganassi Racing and everyone else. A few drivers have upgraded to new teams. Some of those teams have gotten stronger. Do you feel that gap is going to close up this season? If so, what does that entail from you as far as the approach to the championship? Do you go in with the same approach or do you take these dark horses into account and tweak it down the line?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I do think that gap is getting closer and closer for several reasons. At Ganassi and Penske, there's only so much we can do to develop the car and we created a situation that they got to continue to catch us. It's hard for us to improve knowing we have limitations on the rules and things like that. It's less difficult for everyone else as they're finding the same stuff we've found.
Second thing for those teams, the equipment has been here for so many years. People start figuring out other things, as well. So because of that, I do feel the gap is getting closer and closer. I mean, we saw at Barber, less than a tenth, probably was seven or eight cars. That's crazy.
Certainly the new drivers, they are doing extremely well. I'm going to approach this season the same way I was approaching the past. It may not be successful clinching the title, but that's outside my control. But at least I'll be competitive. So I'm going to keep competitive, bring my A game. I have two strong teammates, and for sure, this might be very good for the development of the team.
Q. After the up-and-down year of 2009, how has becoming a father helped you get past that and lay those emotions to rest?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yeah, it's a great experience. So far I've been very fortunate to experience the life that I have. And I can't wait. I cannot wait to be on the podium with my daughter. That's going to be my biggest goal this year to have that experience. In the future one day, she can see that she was there with me. That will mean the world to me.
Q. I don't know whether you've been keeping track of all the different designs that the companies have been submitting for the new Indy car due shortly. What is the general consensus of the drivers, and your own opinion? Do we need to go to something radically different from the way the cars look now or should we be looking at something that looks somewhat similar to the cars they have now? Do we need to go exotic or stay where we are now pretty much?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well it depends. We've got to see what is the best for the entire series. In my opinion, you've got to try to see if it works. I understand what's going on. I saw the new futuristic car. Certainly looks different.
Again, we can't just already assume that's going to be a bad thing or that's going to be a good thing. I think should be more testing, more research, if we have the time. If we're talking about 2012 or something like that to changing cars. Whenever it's going to change, we got to look for the best cost effect for everyone.
Doing that will be best for all the teams. Not only for the new teams, but the same teams that have been in the IndyCar Series. It's difficult for us for already choose. The only thing we have to set right now is try, have an open mind, see if it works. But certainly do not commit on anything or to something that later on we will regret.
Q. Having Will Power, kind of like the Penske days of old, two other strong teammates to feed off of?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Oh, absolutely. As you said, we got the Power, I guess. Certainly Will showed incredible skills in the team, especially given the situation he got himself in, and myself as well. So it was awesome that Roger (Penske) gave the opportunity to him. He earned his respect not only on the team but also in the series. It's great to have him. It's great to have Ryan (Briscoe), as well. He did an incredible season last year. Now, as you said, I feel honored to be compared with those guys on the past. They're going to make me better, and I hope I'm going to do the same with them.
Q. Can you talk about Ryan Briscoe, what a huge year he had last year, how you think that might play into this coming season.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Certainly he's going to help everyone. We learned a lot with him last year. Probably he had some things that probably didn't help us, maybe street course, maybe some of the road courses. But ovals we were right there.
But again, Ganassi, you got to remember, is not a bad team. In fact, they've been incredible the last few years. So we're going to continue working. I think Ryan is going to continue driving well. As I said, Will coming to the team is going to make us push each other. We've got to face it that we will be pushing each other. We are very limited in testing this year, so having a third car is going to certainly help develop and improve the car.
So I hope we have that type of an advantage because certainly it would be great for the entire three cars.
Q. Could you talk a little bit about what Roger Penske has meant to you, especially with some issues from last year, sticking with you.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Roger has been an incredible person since I met him. He's an incredible businessman and a successful person, not only in business but in life in general. He's loyal. I do believe that loyalty, it brings the best out of each person.
If you don't perform, you're out. But if you perform, he will give you what is right and benefit you well. Last year with my situation, with my trial, he certainly proved to not only be an incredible person but an incredible friend, as well.
Driving for Team Penske, everything I think we accomplished together, it shows on that. It paid off in 2009 winning the Indy 500 for him the 16th time.
Now, don't get me wrong, but he's not only with me, look what he did with Will Power. He gave a chance to Will Power. Here you go, he's gonna have a full season. This is the kind of person and that's why he is successful.
Q. In terms of you trying to win your first championship, did I hear you correctly earlier saying you didn't expect to change your approach to the season at all, that you'll approach it the same way you always have?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: That's correct. You heard it correct.
Q. Can you expand on that? Tell me what the approach is.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, basically you bring your 'A' game. You're competitive, you prepare yourself well, and you're just hoping with the preparation the results will show up.
But, as I said many years, I have a great season finishing eight times or nine times in second place. If you put an average on that, probably my worst result was top five, except two races because of mechanical failure. But if you put on that perspective, I would be probably the champion.
But the issue was Scott Dixon was right there when I finished second, he was finishing first. So I can't control that, unfortunately. There were factors outside of my control, unfortunately I will not be able to do that.
So with that, as I said, I'm going to continue approaching the same way I've been approaching. One day this door will open. Who knows if it's going to be this year.
Q. You've won the Indy 500 three times, you've done just about everything there is to do in the sport except win a championship. How important is it for you to have a championship before you retire from the sport?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: You know, it's funny. Like I said before, I'm always going out there to win as many races as I can, to do the best I can. That's what I love to do.
Now, the rest of it, it's a matter of putting all the chips together. You know, if it does not happen, it's will not because of a lack of preparation, but it just wasn't meant to be.
So if that does not happen, no, I won't regret it because every time I went out there, I did everything is possible to make it the way it's supposed to be. So I'm very fortunate what I've accomplished already. Sure I'm gonna continue working four times harder to achieve that. Hopefully this year will be the year.
But I won't get frustrated. I won't get disappointed. I won't be upset because I didn't win the championship, no. I enjoy what I love to do. As long as I'm competitive, I'm going to pursuing my goals.
Q. Roger has not won a championship for several years. I know that team is used to winning championships. Is there a certain amount of frustration on the team, the fact they haven't won for a while, watching Ganassi and Andretti win the championships the last few years?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Absolutely not. Roger has been very supportive for the entire time. He wants to win races, as well. He wants to win championships. But Roger's been in business a long time. He knows how it works. He knows the way the system works. Times are different. Remember, he used to build his own car. If not his own car, the rules used to allow him to do a lot of things differently.
Now it's very competitive. The IZOD IndyCar Series is as strong as ever,. So that's one of the reasons it's been so great, because everyone has been pushing as hard as they can.
So, yes, it's tough, especially last year, Team Penske was right there and almost clinched the championship. But he understands, as well, it's outside of his control what happens. In fact, that's why we come back. We worked hard in the off-season to make sure that we can make up for it this season.
Q. We had a conversation with you and Gil de Ferran, Vitor, Tony, where you talked about your days in karting. Now that you're back home, who is staying on the floor at your house this weekend?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Who is staying where?
Q. At your house this weekend rather than you staying at someone else's house this weekend.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: That's right. That's right. Well, this time it's going to be (girlfriend) Adriana (Henao) and (daughter) Mikaella here with me. But my mom, my dad, my sister, they've been there with me for so many years.
Now the family was able to get an apartment here at Sao Paulo. I don't need to stay at anybody's place. It will be great to have family and friends as well watch the race here in Sao Paulo.
But I believe Friday night, I'll probably move to the hotel closer to the track because traffic here. There is very unpredictable weather here, very unpredictable. I don't want to have an emergency, especially because we don't have much practice time, but I want to make sure I'm there on time and ready to go.
Q. Are they still talking for rain this weekend?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, they said the weather forecast talking about 80% of chances of rain. But the hot weather here, it plays a lot of tricks. I don't think that's gonna happen. Might be a little overcast. But if the rain comes, it's going to be right after the race.
Q. I would like to know what you think your chances are winning a fourth Indy 500 championship?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, certainly I'm going to have to work four times as hard this year to accomplish that goal. I can't wait. I can't wait to be in Indianapolis again with the new schedule coming a little bit late in the month of May. Normally we come early in the month.
Again, it will be a very tough one. I'm always know that (Indianapolis) is very difficult. We're going to have to learn it all over again. Firestone changes a little bit of the (tire) compounds, the IRL changes the rules and the reaction of the car changes a little bit. You have to start from zero again and that's what we do.
Q. When you first started racing, there was hardly any women racing at all. Now in one race you're going to have several. What do you attribute all that to?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, good question. When I started racing, I did have one female racing here. Let me tell, I was very afraid of her because she was a very aggressive driver. She used to take all the boys out. Obviously the guys used to make a lot of fun if you finished behind her.
But I have to say, I give credit to all the women that start racing new. Now I would say Danica has been the biggest new revelation, let's put this way, new idol for those young ladies to start racing.
So no question the talent is there. As I said, you can race equally against any other person. That's why it's great because female and male, you know, doesn't have a difference on the racetrack.
When you put the helmet on, it's a driver. Now having quite a few females racing, I give them a lot of respect because to be in a man's sport, you got to have kind of like -- you got to be stronger than normal. And I guess they have been proving that over the years, not only in racing, but in all of the business side, as well. So they're showing that women do have that. I guess they're showing that now, as well.
Q. I think everybody thinks it's a good thing for racing.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Absolutely. This is the best thing for them. Again, it's a different variety for especially female fans to watch race. If they're watching (female drivers), they're watching us.
Q. We know how strong the Brazilian talent is in the IndyCar Series. You throw in there your two Australian teammates. Scott Dixon from New Zealand, Dario from Scotland. How important is it going to be to develop a competitive American driver that you have to battle against, that can win races, challenge for championships? We haven't seen that since Sam Hornish.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Very good question because you've got to start from the beginning, from the base. Go-karts, that's what happens in Europe, in Brazil, for example. Today NASCAR took a great chunk of the attention. So a lot of kids with Sprint cars, going to new models, ARCA, going to NASCAR. All the American talent, it's focused more in that direction.
But I have to understand, as well, it's a little bit of lack of option. You know, today IndyCar Series has go-karts, Indy Lights and IndyCar. You're missing a great step to make great drivers. You can't just jump into a prototype car and then making that a base for you and then jump to Indy Lights and IndyCar. It's a little bit difficult.
So the other option is going to other places, like Europe or things like that, to develop those skills and then come back.
But it's an option. Everything is an option. I believe Honda and the whole IndyCar this year are trying to change a little bit. You have to remember. IZOD being the title, I'm sure going to go interesting again. I'm sure in the next few years you're going to be seeing American talent, drivers rising again.
Q. Do you see where the demise of the Formula Atlantic Series could possibly increase the competition in the Indy Lights Series to now there will be the one step to get a driver into the IndyCar Series?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I'm outside of the political side, so I don't know what it needs to be or things like that. Certainly I believe in American. I hardly see some of those races. So they need investment, they need logistic planning. I'm not the guy to tell what to do. But certainly our connection with the entire series would be great because it would not only be good for, like I said, new young American drivers, but it would be great for the series as well, to continue creating new patterns, new talents and new drivers.
So that's the way I see it. I don't know what needs to be done.
Q. Do you miss having Sam out there every race?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: You know, I do miss Sam. As I said, Sam was an incredible guy, especially on ovals. He's like a sponge, kind of like learning very fast. I remember being the road course, he's been very raw, and all of a sudden Mid-Ohio he was turning times faster than me. That just showed the capability of Sam, how incredible driver he is.
Yes, maybe he's having a hard time in NASCAR because is a totally different car. I think Penske is getting in a great situation now. So now it's coming along. But certainly I do miss having Sam there pushing me to be the best I can, especially on ovals.
THE MODERATOR: Helio, before we let you go, I have one final question for you. A lot of people know you from Dancing With the Stars. Their new season opens soon. What do you know about the new cast of the show and what advice would you give for any of those stars?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, right now I know the gold medalist (Evan Lysacek), he's coming from a gold medal, starting straight in a show that is all about choreography, so I'm sure he'll be very good. It's going to depend his charisma, things like that. I know how he has chemistry with his partner, her partner, whatever, the partner. But I do feel Nicole (Scherzinger) from the Pussycat Dolls also is going to be very strong. I can see not only is she a pretty lady, but she knows how to dance in her video clips. Pamela Anderson, the great name, you would be very hard not to miss her performance.
So I'm certainly hopefully going to be there on the opening. I'm sure going to be tuned in. The advice I give them: have fun.
THE MODERATOR: All right. That does wrap-up today's IZOD IndyCar Series teleconference. Thanks for joining us today.
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